As nutritional science advances, we are learning more and more about the important role that carbohydrates play in our overall health – whether you are eating too much of them, the wrong kind of them, or need to load up on them for athletic activity. In all three of these scenarios, nutrient absorption, or malabsorption, plays a key role. A major part of making sure that you actually get all the nutrients you need from the food you eat is having the enzymes that help process them. This is where amylase comes in. As lipase helps you digest fats and protease helps you digest protein, amylase is essential to breaking down carbohydrates.
The Role of the Amylase Enzyme
Among the “trinity” of digestive enzymes, amylase is unique in that you see its effects much more quickly than you do either of its counterparts. This is because amylase comes from two distinct parts of your body: the pancreas and salivary glands in the mouth. The end goal of amylase is to break down carbohydrates into simple sugars that the body can use for energy, and this starts in the mouth. As food is chewed and mixed with saliva, amylase starts working to break down food into smaller molecules.1 In the stomach, this amylase is neutralized by gastric acid, and the starch, only partially broken down, goes on to the small intestine.
In the intestine, the starch is broken down further by the next set of amylase enzymes, this time released by the pancreas. The final result is glucose, which moves on into your bloodstream to be used for energy.2 Low levels of glucose in the blood can lead to fatigue and muscle weakness, and glucose is the preferred type of fuel for the brain and nervous system. However, different types of carbohydrates manifest this energy in different ways. For example, simple carbs, like those found in refined sugars, break down quickly, giving a quick burst of energy followed by fatigue.3 For more complex carbohydrates, amylase breaks things down more slowly, leading to more consistent energy levels. Good foods in this category include:
- Whole-grain products
- Most vegetables
Added Benefits of Amylase Enzymes
Amylase’s primary function is digestion, but it may play a role in other facets of health as well, perhaps not directly, but as an indicator. One study showed that people with metabolic syndrome are more likely to have low serum amylase levels.4 Another study showed that levels of salivary alpha-amylase were extremely sensitive to psychosocial stress. This means that amylase may have future use as a means to help measure stress levels.5 Amylase has one additional small but important role – processing and digesting dead white blood cells.
Amylase is an important part of your digestive health, but the best way to get the most out of it is to combine it with other factors in order to get the maximum effect. One way to do this is through supplements like Enzymedica’s Chewable Digest. Naturally orange flavored and sweetened with sugar-free Xylitol, this contains amylase, lipase, cellulase and protease Thera-blend™ enzymes, which help you digest a variety of different foods. Thera-blend combines several strains of enzymes to get stronger and faster results.
There are a number of potential issues that can lead to enzyme deficiencies or imbalances. Some of the most common are issues with the pancreas, but alcoholism and certain medications can impact the levels of amylase that you have in your body. Also, we naturally start producing lower levels of amylase as we age. If you find that eating starchy foods is giving you inordinate amounts of discomfort, it would be worthwhile to meet with your doctor and have your amylase levels checked. Being cautious now can save you from larger issues later.