When you eat a meal, your body gets to work digesting it using enzymes. The job of these substances is to break up the food into particles that can be absorbed by your body. Several of these enzymes -- amylase, lipase and proteases -- are produced in an inactive form in the pancreas, an organ in your abdomen. They are activated when they are secreted into the part of the intestine located just beyond the stomach -- the duodenum.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Amylase is an enzyme produced by your body that helps break down starches and complex sugars -- carbohydrates -- in your food. Most of the amylase in your body is made by the pancreas, but a small amount is made by the glands that produce your saliva. Salivary amylase begins the digestion of carbohydrates in your mouth, breaking them down into simple sugars that can be absorbed. It accompanies the food into your stomach where it continues its work. Once the food leaves your stomach, amylase produced in the pancreas and secreted into the intestines takes over the digestion of carbohydrates.
- Amylase is an enzyme produced by your body that helps break down starches and complex sugars -- carbohydrates -- in your food.
- Salivary amylase begins the digestion of carbohydrates in your mouth, breaking them down into simple sugars that can be absorbed.
Lipase & Fat Digestion
The job of the digestive proteases is to break down the proteins in your food into their building blocks -- amino acids. Examples of digestive proteases are trypsin, chymotrypsin and elastase. Each is responsible for breaking down a different part of the protein. Once the proteins have been broken down into amino acids, some of them are absorbed into the bloodstream. Other amino acids play a role in increasing the secretion of pancreatic enzymes and slowing the emptying of your stomach so that you feel full.
- The job of the digestive proteases is to break down the proteins in your food into their building blocks -- amino acids.
- Other amino acids play a role in increasing the secretion of pancreatic enzymes and slowing the emptying of your stomach so that you feel full.
Lipase is also secreted by your pancreas and is responsible for digesting fat from the food you eat. Most of the fat in food is in the form of triglycerides, which cannot be absorbed from your intestine 5. Lipase works with bile, a substance made by your liver and stored in your gallbladder. Bile helps ingested fat form small globules of triglycerides, which lipase breaks down into their building blocks -- fatty acids 5. Fatty acids are absorbed into the bloodstream, where they again form triglycerides 5. These are delivered to organs such as the liver, where they are used to store energy.
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
Digestive Breakdown of Proteins
Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency refers to a deficiency of the digestive enzymes amylase, lipase and proteases 7. It can be caused by a variety of conditions, ranging from chronic inflammation -- known as chronic pancreatitis -- to cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, previous surgery and tumors. When the pancreas cannot make enough amylase, lipase and proteases, the body cannot adequately absorb carbohydrates, fats and proteins. This leads to weight loss, abdominal pain and bloating, diarrhea with fatty stools, vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is treated with dietary restriction, vitamin supplementation and synthetic enzymes.
- Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency refers to a deficiency of the digestive enzymes amylase, lipase and proteases 7.
- This leads to weight loss, abdominal pain and bloating, diarrhea with fatty stools, vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition.
Lipase & Fat Digestion
Digestive Breakdown of Proteins
What Happens to Sugar Levels in the Blood While Fasting?
What Are the Digestive Enzymes in the Stomach & Mouth Called?
Pain in the Upper Right Back After Eating
What Happens to Food When the Gallbladder Stops Working?
How Do LDL and HDL Differ Structurally and Functionally?
What Does a Low Lipase Level Indicate?
Parts of the Small Intestine in the Order That Food Passes Through Them
Fatty Liver and the Pancreas
- The Exocrine Pancreas; Stephen J. Pandol
- National Nutrition: Amylase
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Lipase
- Proteases: Structure and Function; Klaudia Brix and Walter Stöcker
- Cleveland Clinic: Triglycerides
- Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, 10th Edition; Maurice Edward Shils, et al.
- World Journal of Gastroenterology: Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency in Adults: A Shared Position Statement of the Italian Association for the Study of the Pancreas
- Peyrot des Gachons C, Breslin PA. Salivary amylase: digestion and metabolic syndrome. Curr Diab Rep. 2016;16(10):102. doi:10.1007/s11892-016-0794-7
- Rompianesi G, Hann A, Komolafe O, Pereira SP, Davidson BR, Gurusamy KS. Serum amylase and lipase and urinary trypsinogen and amylase for diagnosis of acute pancreatitis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;4:CD012010. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD012010.pub2
- Genetics Home Reference. Lactose intolerance. Updated June 9, 2020.
- Mótyán JA, Tóth F, Tőzsér J. Research applications of proteolytic enzymes in molecular biology. Biomolecules. 2013;3(4):923-42. doi:10.3390/biom3040923
- Genetics Home Reference. LCT gene.
- The National Pancreas Foundation. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI).
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Updated questions and answers for healthcare professionals and the public: Use an approved pancreatic enzyme product (PEP). Updated May 17, 2012.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Treatment for lactose intolerance. Updated February 2018.
- Pavan R, Jain S, Shraddha, Kumar A. Properties and therapeutic application of bromelain: a review. Biotechnol Res Int. 2012;2012:976203. doi:10.1155/2012/976203
- Minocha A, Adamec C. (2011) The Encyclopedia of the Digestive System and Digestive Disorders (2nd Ed.) New York: Facts on File.
Dr. Terry L. Levin is professor of clinical radiology at a New York childrens hospital where she has been for 15 years. She received her MD from Cornell University Medical Center,completed her radiology residency at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center and her fellowship in pediatric radiology at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center.