Types of Digestive Enzymes

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Digestive enzymes turn food into nutrients you can absorb. (Image: Adam Gault/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Digestion is a fine-tuned, complicated process that allows you to utilize nutrients from the food you eat. Several organs and accessory organs release enzymes that aid in the digestive process. When you eat a meal rich in all of the macronutrients -- carbohydrates, proteins and fats – the digestive enzymes work together to break down the nutrients into particles that are small enough for your body to absorb.

All About Amylase

Amylase helps turn carbohydrates into simple sugars, like glucose, that your body can absorb. The enzyme is produced in two places in your digestive tract -- your mouth, via your salivary glands, and your pancreas. The salivary glands release amylase, along with mucus, electrolytes and water, in the form of saliva when food enters your mouth. The amylase in saliva begins the breakdown of starches. When the digested material reaches your duodenum -- the first section of your small intestine -- the pancreas releases amylase to finish the breakdown of carbohydrates so that your small intestine can absorb the sugars.

Looking at Lipase

Lipase breaks the fat you eat down into smaller molecules that can pass through your small intestine and into your blood. Your mouth and stomach produce some lipase, but the largest volume is produced by the pancreas. Most people produce enough lipase to adequately break down the fats they eat, but those with celiac disease, cystic fibrosis and Crohn’s disease may be lacking in the enzyme.

Power of Proteases

Protein digestion begins in the stomach, but the bulk of digestion occurs in the small intestine where proteases from your pancreas are released. There are several types of proteases, but chymotrypsin and trypsin are the two major ones. The proteases help break down proteins into amino acids, which are then absorbed by your small intestine. Your body can use the amino acids to build new proteins that are needed for various physiological functions.

Know Your Nucleases

The pancreas also releases nucleases -- digestive enzymes that break nucleic acids like DNA and RNA into nucleotides, which are the building blocks of the nucleic acids. When these nucleotides reach the ileum -- the last section of the small intestine -- they are further digested into sugars, bases and phosphates.

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