All About Digestive Enzymes
I personally recommend two things to do to improve your digestion before considering supplementing with digestive enzymes. One is to relax more, eat slower, and chew more thoroughly. Can you guess the second one? Keep reading ;)
You may be taking (or considering taking) a digestive enzyme supplement. However, how do you know which one (if any) is right for you? Because there are just SO many enzymes out there, here we break down the most common enzymes, what they do, and what you NEED to know about them.
First, not everyone should be taking digestive enzyme supplements; and not all of them are created equal.
As an integrative health coach, I find that many people with digestive issues want to jump straight into using a supplement. Many times over, I would rather try other strategies first. Not to mention, that some supplements can be harmful if used inappropriately or if purchased from a shoddy shop.
So, let’s dive into a few of the common digestive enzymes, what they do, and who should NOT take them.
What are digestive enzymes?
Technically, “enzymes” are compounds that help critical biochemical reactions to happen in your body. These reactions can be anything, from making neurotransmitters like serotonin, to burning food for energy, to breaking down food we eat into smaller pieces that our guts can absorb.
Oh, and they all end with “ase”.
As I just hinted, “digestive enzymes” are specifically those enzymes we use for digestion. They’re enzymes that our digestive system naturally makes and secretes when we eat.
Now, all of the “macronutrients” we eat (carbs, protein & fat) need to be broken down into their individual (smaller) parts so that we can properly absorb and digest them. They’re just too big otherwise, and if we don’t absorb them properly, we can get symptoms of fatigue, malnutrition, digestive distress, or a host of other symptoms.
It is these individual (smaller) parts that our body amazingly rearranges and uses to create other larger molecules that our body needs.
Here’s a the most common digestive enzymes list - the ones you’ll see on product labels:
● Amylase - Helps to break down starch into its sugars.
● Alpha-Galactosidase - Helps to break down specific “fermentable carbohydrates” into its sugars.
● Lactase - Helps to break down lactose into its sugars.
● Protease - Helps to break down protein into its amino acids.
● Bromelain and/or Papain - Help to break down protein into its amino acids.
● Lipase - Helps to break down fats into its lipids.
Who should consider taking digestive enzymes?
I would always recommend that you see a qualified health care practitioner for an expert opinion on whether your issues can be related to digestion, and which, if any, supplements can help you. When the body’s digestive enzymes are not functioning properly – whether due to stress, inflammation, or some other reason – some practitioners provide them as a temporary fix to to help with digestion or to breakdown hard-to-digest foods.
In general, the most common digestive symptoms that enzymes *may* help with are bloating, cramping, and/or diarrhea. Particularly if it happens after eating certain foods (think lactose-intolerance symptoms after eating dairy).
One reason for these symptoms can be that food particles are not broken down properly, and the larger pieces travel further down the digestive tract to the microbiota where those little critters start breaking them down themselves. And this is definitely troublesome for certain people.
Don’t get me wrong, a healthy gut microbiota is essential for good health. More and more research is showing just how it can affect not only our digestion, but also our immune system, and even our mood (the second brain!).
What do I need to know? - Medical conditions
Of course, you should read the label of any products you take, and take them as directed, especially if they’re not specifically recommended for you by your health care practitioner who knows your history.
Here are two critical things to be aware of:
1 - Digestive enzymes that break down carbohydrates into sugars are not recommended for diabetics, or pregnant/breastfeeding women. This is because taking them breaks down more carbohydrates into sugars than your body normally would; so, anyone at risk of blood sugar issues should take caution.
2 - When it comes to enzymes that break down proteins into amino acids, a few people should avoid them because of potential interactions. That is if you have an ulcer, or are taking blood-thinners or anti-inflammatories, or if you’re having surgery.
The reason is that the digestive enzymes that break down protein are thought to cause or worsen ulcers, as well as have the ability to “thin” the blood and prevent normal clotting.
What do I need to know? - Possible Side effects
Using digestive enzyme supplements for a prolonged period may well justify an appointment with a knowledgeable practitioner. There may be strategies other than daily supplementation that can serve you better.
If you find that, your symptoms get worse, or even if they don’t get better, you should probably stop using them.
Allergies are always a possibility, so if you know or suspect you’re allergic, then you should avoid them.
And, as always, keep supplements away from children.
Before considering a digestive enzyme supplement
You shouldn’t just jump to supplementing with digestive enzymes without a proper diagnosis, or trying a few strategies first.
My first recommendation for digestive distress would be to relax more, eat slower, and chew more thoroughly. This helps to break down food and can put less stress on your digestive tract.
The second step would be to try eliminating certain troublesome foods from your diet (dairy & gluten, for example) and see if that helps.
While many supplements are safe products, they’re not all for everyone. Read your labels carefully to find out who should take them, how to take them, and when to stop taking them.
Ask yourself these questions before purchasing:
Have you done any testing or consulted with any medical professionals to indicate your need to take this supplement?
Does this brand have an established reputation?
Is this supplement natural or synthetic?
Has it been tested for contaminants (e.g. heavy metals, aflatoxins, or chemicals)?
Do you know where they ingredients are sourced?
Does this product tout scientific evidence regarding its efficacy?
What is your purpose for taking this supplement?
What motivated you to pick this brand? (A practitioner’s recommendation most times is the best. They can give you expert advice on whether a specific supplement is for you.)
Have you asked a medical professional about any possible interactions or contraindications?
Now, you deserve a delicious Tropical (digestive) smoothie after all that reading! Here’s one of my favorites…
Recipe (food containing bromelain & papain): Tropical (digestive) Smoothie (Serves 1)
1 cup pineapple, diced
1 cup papaya, diced
1 banana, chopped
1 cup coconut milk
Ice if desired
Directions // Put all ingredients (except ice) into the blender and blend. Add ice if desired.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: The levels of enzymes in whole pineapple and papaya aren’t as concentrated as taking them in a supplement; so if you’re not allergic to these delicious fruits, you can try this smoothie.
Leave a comment below and share your story about supplements. Also, take a photo to share on Instagram! Tag me @naturewellnessbeauty so I can see, and give me a follow if you don’t already! Or join our private Facebook Group here >>> I’d love to stay connected!
Thank you for being here on this journey with me. I'm truly honored you're here.
Natural Medicines Database, Bromelain, Papain, Retrieved January 21, 2017 from https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com
I’m a small town Oregonian, a scientist, an integrative nutrition health coach, and a crunchy mom. Passionate about natural living, long distance cycling, cooking with my littles, kick boxing, cashew milk ice cream + margaritas (skinny, on the rocks - salt, please!).
My passion is helping people conquer their wellness goals and create a more natural, sustainable lifestyle. My love of nature and natural remedies have led me to dive deep into essential oils and creating simple, all natural household and personal care products on my own. My blog started on a simple premise of sharing my journey to a more natural lifestyle, including the science behind many natural remedies, DIY recipes, tips, and ways to save money using plant-based alternatives. Now, as I emerge from my health coach training program, I have married my passion to my purpose, combining all aspects of health and wellness with a holistic approach to create a platform that delivers online tools that bring you into alignment with where you want to be.
I don’t promote diets, fitness, or weight loss as a goal - I encourage my clients to seek out what works for their individual body chemistry + spirit. We will look at how all parts of your life affect your health as a whole.
I am so happy you are here, and I look forward to getting to know you. Learn more >>>
I am not a doctor. I am not here to diagnose, treat, or cure any of your illnesses. The content I share is for informational purposes only.
***Disclosure: If you purchase products linked in the content of my website, I may receive a small percentage from affiliates***