What Are The Benefits of Digestive Enzymes?

a close-up of a woman's midsection. She is gently holding her stomach with both hands, suggesting a focus on digestive health. Accompanying text explains the benefits of using digestive enzymes, which include better nutrient absorption, reduced digestive discomfort, and enhanced overall digestion. The message highlights the importance of proper use for optimal results.

Ever feel like things in the digestion department are just… lacking? Maybe you are experiencing outright digestion issues. Or maybe you have reason to believe you aren’t getting all the nutrients from your meals. If so, a quick Google search has likely suggested adding digestive enzyme supplements to your diet. But what are digestive enzymes, exactly? And will supplements help, or will you just end up wasting your time and money? 

That’s what we’re here to talk about today, and we’ll cut right to the chase and say that digestive enzymes do live up to the hype… if you understand all the available types of enzymes and how to incorporate them into your daily routine properly. Let’s dive into that now so you can feel more empowered to take control of your digestive health and reap all the benefits of digestive enzymes, including a higher nutrient absorption rate, reduced digestive discomfort, and enhanced overall digestion.

What are Digestive Enzymes?

an icon representing the stomach and digestive tract, next to a bottle of pills, symbolizing digestive enzymes. The accompanying text defines digestive enzymes as naturally occurring proteins that help break down food into smaller molecules, aiding in nutrient absorption.

Before we dive any deeper, let’s talk about what digestive enzymes are. 

Digestive enzymes are naturally occurring proteins that help break down food into smaller molecules. These enzymes are critical to your digestive system since they help jumpstart your overall digestion process, allowing the food to move comfortably through your body and in a way that its nutrients can be absorbed. 

As you age, the body starts to reduce the production of enzymes, which can cause digestion issues. This is typically when something like a digestive enzyme supplement comes into play. 

But before we talk about supplementation, we need to talk about the 5 types of digestive enzymes your body produces so you can understand what to look for in a supplement and which supplement will best support your body’s specific needs.

What are the types of digestive enzymes & what do they do?

The image provides a detailed chart of different digestive enzymes and their functions. It lists Amylase for breaking down carbohydrates, Protease for proteins, Lipase for fats, Lactase for lactose, and Cellulase for plant cell walls, with examples of food types each enzyme acts on. The layout is designed to educate on how these enzymes assist in digestion and nutrient absorption.

Though digestive enzymes all work to break down food, each functions a little differently within your body and has a critical role in your overall digestive health. 

Amylase

Amylase is a digestive enzyme produced in the pancreas and salivary glands. Its job is to break down carbohydrates in foods like bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes into simple sugars such as glucose and fructose. For athletes and those with particularly active lifestyles, amylase is especially important, as increased absorption of carbohydrates in athletes can lead to improved endurance exercise performance.1

Protease

Protease, or proteolytic enzymes, breaks down the proteins found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and nuts into smaller peptides and amino acids, which are used to perform all kinds of physiological functions. These kinds of enzymes are naturally produced by the stomach, pancreas, and small intestine, but one well-known proteolytic enzyme known as bromelain is also found in pineapples, and another, papain, is found in papayas. 

Lipase

Lipase enzymes break down the fats and oils found in butter, oils, nuts, avocados, and fatty cuts of meat into fatty acids and glycerol. This process is critical for overall digestion since the absorption of healthy dietary fats allows your body access to the energy stored within them. 

Lactase

Lactase aids in the digestion of lactose, a natural sugar in milk and dairy products. When you have low levels of lactase, you may experience lactose intolerance.

Cellulase

Cellulase is an enzyme that helps break down the cellulose in plant cell walls so you can better digest foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Through efficient digestion, your body can derive significant energy through plant-based foods, allowing you to maximize the benefits of a healthy diet while avoiding bloating and discomfort. 

Where do digestive enzymes come from? 

The image illustrates the sources of digestive enzymes. It divides them into two categories: endogenous, which are produced naturally by the body, represented by an image of the gastrointestinal tract, and exogenous, which are obtained from foods or supplements, represented by a pineapple. The layout clearly categorizes these sources to inform about the origins of digestive enzymes.

So, now that we’ve covered the types of digestive enzymes and how they each help with digestive health and overall nutrient absorption, let’s talk about where they come from. 

Really, there are two sources of digestive enzymes: those that your body produces naturally (endogenous) and those that are consumed somehow (exogenous). Each source plays a role in optimizing digestion and overall well-being.

