Digestive Importance of Ptyalin

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Woman eating a bite of salad (Image: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images)

Ptyalin is an enzyme that is part of your saliva and aids with digestion. Enzymes are compounds that help speed up chemical reactions. In the case of saliva, the enzymes help speed up reactions that break down the food you eat. Even before food makes it to your stomach it begins to break down, and enzymes help make the process go smoothly.

Function

Ptyalin helps digestion by breaking down starches and glycogens as they enter your mouth. After the starches and glycogen are covered with saliva, they are broken down into maltose and glucose -- simple sugars that can be used more readily by the body. After the ptyalin speeds up the chemical reaction that breaks down these molecules, it simply unbinds from them and binds to a different set of molecules. Ptyalin can be used again and again, and this is what allows us to continue eating starches and glycogen.

Why It’s Important

Ptyalin is important because it is the body’s most efficient enzyme for breaking down starches. After starches leave the mouth and enter the stomach, the ptyalin is destroyed by stomach acids. The remaining starches are broken down by the stomach acids to an extent, but they don’t remain in the stomach long enough to be completely broken down. That is why it is important to chew starches thoroughly and take your time when you are eating them. The more thoroughly you chew your starches, the faster the ptyalin can break them down.

Starches

Starches are the energy stores created by plants when they go through photosynthesis. Starches come in a number of different forms and are eaten on a daily basis by most humans. Bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, corn and wheat are all different forms of starches. Starches are important to humans because they supply a large proportion of their energy needs.

Glycogen

Glycogen, much like starches, is a form of energy storage. Unlike starches, glycogen is the energy stored in muscles of animals. Most people have a steady supply of glycogen from the meat they eat throughout the day. Prime examples of popular forms of glycogen are chicken, beef and pork. The livers and muscles of animals contain the highest levels of glycogen because these are the storage sites for glycogen in the body.

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