Digestive enzymes are naturally occurring substances that your body produces to break down your food for digestion. You might be wondering: if my body already makes them, then why do I need to take an enzyme supplement? In this article, we’ll explain how digestive enzymes work, what happens when you don’t make enough, and how taking enzyme supplements can support your gut health. There are other plant-based supplements such as shilajit by himalaya, liquid chlorophyll drops and lions mane mushroom supplement, which enhace your health.

What are digestive enzymes?

Before you can absorb the nutrients from your food, it needs to be broken down into its smallest components. That’s where enzymes come in. They’re released all along your digestive tract, from your mouth to your small intestine, and they support the chemical reactions that break down your food.

There are three main types of digestive enzyme:

  • Carbohydrase enzymes break down carbohydrates and starches into simple sugar molecules, which are then used by the body for energy.
  • Lipase enzymes break down fats into fatty acids and glycerol. Among their many essential jobs, fatty acids are used to store energy and certain vitamins, build cell membranes, and power the muscles, heart and brain.
  • Protease enzymes break down proteins into peptides and amino acids. These are used as “building blocks” to create everything from hormones and neurotransmitters, to muscle tissue and immune cells, and even more enzymes.

Your body creates most of the enzymes you need, and you can also get enzymes from a healthy, varied diet. For some people, though, this isn’t quite enough. Here’s how you could end up with an enzyme deficiency, and how it might affect your health…

Digestive enzyme deficiencies

Digestive enzymes are secreted from key organs and glands at various points along your digestive tract: the mouth, stomach, gallbladder, pancreas and liver. They’re also found in the lining of your small intestine.

When any one of those organs or glands isn’t functioning properly, it may not be able to provide the enzymes you need to digest your food. This can happen for a number of reasons:

  • Injury or surgery. For example, if you’ve had your gallbladder removed, you won’t be able to produce some of the lipase enzymes needed to digest fat.
  • Health conditions. For example, chronic pancreatitis can stop the pancreas from producing pancreatic enzymes. Other illnesses like diabetes and liver disease can also affect enzymes.
  • Digestive disorders. Illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can lower enzyme production in the digestive tract.
  • Fever. Enzymes can only function within a narrow temperature window, so a fever can cause enzymes to break down.
  • Medications. Some medications block enzyme activity. Antibiotics are a good example, as one of their jobs is to block the enzymes that help both good and bad bacteria to thrive.
  • Genetics. Some people are born without the ability to produce certain enzymes, or they lose their ability at some point.
  • Low stomach acid. Stomach enzymes need a highly acidic environment to function. Some illnesses and medications, such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), reduce stomach acid and potentially disrupt the optimal environment.
  • Age. Things simply slow down as we get older, so we might not produce enough enzymes to meet our needs later in life.
  • Lifestyle. Excessive drinking, drugs and smoking can damage enzyme-producing organs and glands.
  • Poor diet. Habits like bingeing, eating lots of refined carbs, or eating too little protein can affect enzyme production.
  • Stress. Physical or emotional stress can bring digestion to a halt and cause enzyme production to drop.

The effects of enzyme deficiency

Poor digestion means that you don’t get all of the nutrients from your food. It can cause immediate physical problems as the undigested food moves through your system, such as:

  • Indigestion
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Excessive gas
  • Diarrhoea

One common example of this is lactose intolerance. It happens when people don’t have enough of the enzyme lactase, which is supposed to break down lactose (the natural sugar found in milk) in the small intestine. Undigested lactose is fermented by bacteria in the colon, producing lots of gas and causing serious discomfort.

Poor digestion can also cause long-term problems due to malnutrition. In this case, you might notice symptoms like:

  • Allergies
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies, e.g. anaemia
  • Muscle fatigue and weakness
  • Slow healing
  • Low mood
  • Unexplained weight changes
  • Cognitive symptoms like “brain fog”

How can digestive enzyme supplements help?

Some causes of enzyme deficiency will resolve on their own – when you recover from a fever or stop taking medication, for example. Other causes can be addressed with dietary or lifestyle changes. However, if you’re enzyme-deficient due to age, genetics, or certain health conditions, you might need a little extra support. That’s where digestive enzyme supplements come in.