Endogenous

Endogenous digestive enzymes are those your digestive tract naturally produces. Most people just think of your stomach, but your salivary glands, pancreas, and small intestine can also make endogenous digestive enzymes. 

In fact, different organs are responsible for producing different enzymes: the salivary glands produce amylase, which begins the digestion of carbohydrates in the mouth; the stomach produces proteases and lipases, which help break down proteins and fats, respectively; the pancreas produces a variety of enzymes, including proteases, lipases, and amylases, that are secreted into the small intestine to aid in digestion; and finally, the small intestine produces lactase and sucrase, which help break down disaccharides like lactose and sucrose.

Exogenous

Though your organs naturally produce various digestive enzymes, you can also get them from outside sources like food and digestive enzyme supplements. These enzymes obtained from outside the body are called exogenous digestive enzymes. We already noted that papaya and pineapple are rich in the enzymes papain and bromelain, respectively.

Studies show there are benefits to getting digestive enzymes externally, too, with one 2013 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition concluding that enzyme supplements significantly reduced muscle soreness and improved recovery compared to the placebo group.2

What are the signs of a digestive enzyme deficiency? 

a list of symptoms associated with a digestive enzyme deficiency. Each symptom is accompanied by an icon for visual representation: nutrient deficiencies (carrot icon), trouble digesting certain foods (prohibited sign over food), diarrhea or constipation (stomach outline), abdominal pain (lightning bolt), bloating and gas (balloon), and fatigue (battery). The layout is clean and organized, making the information easy to understand.

Like we said earlier, it’s natural for your body to produce fewer digestive enzymes as you age, but how do you know if you are experiencing an actual digestive enzyme deficiency? One of the earliest signs is trouble digesting certain foods. For many, this can show up as sudden lactose intolerance, where your body is lacking enough lactase to digest dairy products, but you may experience it with other foods, too, depending on which enzyme you are deficient in specifically.  

Other signs of digestive enzyme deficiency include:

Bloating and Gas

When your food isn’t properly digested, it actually ferments in your digestive system, leading to bloating, gas, and a whole lot of discomfort. If left untreated, this bloating and gas can lead to gastrointestinal complications and other digestive issues.

Abdominal Pain

Enzyme deficiencies can lead to inflammation and irritation in your gut and digestive tract, which can cause sharp or even debilitating abdominal pain.

Diarrhea or Constipation

Unhealthy poops usually indicate an unhealthy digestive tract. Enzyme deficiencies can lead to either diarrhea or constipation, depending on which enzyme is deficient. If you have undigested sugars reaching the colon, that can cause diarrhea, while the inability to properly break down fats can lead to constipation.

Nutrient Deficiencies

When your body can’t break down food properly, it can’t absorb the nutrients held inside that food, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies, and when you are nutrient deficient, you are at greater risk for developing other health conditions and digestive diseases.

Fatigue

Not only does proper digestion lead to the absorption of nutrients but also the creation of energy. So, if you notice a constant feeling of fatigue or low energy, even if you’ve gotten enough sleep, this may be a sign of an enzyme deficiency. 

How should I treat a digestive enzyme deficiency?

The image displays two primary treatments for digestive enzyme deficiency, each depicted with a corresponding icon. The left side of the image, symbolized by a molecular structure, recommends Enzyme Replacement Therapy (ERT) for severe cases. The right side, represented by a pill bottle, suggests using a quality digestive enzyme supplement for most cases. The layout is clear and straightforward, aiding easy understanding of the treatment options.

In serious cases of digestive enzyme deficiency, your doctor may recommend enzyme replacement therapy (ERT), but for many, the addition of a quality digestive enzyme supplement, especially in combination with a daily probiotic, can bring about significant improvements. 

What are the benefits of digestive enzyme supplements? 

The image outlines the benefits of digestive enzyme supplements, including improved digestion, increased nutrient absorption, reduced inflammation, better immune function, and enhanced athletic performance, each represented by corresponding icons.

For many just starting out with digestive enzyme supplements, their biggest hope is simply to stop feeling so uncomfortable. And the enzymes can definitely help with that. One study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in 2016 found that participants who took a digestive enzyme supplement before meals had significant improvements in bloating, gas, and fullness compared to those who took a placebo.3 

But taking digestive enzyme supplements has other benefits, too, that should definitely put them high on your list of health considerations.

