Digestive enzyme supplements are a common go-to remedy for relieving gut disturbances from bloating, heartburn, gas and burping after meals. Proper enzymatic activity is an essential part of optimal digestion, but how exactly do these enzymes work and how are they different from probiotics?
What are digestive enzymes, and how do they function?
Digestive enzymes are a type of protein which help the body to break down food to aid in optimal digestion. Proper enzymatic activity is essential to maximize the absorption of nutrients from your meals, and provide you with energy. Different types of digestive enzymes are responsible for breaking down different types of food and macronutrients.
Types of Digestive Enzymes
Your stomach, small intestine and pancreas all make digestive enzymes. However the pancreas is really the enzyme “powerhouse” when it comes to digestion. There are many types of digestive enzymes, which break down different macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats:
- Amylase: Made in the mouth and pancreas; breaks down complex carbohydrates
- Lipase: Made in the pancreas; breaks down fats
- Protese: Made in the pancreas; breaks down proteins
- Lactase: Made in the small intestine; breaks down lactose from dairy
- Sucrase: Made in the small intestine; breaks down sucrose
How can we develop an enzyme insufficiency?
When the body does not release enzymes in the amounts that they should, supplementing with digestive enzymes is a solution. Without sufficient enzymatic activity, digestive disturbances and nutrient malabsorption can manifest. Common symptoms of digestive enzyme insufficiency include:
- Abdominal pain or cramps after eating
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Oily stools
How are Probiotics different than Digestive Enzymes
While both enzymes and probiotics benefit digestion, they influence digestion in different ways. Probiotics are living microorganisms that make up the good bacteria in your gut. An ideal balance of healthy bacteria creates an environment in which nutrients can be effectively assimilated and absorbed. Probiotics keep your digestive tract healthy which is also essential for immunity and mood. Unlike digestive enzymes, probiotics do not break down or digest food components (1). (Check out this Guide to Correct Probiotic Use)
Without a balanced microbiome, you may experience symptoms that are similar to an enzyme insufficiency, such as gas or bloating, due to abnormal bacterial overgrowth.
Natural ways to encourage enzymatic production
The following are some insights on natural digestive enhancements from Naturopathic Doctor, Jewel Alfoure.
One of the best ways to promote enzymatic production and better digestion is to practice mindful eating. When you are eating, make sure that you are experiencing your food fully prior to putting it in your mouth. Follow the mental experience with a thorough chewing and try your best to savour every bite as this enjoyment gives the body a chance to respond best. (2)
Leafy Greens and Bitters
Any act of digestion is enhanced with the introduction of a bitter tasting food prior to meal intake. The bitters do not need to be of botanical grade. A simple bite of olive-oil, dandelion, and lemon pesto is enough to enhance digestion by promoting the flow of gastric juices.
Full Spectrum Digestive Enzyme Supplement
Digestive enzymes can enhance digestion and give the best safety profile in terms of providing enough enzyme variety to promote complete digestion. In the case that the body is introduced to a nutrient that it does not have access to an enzyme for, then the breakdown process is hindered. Such hindrance means that the nutrient will travel the length of the gastrointestinal system undigested. This scenario may result in gut inflammation, alterations of healthy gut flora, the increase of possibility of food intolerances and the increase in the possibility of leaky gut/ IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
Should You Be Taking a Digestive Enzyme Supplement?
If you have a known digestive enzyme insufficiency then supplementation is a must. Some disorders that can lead to a pancreatic enzyme insufficiency include:
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Cystic fibrosis
- Gastrointestinal surgeries
- Pancreatic cancer
- Any condition that disrupts your pancreas
Healthcare providers often prescribe digestive enzymes to people who have conditions of the pancreas. It is said that digestive enzyme supplements can help digestive issues like:
- Celiac disease
- Crohn's disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Ulcerative colitis
You are what you digest
If you’ve heard the saying ‘you are what you eat’ a more accurate saying would be ‘you are what you digest’. If your digestion is compromised in any way then your investment in healthy foods and supplements may not be benefiting you to their full potential. It’s important to optimize digestion to both improve nutrient absorption and also ease the digestive process.
Listen to Your Gut
An intake of digestive enzymes usually results in better digestion, less stagnation of food in the gut, less stomach irritability, less belching, less gas, less bloating and even better satiety.
If you have digestive distress from indigestion, gas, bloating, or acid reflux, you may find relief with a synergistic blend of digestive enzymes. Digest Best was expertly formulated by Enerex Botanicals to effectively break down proteins, carbs, fats, dairy, vegetable fibres, and even gluten to rescue your digestive system. Enhanced with Betaine HCl, this fast-acting digestive support product works in acute situations and is also beneficial for daily use.
Prebiotics, Probiotics, Postbiotics: https://enerex.ca/blogs/dr-jewel/prebiotics-probiotics-post-biotics
Holiday Gut Syndrome: https://enerex.ca/blogs/dr-jewel/holiday-gut-syndrome
Over-the-Counter Enzyme Supplements: What a Clinician Needs to Know: https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(14)00520-5/fulltext