Amylase is an enzyme produced by your pancreas and saliva-producing glands. The primary role of amylase is to break down carbohydrates, which are found in foods such as grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, vegetables, fruits and dairy products. It begins breaking down carbs as you chew foods, and continues this process throughout the rest of the digestive process.
The role of amylase in the breakdown of carbs aids in the availability of energy for your body. As amylase breaks down carbs in foods, your body converts these nutrients into glucose, a primary source of fuel. Glucose is a type of sugar that is necessary for physical activity, particularly during exercise. Low blood glucose levels, medically known as hypoglycemia, can produce fatigue and muscle weakness. Severe hypoglycemia can also cause fainting and dizziness.
Glucose produced by the breakdown of carbs by amylase is necessary for proper cognitive function. Glucose is the primary source of fuel for your brain, and aids in maintaining alertness, learning functions and memory. The role of amylase in glucose production might help you focus on work and school tasks, improve the retention and recall of information, and enhance performance on exams. Glucose availability in the brain might also help balance the production of neurotransmitter chemicals, particularly serotonin and dopamine, which help regulate mood functions.
Types of Carbs
The effect of amylase on body and brain energy production depends partially on the types of carbs you consume. Simple carbs, which are found in white breads, pastas, pastries and refined sugars, are quickly broken down into glucose. This can cause a short, rapid energy spike, which is followed by fatigue when your body signals the production of insulin to carry excess glucose levels away from brain, organ and muscle cells. Amylase breaks down complex carbs at a slower rate -- this can help keep energy levels constant, preventing the spikes and crashes associated with consuming simple carbs. Complex carbs are found in whole-grain pastas and breads, seeds, nuts and most vegetables, except for starchy vegetables such as corn and potatoes.
High levels of amylase in your blood or urine might indicate pancreatic disease. Your doctor might take a blood or urine sample to help diagnose disorders of the pancreas, particularly pancreatitis and pancreatic pseudocysts. A high blood amylase level might also indicate the presence of diabetic ketoacidosis.
- "Prescription for Nutritional Healing"; Phyllis Balch et al.; 2010
- University of Maryland Medical Center; "Amylase"; Dr. David Dugdale; January 2009