Improved Digestion

If you have constant bloating, gas, and constipation, you likely have poor digestion. Adding a digestive enzyme supplement to your routine will help break down food into smaller, more digestible molecules that will move better throughout your digestive tract without all the bloating, gas, and constipation. 

Increased Nutrient Absorption

Let’s be real: we aren’t eating foods like kale because we love the way they taste. We eat them because we want to reap the health benefits they offer. By taking enzyme supplements, you can ensure you are getting the most nutritional benefits out of all the good foods you are eating.

Reduced Inflammation

When you have undigested food sitting in your gut, it can trigger an immune response, leading to inflammation, which can leave you feeling bloated and “blah” all day. Digestive enzyme supplements will help eradicate that undigested food and the inflammation that can come with it.  

Improved Immune Function

Believe it or not, your gut health and immunity are closely linked. If one is suffering, the other likely is, too. So, by taking enzyme supplements, you aren’t just improving your overall digestion but your overall immune function, too.

Enhanced Athletic Performance

You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to appreciate this benefit. Imagine being able to lift just a little more next time you’re at the gym or run a little further during your morning jogs. Digestive enzyme supplements can help to improve athletic performance by increasing the absorption of nutrients, reducing inflammation, and speeding up recovery time after exercise.

Can digestive enzymes help treat certain gut conditions? 

The image asks if digestive enzymes can help treat certain gut conditions, explaining that conditions like celiac disease, pancreatic insufficiency, irritable bowel syndrome, and acid reflux, which are linked with low digestive enzyme levels, may benefit from enzyme supplements.

The short answer: yes. While digestive enzymes and a healthy gut microbiome have been linked with a general increase in energy and overall immunity4, certain gut conditions have been linked with lower levels of digestive enzymes, meaning digestive enzyme supplements may be able to treat them. 

Certain gut conditions have been linked with lower levels of digestive enzymes. A study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology found that patients with celiac disease had significantly lower levels of lactase, sucrase, and maltase activity compared to healthy individuals; patients with pancreatic insufficiency, where the pancreas does not make enough of a certain enzyme to digest food in the small intestine,  also had significantly lower levels of lipase, amylase, and trypsin activity; patients with irritable bowel syndrome had lower levels of lactase and sucrase activity; and patients with acid reflux had lower levels of pepsin and acid phosphatase activity.5

So, in these cases, boosting your enzyme levels through a supplement could make a lot of sense. Just please talk with your healthcare provider, dietitian, or nutritionist first. They will help you pinpoint the enzymes that are best for your body and are FDA-approved and regulated. 

Acid Reflux: Characterized by reduced levels of the enzyme pepsin, which leads to difficulties digesting certain foods.
Pancreatic Insufficiency: Occurs when the pancreas fails to produce sufficient digestive enzymes, often due to chronic conditions like cystic fibrosis.
Celiac Disease: An autoimmune disorder where gluten intake leads to immune system attacks on the small intestine, causing inflammation and damage.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): A common condition marked by symptoms like gas, constipation, or diarrhea.

Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease is a specific form of gluten intolerance, where the immune system mistakenly attacks the small intestine when gluten is consumed, leading to inflammation and damage to the intestinal lining. But Celiac Disease is not the only form of gluten intolerance, and other forms do not involve the autoimmune response, instead triggering general gastrointestinal issues. 

If you are experiencing Celiac Disease or other gluten intolerance, talk to your doctor about incorporating an enzyme supplement into your management plan.

Pancreatic Insufficiency

Many chronic conditions, like pancreatitis and cystic fibrosis, can prevent the pancreas from producing enough digestive enzymes like lipase, amylase, and trypsin, leading to exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). These enzymes can all be found in and supported through supplementation.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Chances are, if you are reading this article, you have probably looked into whether your gas, constipation, or diarrhea is a result of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Those with IBS can experience significant relief from digestive enzyme supplements since they often have reduced levels of several enzymes, including lactase, sucrase, and maltase.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Inflammatory Bowel Disease is similar to IBS, though more serious. It includes conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. IBD can lead to malabsorption issues, making it common for those who suffer from it to be nutrient-deficient. These nutrient deficiencies can be combatted with the help of a digestive enzyme supplement. 

Acid Reflux

When you have acid reflux, you usually have a reduced level of the digestive enzyme pepsin. Over-the-counter (OTC) medicine can relieve symptoms in the moment, but digestive enzyme supplements may help you get ahead of the problem and prevent acid reflux in the first place by helping to you digest certain foods easier. 

