Get down to the guts and bolts of digestive health science and learn exactly how enzymes and probiotics work.
It’s the little poem we all learned as kids and laughed out loud when we heard it – “beans, beans, the musical fruit, the more you eat, the more you…”, well, you know how it goes. But, it isn’t so funny for the folks who can’t consume beans because of just that embarrassingly audial reason. And for many, it’s more than beans (also called “pulses”); cruciferous vegetables can also engender lower-level gas, but beans are typically the worst offenders.
All these natural foods contain sugars as well as fiber. You likely know that fiber helps fight constipation, keeping bulk moving along and out regularly. But the sugars found in beans and cruciferous vegetables are what cause the issues; they are difficult for the body to digest and absorb.
When a susceptible person eats chili, for example, the beans’ sugars and fibers end up in the colon where they become food for the bacteria that reside there. Funny, it isn’t so much us digesting the sugars from beans – but our colonic colonies chowing down on them. They produce the gas, which is usually hydrogen or carbon dioxide that create methane.
These bean sugars (usually identified by the suffix “-ose”) such as stacchyose, raffinose and verbascose, as well as oligosaccharides, are challenging for the digestive tract where many individuals lack the proper enzymes that help digest them. Lacking the enzymes that further break the sugars down, they pass through to the large intestine unabsorbed. In this lower region, bacteria that thrive here feel like a kid on Christmas morning. They pig out on the sugars and as a result, produce the hydrogen and carbon dioxide en masse, thereby creating the buildup of methane that causes the bloating and the percolating as the methane molecules trample all over themselves running to the exit – some escape, others need to be forced out. The human host, meanwhile, finds a place of solitude until it’s all over.
There’s great news out there if you are the one who hides or has a loved one who must say “No thanks” to any delicious and healthy dish featuring beans and cruciferous vegetables. There are enzyme supplements that can minimize the bloating and gas.
The primary enzyme is alpha-galactosidase (by the way, the suffix “-ase” typically refers to an enzyme.) This enzyme hydrolyzes the raffinose sugars into digestible units that can be absorbed in the small intestines, leaving much less for the bacteria in the colon to consume.
Other enzymes that may also be beneficial for this particular food-digestion issue include invertase, which breaks down the disaccharide sucrose into the monosaccharides glucose and fructose; and lactase, which hydrolyzes lactose into glucose and galactose. These enzymes are transforming one unwieldy sugar molecule into smaller, less problematic, easier-to-digest sugars that are absorbed earlier in the digestive process.
For some individuals, these sugars may also contribute to the production of gas in another way. In a healthy gut environment, beneficial microflora exceed pathogenic (or bad) bacteria. When the ratio begins to swing the other way, when the bad biotics begin to take over, gas and bloating can result, making the person even more susceptible to the creation of flatulence. This condition is known as dysbiosis. Some of those bad bacteria are opportunistic and tend to dominate the population, especially after sickness or antibiotic treatment has wiped out the normal microflora. This is when it might be particularly useful to supplement with probiotics.
Beans don’t have to be the bad guy on the plate, and you or your loved one can enjoy all the goodness they provide by taking enzyme supplements supported by probiotics.
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