The Aging Process and Digestive Enzyme Deficiencies: Ginger can be a helpful friend

Updated: Feb 13

A common complaint among middle to older adults is digestive issues related to consumption of certain foods or the perceived connection to certain food triggers. Without having diagnostic evidence many of these perceived issues often go ignored by many individuals.

Some of the issues arise from both mechanical/physiological issues and biochemical changes. Some mechanical or physiological issues include the change in tone and function of the various sphincters throughout the digestive system. This could be related to neurodegeneration during the aging process and the effects on the gut-brain axis. [3]

Physiological and mechanical changes and issues often work in concert with biochemical changes, as the digestive system contains main organs like the stomach, pancreas, small intestine, salivary glands, and liver who all produce enzymes. The diminished activity of digestive enzymatic activity during the aging process is one reason why nutritional interventions can be impactful at various stages of lifecycle development. Pancreatic efficiency plateaus from age 20 years old to 60 years old. [1]

The digestive system produces three main digestive enzymes : Proteases, are enzymes that break down protein into small peptides and amino acids.

Lipases, are enzymes that break down fat into three fatty acids and glycerol molecules.

Amylases, are enzymes that break down carbs into simple sugars, carbs like starch. The small intestine also produces enzymes lactase, maltase, and sucrase.

When the main organs of the digestive system produce insufficient digestive enzymes, this can result in poor digestion and poor absorption of food nutrients, which can lead to malnutrition and malabsorption. Research on digestive enzyme supplementation is varied. Main organs in the digestive system like the liver, kidneys, and intestine are well studied, however, pancreatic insufficiency is still being studied to address chronic/acute pancreatitis of an infectious nature or alcohol-induced pancreatitis. The latter issue, being the most prevalent, as up to 80% of acute/chronic pancreatitis are chronic alcohol overconsumption induced. [2] The interest in studying digestive enzyme supplementation to address it are well supported.

There are several fruits and vegetables that contain naturally occurring digestive enzymes many being the tropical variety include pineapple, papaya, mangoes, bananas, honey, avocados, kiwi, and ginger. Also fermented and brined foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and natto, etc. also contain naturally occurring digestive enzymes as a result of their food creation-preparation fermentation and brining processes. I would like to address the other foods and vegetables in more detail. But the focus of this post will be about the potential and power of ginger. Ginger contains the protease digestive enzyme zingibain. Ginger can assist with digestion by increasing the rate of breakdown of food products, especially protein, this moves the food faster through the digestive tract.

The body often responds to efficient breakdown, absorption, and digestion of food products by directing its resources to increase the body’s own digestive enzyme production and increase and strengthen immunity through maintenance of gut microbiota which regulates immune balance.[3]

Ginger has long been revered for its medicinal qualities, including being anti-inflammatory with powerful antioxidant effects. This allows it to mitigate oxidative stress. Its digestive effects have supportive qualities that lower inflammation associated with cellular damage; diminish nausea associated with disease processes such as chemotherapy treatment for cancers; lower cholesterol by breaking down protein into digestible parts and help to lower blood sugar levels associated with diabetes by assisting with better digestion of food products. Ginger indeed has the potential to be a helpful friend to age-related digestive deficiencies and digestion issues. References: [1] Lohr et al (2018). The ageing pancreas: a systematic review of the evidence and analysis of the consequences (Review). J Intern Med, 283: 446–460.

[2] Scolapio et al. (1999). Nutrition Supplementation in Patients with Acute and Chronic Pancreatitis. Gastro Clinics of North America, 28 (3): 694-707.

[3] Wu, Hsin-Jung and Wu, Eric (2012). The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity. Gut Microbes 3:1, 4–14.

[4] Zaljchuck et al. (1969). The relationship between blood glucose levels and external pancreatic secretion in man. J Trauma, 9:629-636.

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