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Can I add digestive enzymes to my diet naturally? 

Whole Foods: Consuming foods like pineapples, papaya, and fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kefir which provide necessary enzymes for digestion.
Enzyme-Rich Beverages: Drinking apple cider vinegar and kombucha to stimulate enzyme production.
Eating Mindfully: Emphasizing the importance of chewing food thoroughly and eating slowly to aid digestion.
Probiotics: Recommending probiotic supplements to support healthy digestion, improve nutrient absorption, enhance the immune system, and provide other health benefits.

For many people struggling with digestive health, digestive enzyme supplements are the easiest way to ensure you get the targeted support you need to get fast relief from uncomfortable symptoms. But diet and smart dietary changes can also boost your digestive enzyme levels. We’ll talk about the best foods to increase digestive enzymes below, but please keep in mind that before implementing any drastic changes, it’s best to speak to a healthcare provider. 

Whole Foods

Whole-food diets are the answer to so many health problems, including enzyme deficiencies. Pineapples, papaya, and fermented foods like sauerkraut and kefir are the perfect meal pairings to get the necessary enzymes to help your body digest food.

Enzyme-Rich Beverages

Drinking apple cider vinegar and kombucha can help stimulate the production of digestive enzymes in the body. Both of these can be a bit of an acquired taste, and given their rise in popularity, there are a lot of different brands with different flavor options. So if you don’t like the first one you drink, shop around. Chances are, you’ll eventually find one that you love.

Eating Mindfully

Mindful eating generally refers to what you’re eating, but when it comes to digestion issues, you also want to think about how you are eating, too. Chewing food thoroughly and eating slowly can help improve digestion by breaking down food more effectively before it enters the stomach.

Probiotics

Probiotic supplements can be the perfect companion for digestive enzymes. They contain beneficial bacteria that can support healthy digestion, improve nutrient absorption, enhance mental clarity, promote healthy skin, and even support weight management. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study even found they can reduce overall inflammation and strengthen the immune system.6

Are there any side effects or precautions when taking digestive enzyme supplements? 

Allergic Reactions: Notes that digestive enzyme supplements containing bromelain, derived from pineapples, may cause allergic reactions in some individuals.
Malabsorption: Warns that excessive use of digestive enzymes can lead to malabsorption issues, potentially causing gallbladder inflammation and stomach pain.
Misuse of Digestive Enzyme Supplements: Highlights that incorrect usage of these supplements can lead to complications such as cramping, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal symptoms.

Yes. As with any new supplement, there are some reactions you want to keep an eye out for. You also want to make sure you are not misusing your supplements, which can lead to serious complications.

Allergic Reactions

A study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that digestive enzyme supplements containing bromelain, a protease enzyme derived from pineapples, can cause allergic reactions in some people.7 If you have skin reactions or respiratory symptoms after taking supplements, consult your healthcare provider. While it is rare, it’s still possible to have an allergic reaction.  

Malabsorption

While digestive enzymes are essential for breaking down food and aiding in nutrient absorption in your small intestine, adding too many digestive enzymes into your diet can lead to malabsorption, which can cause you to experience gallbladder inflammation and stomach pain.

Misuse of Digestive Enzyme Supplements 

It’s possible to have too much of a good thing, and when you misuse or take too many digestive enzymes, it can lead to complications like cramping or abdominal pain, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal symptoms. You can even experience symptoms of certain diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, constipation, indigestion, and even heartburn. That’s why it’s important to speak with a healthcare provider before beginning any enzyme supplement. And, of course, always check the label of whatever enzyme your doctor recommends to ensure you take the proper dose.

Final Thoughts

The image features a close-up view of a vibrant green gel with water droplets, conveying a fresh and natural aesthetic. Overlay text states, "Taking a digestive enzyme supplement will help your body absorb all the nutrients of a healthy diet and keep your digestive tract functioning at optimal levels," emphasizing the health benefits of such supplements.

Are digestive enzymes the answer you have been looking for to finally relieve bloating, cramps, and general discomfort? Quite possibly. 

Taking a digestive enzyme supplement will help your body absorb all the nutrients of a healthy diet and keep your digestive tract functioning at optimal levels. But as with any supplement, you have to be consistent. Change won’t happen overnight, but after a month of daily enzyme supplements, we feel sure you’ll feel a difference. 

And if you are looking for a supplement you can trust, know that Happy V’s digestive enzymes are Dr formulated and come with full label transparency.