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Microsoft word - digestive enzymes promote optimal nutrition.docx
DIGESTIVE ENZYMES PROMOTE OPTIMAL NUTRITION
While healthy foods provide the foundation for optimal health and vitality, even the
healthiest foods are of little use if they are not properly digested. Digestive enzymes
break down ingested food into vital proteins, fats, and carbohydrates to provide
However, as we age, normal digestion slows down, inhibiting our ability to process
vital nutrients for use throughout the body. This deterioration of the body’s digestive
functions can lead to gas, bloating, partially digested food, nutritional deficiencies,
and even inflammatory conditions. Fortunately, advanced enzyme formulations
make it possible to enhance digestive health, prevent gastric distress and
malnutrition (particularly in the elderly), all while protecting against systemic
If the body cannot extract all the crucial nutrients in our food, our overall health will
begin to falter due to malnutrition. This can result in a wide range of unwanted
diseases. These health problems are often caused by decreasing levels of the
digestive enzymes that facilitate the crucial breakdown of food in our digestive tract.
Malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies create a vicious cycle of poor immunity and
escalating disease. However, a broad-spectrum of digestive enzymes that includes
proteases, amylases, lipases, pancreatin and cellulase has been shown not only to
increase the digestion of a wide range of foods, but remarkably to decrease post-
surgery recovery time and, in certain cases, serve as a helpful adjuvant in cancer
therapy. Simply put, a healthy body has a healthy immune system.
Age-related digestive problems do not have to become a significant health issue.
Supplemental digestive enzymes—many derived from plants, can help replace the
pancreatic enzymes produced in youth. These modern digestion-assistance prepara-
tions offer natural enzymes that when taken with meals can enhance the digestive
In order to enhance digestion, a number of various enzyme components are crucial
to boosting the natural digestive process. One of the most important ingredients is
pancreatin—a mixture of several enzymes ordinarily released by the pancreas in
response to the presence of food in the intestines. Pancreatin contains enzymes
such as proteases to facilitate the breakdown of proteins into amino acids; amylase
to cleave complex carbohydrate molecules into manageable sugars; and lipase to
facilitate the breakdown of lipids (better known as fats) into useable components.
Other desirable supplemental components include lactase to assist the body’s ability
to break down lactose (milk sugar) from dairy products; papain from papaya, to
assist with protein digestion; and cellulase, to prevent the development of a rare
condition known as gastric phytobezoar, in which undigested cellulose, or plant fiber,
forms a mass with other plant constituents, which may cause blockage within the
Once swallowed, food begins an amazing journey through the alimentary canal. If
your digestive system is functioning properly, this journey ends by providing us with
health-promoting nutrients and by fueling us with life-sustaining energy. But just as
sleek automobiles cannot run on crude oil, the human body needs to “refine” its fuel
in order to run smoothly. It requires digestion.
Digestion is the process by which the body breaks down food, extracting energy and
nutrients and discarding unusable components. This break down process involves a
coordinated set of events, combining mechanical breakdown through mastication
with the deconstructive activities of caustic chemicals and specialized enzymes.
Unfortunately, research suggests that digestive enzyme production decreases with
Digestion begins not in the stomach, but with the senses. The mere sight and aroma
of tantalizing food sends signals to the brain that trigger a cascade of events.
Salivation increases, pumping the enzymes amylase and lipase into the mouth.
Amylase, which is actually a family of related proteins, helps start the process of
breaking down carbohydrates, while lipase initiates the disassembly of fats into their
Chewing mechanically breaks down food, ensuring efficient chemical and enzymatic
disassembly of food. As chewing continues, moistened, enzyme-laced bites of food
are swallowed, aided by muscular contraction, passing down the esophagus into the
In the stomach, food is churned and combined with gastric acid, which consists
primarily of hydrochloric acid. Pepsin released by the chief cells in the stomach
degrades food proteins into peptides, while more digestive enzymes are added to
the mix. These enzymes selectively break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats,
before transporting the stomach’s contents to the small intestine, where the bulk of
digestion and absorption takes place. Importantly, the stomach also contributes a
compound called intrinsic factor, which enables the absorption of vitamin B12
In the small intestine, additional digestive enzymes, including pancreatin, trypsin and
chymotrypsin are enlisted to further breakdown food. Produced by the intestinal
lining or released into the intestine by the pancreas, these enzymes play an
important role in extracting nutrients from food.
The liver contributes by producing bile, which is stored in the gallbladder and
released in response to the presence of fats. Bile helps emulsify fats, rendering them
more susceptible to enzymatic breakdown. This action is important to the absorption
of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K.
