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Amylase in Digestion

author image Rebecca Slayton
Rebecca Slayton is a Registered Dietitian and has worked in the nutrition field since 2006. Slayton received the 2005 Betty Feezor Scholarship Award for her studies. She holds a Master of Science in food and nutrition from East Carolina University.
Amylase in Digestion
Man eating lunch at a picnic table Photo Credit: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images

As soon as food enters your mouth, it starts the process of digestion. Food needs to be broken down into smaller nutrients so that the body can store or utilize it. Your body produces specialized enzymes that work on digesting the different types of foods you consume. Amylase is an enzyme produced in the mouth and pancreas that breaks down carbohydrates into smaller molecules.

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The Role of Amylase in the Mouth

During digestion, carbohydrates start out as polysaccharides, which are large starch molecules that are broken down into disaccharides, which are two, linked-sugar molecules. Disaccharides are then further broken down into even smaller simple sugars, known as monosaccharides that are then absorbed into the blood so that the body can then use them. When you start chewing, food is mechanically broken down into smaller pieces. You also produce saliva, which contains amylase that mixes with your food. Amylase is a digestive enzyme that chewing activates and which hydrolyzes or breaks downs starch into monosaccharides. Amylase breaks down starch in your mouth into a maltose, a disaccharide, which is made up of two glucose molecules.

The Role of Amylase in the Stomach

As you swallow, carbohydrate digestion continues in your stomach as the chewed food mixed with amylase. Your stomach does not produce any additional amylase. Your stomach contains gastric juices that work on digesting other nutrients in your food. The amylase that entered with your chewed food continues to break down starch into maltose. From the stomach, food is then passed into the small intestine where digestion continues.

The Role of Amylase in the Pancreas

As the food passes along in the digestive system, it is broken down into even smaller molecules before the body can use it as energy. The pancreas also produces the enzyme amylase that is released into the duodenum of the small intestines. Amylase produced here breaks down the remaining polysaccharides and disaccharides into monosaccharides, which completes the digestion of carbohydrates. Glucose, a monosaccharide, is the result of carbohydrate digestion. In the small intestine, glucose is then absorbed into the blood that the body will use for energy. Your body uses glucose as fuel for all your bodily processes.

Blood Serum Amylase

Amylase is present in your blood in small amounts; this is normal. If your pancreas has been injured, inflamed or blocked, however, amylase is released into the blood rather than the duodenum, which results in elevated blood-serum amylase levels. A blood test can test, diagnose or monitor pancreatic problems. Health concerns related to elevated amylase in the blood include acute pancreatitis, chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic pseudocyst, or blockage of the duct that carries amylase from the pancreas to the small intestine or gallstones. Symptoms usually related to a pancreas disorder can include abdominal pain, nausea, fever or loss of appetite.

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