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Lipase & Fat Digestion

by
author image Alyssa Northrop
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Alyssa Northrop is a Registered Dietitian who has been writing about nutrition and health since 2004. Her work has been published in the scientific journal Explore. She holds a Master of Public Health in human nutrition from the University of Michigan.
Lipase & Fat Digestion
Man eating a bite of fried chicken Photo Credit Kritchanut/iStock/Getty Images

Without your digestive enzymes, you would be unable to extract the energy and nutrients from the foods you eat. These enzymes help break down the different components of the food you consume into smaller molecules that can be absorbed by your small intestine. Every digestive enzyme in your body acts on a specific component of food. Lipase is the enzyme your body uses to break down the fats in the food you eat.

Dietary Fat Is Essential for Health

Fats are important macronutrients that play several essential roles in your body. They are the building blocks of phospholipids, key components of cell membranes; they store energy you need to live; and their components serve as intracellular messengers in your body and help produce hormones. Most of the fat you consume is in the form of triglycerides, which are large molecules. Your body uses lipase to break triglycerides into smaller components your cells and tissues can use.

Lipase Digests Dietary Fat

Your pancreas makes the majority of lipase, but some also comes from your mouth and stomach. When you eat a fatty meal, stomach emptying slows and a small amount of fat is digested by gastric lipase in your stomach. This is especially true of certain types of triglycerides, such as those found in butter. Your liver produces bile, which is stored in your gallbladder -- when fat arrives in the small intestine, the gallbladder contracts and releases bile. Bile helps emulsify the fat, making it more accessible to digestion by pancreatic lipase. Pancreatic lipase digests the triglycerides into free fatty acids and monoglycerides, which your small intestine absorbs.

Low-Lipase Disorders

The pancreas usually produces enough lipase to digest the food you eat, but people with certain health conditions may benefit from taking lipase supplements. People with celiac disease who have trouble maintaining a healthy weight may gain weight when they take extra lipase. A study published in the July 1999 issue of “Digestive Disease and Sciences” found that healthy subjects who ingested pancreatic lipase supplements along with a high-fat meal experienced less bloating, gas and feelings of fullness than a placebo group. The authors conclude that lipase supplements may also be beneficial to those with irritable bowel syndrome.

Lipase Supplementation

Food doesn't contain lipase, but supplements containing animal and plant enzymes are available at pharmacies and health food stores. Enzyme supplements may contain additional pancreatic enzymes, such as protease, which digests protein, and amylase, which digests sugars. Lipase supplements could cause mild nausea or gastric upset, and they might interact with some medicines. Children under 12 and women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not take lipase supplements unless under a doctor’s supervision. Discuss taking extra lipase with your doctor.

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