This complex series of events breaks food down to its constituent amino acids,
sugars and fatty acids which are readily absorbed through the lining of the small
intestine and transported into the bloodstream. Nutrients are then shunted to the
liver where filtration occurs, toxins are inactivated and removed, and final processing
Obviously enzymes play an integral role in this complex process. Unfortunately,
many adults have inadequate amounts of these workhorse digestive facilitators. One
reason for this enzyme deficit can be traced back to the diet. Although natural
enzymes are found in raw fruits and vegetables, many Americans consume too few
of these healthful foods. And even when people make an effort to include adequate
amounts of these foods in the diet, a majority of these enzymes may be inactivated
through cooking and processing, rendering them useless. Additionally, the amount of
enzymes produced by the stomach, pancreas and small intestine is generally
Consequently, older people may experience problems with poor digestion,
decreased nutrient absorption and diminished intestinal motility, all of which may
contribute to a variety of complaints, including problems with elimination, increased
gas and bloating, anemia and even malnutrition.
Many factors challenge the nutritional status of older adults. Chronic alcohol abuse,
atrophic gastritis, chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic insufficiency, lactose intolerance,
diverticulosis, and celiac disease are all associated with the potential malabsorption
As noted previously, aged individuals are especially at risk of developing vitamin,
mineral and trace element deficits; all of which may seriously impact immunity and
overall health A recent study conducted in France, for instance, found a high
prevalence of vitamin, mineral, and omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies among men and
women aged 70 and above. And vitamin B12 deficiency, which may lead to a serious
condition known as pernicious anemia, among other pathological conditions, is all
too common among the e1derly. Given the potentially devastating consequences of
inadequate nutrition, it is imperative to optimize digestive health in older adults.
Many individuals and health practitioners rely on digestive enzyme supplements to
ensure the healthy break down and assimilation of food.
A double-blind, crossover study confirms the efficiency of digestive enzyme
supplements in optimizing digestion. Healthy volunteers consumed a high-calorie,
high-fat meal, either with pancreatic enzyme capsules or with placebo.
Gastrointestinal symptoms were recorded for the next 17 hours. Pancreatic enzyme
supplements significantly reduced bloating, gas, and the feeling of fullness. These
findings demonstrate that even healthy individuals can experience greater digestive
comfort through the aid of digestive enzyme supplements, and suggest a role for
digestive enzymes in those challenged with irritable bowel syndrome.
In addition to enhancing digestive health, digestive enzymes may play further
beneficial roles in the body, such as in reducing autoimmunity and inflammation and
In autoimmune diseases, immune complexes, which are large aggregations of
antigens (molecules that trigger immune responses) and antibodies (immune
proteins that neutralize foreign invaders), lock together in a tangled embrace. Their
deposition in tissue results in tissue damage. They are believed to play a role in
immune system diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosus, and
glomerulonephritis, a form of kidney disease. Some scientists believe that supple-
mental enzymes may have immunomodulatory activity and could play a role in
reducing the incidence of these immune complexes.
Supplemental oral enzymes have also proven popular in Europe as substitutes for
non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. They are used to treat conditions
ranging from osteoarthritis to rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammation-related
conditions. The results of various studies (placebo-controlled and comparisons with
non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) in patients with rheumatic diseases suggest
that oral therapy with proteolytic enzymes produces certain analgesic and anti-
inflammatory effects. Generally, these commercial enzyme preparations have been
found to be equally as effective as standard anti-inflammatory drugs, but with better
In Eastern Europe, oral enzyme therapy (also known as systemic enzyme therapy, in
recognition of the activity of these enzymes outside the digestive system and within
the general circulation) has been shown to be effective in improving post-surgical
recovery time, reducing the need for pain relievers, and diminishing the incidence of
troubling edema, or fluid retention, after surgery. Czech surgeons reported,
“Efficient edema reduction and thus accelerated healing…and analgesic effect…”
Systemic enzyme therapy has even been used as an adjuvant in the treatment of
cancer: Swiss researchers published a review of oral enzymes for this purpose, and
concluded. “These studies showed that enzyme therapy can reduce the adverse
effects caused by radiotherapy and chemotherapy. There is also evidence that, in
sonic types of tumors, survival may be prolonged.” The authors noted that exact
mechanisms of action remain theoretical, but they speculated. “The beneficial effect
of systemic enzyme therapy seems to be based on its anti-inflammatory potential.”
American researchers have also noted the promise of systemic enzyme therapy in
the treatment of cancer. Noting that a preparation of pancreatic enzymes was first
proposed as a treatment to fight tumor growth nearly 100 years ago, scientists in
Pennsylvania conducted experiments in which pancreatic enzymes, particularly
amylase, revealed remarkable selective effects that inhibited the growth of tumor
If you use the prescription medications acarbose (Precose) or miglitol (Glyset),
consult your physician before using pancreatin. If you use the medication warfarin
(Coumadin), consult your doctor before using papain (a proteolytic enzyme derived
Aging presents multiple challenges, but being forced to bid farewell to the simple
pleasures of good food need not be one of them. When taken orally before a meal
supplemental digestive enzymes can boost the body’s natural ability to break down
food into its life-giving and healthful constituents. When consumed between meals,
digestive enzymes may help mitigate inflammatory and disease processes
throughout the body, thus helping to ensure continued good health.
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