Amylase is an enzyme found in human saliva, which is responsible for the breaking down of starch into sugar. The process of digestion begins with the chewing of food, in the presence of salivary amylase in the mouth, to convert the starch in food to sugar. Foods that are high in starch, like potatoes or bread, will taste slightly sweet when chewed; this is because of the action of amylase.
The enzyme amylase is also secreted by the pancreas, where it is called pancreatic amylase; its presence in the gastrointestinal tract aids the breakdown of food molecules into energy for the body to store and use. The paragraphs below elaborate on the salivary enzyme amylase functions in digestion.
- To digest food, complex substances, like carbohydrates and proteins need to be broken down and converted into energy.
- Different enzymes in the body secreted by different organs work on the various food items, and each is responsible for its own food group.
- For instance, just as salivary amylase works on starch, pepsin is a digestive enzyme, which breaks down protein; similarly, lipase aids in the digestion of fat.
- In this way, each enzyme has a certain composition, structured towards its function.
- Salivary amylase pH in the mouth is slightly acidic, at 6.8, within which the enzyme amylase is able to function.
- Amylase present in the stomach is deactivated due to the presence of hydrochloric acid, which creates an acidic environment in which amylase is denatured.
- Salivary amylase digests food, and is mainly responsible for the breakdown of complex carbohydrates into maltose.
- This is done by breaking bonds between the carbohydrate molecules to produce disaccharides and trisaccharides.
- It is activated by the chewing motion. A substrate is the basis or substance on which an enzyme works.
- In the case of salivary amylase, the substrate is starch, which it reduces to short polysaccharide chains and maltose.
Abnormal Amylase Levels
In certain cases, levels of amylase may be elevated or reduced, inducing symptoms that require pathological investigation. Generally, abnormal levels of amylase will be linked to pancreas problems. Some of the situations that may cause abnormal amylase levels in blood are as follows:
- Pancreatitis is caused by inflammation of the pancreas where there are elevated amylase levels in blood. It may be acute or chronic.
- Chronic pancreatitis is often associated with alcoholism, though it can also be caused by trauma to the pancreas.
- Pancreatic cancer can also lead to an increase in amylase levels, as can gallbladder attacks and any blockages in the pancreatic duct.
- Cystic fibrosis is another cause of elevated amylase levels that may be seen with pancreatic disorders.
- Apart from its function as a digestive enzyme, amylase is also useful elsewhere, other than the human body.
- In bread making, amylase is useful in breaking down starch in flour into simpler forms of sugar, which yeast can then feed on, causing the bread to rise, and also imparting flavor.
- Another form of the enzyme, bacillary amylase is used in detergents to dissolve starch from stains, and on dishes when used in dishwasher detergents.
Salivary amylase functions as the first main step of the process of digestion. It is an important component that acts as a catalyst for the hydrolysis of starch into simpler digestible parts. I hope this article has helped you gain a little understanding about the importance of this enzyme and its functions in the human body.