Digestive enzyme supplements are sold in pill, powder or liquid form, and they usually contain a combination of enzymes derived from plant, animal and/or microbe sources.

By boosting the levels of enzymes in your digestive tract, an enzyme supplement can help you to absorb all the necessary nutrients from your food. It can also help to relieve the symptoms associated with malnutrition and poor digestion.[1]

Depending on the enzymes, they’ve been shown to have various benefits.

  • Lactase supplementation can help lactose-intolerant people to digest dairy and minimise their symptoms.[2]
  • Bromelain, extracted form pineapple, has been shown to improve protein digestion.[3]
  • Papain, another protease extracted from papaya, has also shown to help protein digestion.[4]
  • Pancreatic enzyme blends have been found to reduce symptoms of IBS.[5]
  • Another enzyme and fibre blend was shown to reduce gas, bloating and cramps from IBS.[6]

Diet advice

In addition to taking enzyme supplements, make sure your diet is optimised to support healthy enzyme production with the following tips:

  • Eat a variety of lean proteins.
  • Keep refined carbs to a minimum and go for complex carbs like whole grains instead.
  • Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Very high temperatures destroy enzymes. Don’t use a higher heat than you need when cooking, and try to eat fresh, uncooked food like salads too.
  • Keep meal times and portion sizes as consistent as possible, and avoid periods of under- or over-eating.
  • Sweeten with raw honey instead of sugar.[7][8][9][10]
  • Digestion starts in the mouth,[11] so chew your food as thoroughly as possible.

Where can I find digestive enzyme supplements?

If you’re interested in organic supplements in the UK, check out digestive enzymes together with Feel Supreme’s Inner Purity Digestive Enzyme Complex. Our high-strength blend combines plant-based enzymes with a range of herbs known to help ease gas, stomach cramps and spasms – perfect if you’re looking for a natural way to support and sooth your digestive system.

P.S. Enzyme supplements are generally safe, but they can interact with certain medications, and they’re not suitable for people with certain health conditions. As always, let your doctor know that you plan to add a supplement to your routine, especially if you take medication and/or have a pre-existing condition. It’s best to be on the safe side!

References

[1] Ianiro, G., Pecere, S, et al. Digestive Enzyme Supplementation in Gastrointestinal Diseases. Current Drug Metabolism, 2016;17(2):187–193.

[2] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/lactose-intolerance/

[3] Pavan, R., Jain, S., Shraddha, K.A. Properties and therapeutic application of bromelain: a reviewBiotechnology Research International, 2012:976203.

[4] Muss, C., Mosgoeller, W., Endler, T. Papaya preparation (Caricol®) in digestive disorders. Neuro Endocrinology Letters, 2013;34(1):38-46.

[5] Money, M. E., Walkowiak, J., Virgilio, C., Talley, N. J. Pilot study: a randomised, double blind, placebo controlled trial of pancrealipase for the treatment of postprandial irritable bowel syndrome-diarrhoea. Frontline Gastroenterology, 2012;2:48-56.

[6] Ciacci, C., Franchesci, F., et al. Effect of beta-Glucan, Inositol and digestive enzymes in GI symptoms of patients with IBS. European Review for Medical & Pharmacology Sciences, 2011;15(6):637-643.

[7] Sakac, N., Sak-Bosnar, M. A rapid method for the determination of honey diastase activity. Talanta, 2012;93:135-8.

[8] Babacan, S., Rand, A.G. Characterization of honey amylase. Journal of Food Science, 2007;72:1.

[9] Sanchez, M.P., Huidobro, J.F., et al. Evolution of invertase activity in honey over two years. Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry, 2001;49(1):416-22.

[10] Rossano, R., Larocca, M., et al. What are the proteolytic enzymes of honey and what they do tell us? A fingerprint analysis by 2-D zymography of unifloral honeys. PLoS One, 2012;7(11):e49164.

[11] Peyrot des Gachons, C., Breslin P. A. Salivary amylase: digestion and metabolic syndrome. Curr Diab Rep. 2016;16(10):102. doi:10.1007/s11892-016-0794-7