Digestive enzyme supplements have become more and more popular in recent years. But does that mean you should be taking a digestive enzyme supplement?
The research says that digestive enzyme supplements may be beneficial for some people but they’re not necessarily for everyone.
What Are Digestive Enzymes?
Digestive enzymes are proteins that play an important role in breaking down the food that you eat. Digestive enzymes take nutrients and turn them into substances that can more easily be absorbed by your body.
Common Nutrients That Don’t Get Digested Properly
Here are some of the most common nutrients that the body has difficulty digesting:
When fat is broken down and digested in the body, the majority of it is done by the digestive enzyme lipase. However, this digestive enzyme is produced in the pancreas, and some peoples’ pancreas doesn’t produce enough of it.
If your body doesn’t digest fat properly, it can lead to symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, oily stool, and bad gas. If your body doesn’t produce enough lipase, you could potentially benefit from taking a digestive enzyme supplement, but it’s also a possibility that any over the counter digestive enzyme supplement wouldn’t have anywhere near the lipase you’d need. If you suspect that your body underproduces lipase, you should get tested by your doctor because that’s the only way you can know definitively.
Fructose is a type of sugar. It’s found naturally in fruits but also can be found in sweeteners and any food or drink containing sweeteners.
Fructose is broken down by receptors in the small intestine and if your body doesn’t produce enough of these, it can lead to malabsorption of fructose, in which case you may experience symptoms such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea after you consume food or drink containing fructose.
Galacto-oligosaccharides are found in certain plant foods. Some examples include beans, beets, brussels sprouts, cashews, chickpeas, and peas. The galacto-oligosaccharides are what make these foods
Lactose is the natural sugar found in milk and other dairy products.
Lactose is broken down in the body by the digestive enzyme lactase. Lactase is produced in the body but some people’s bodies don’t produce enough of it, which results in the body not absorbing lactose properly, and can lead to side effects such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea. This is referred to as lactose intolerance.
Taking a supplement with lactase enzyme may help improve lactose intolerance.
Sucrose is sugar that is found naturally in plants. For some people, their body doesn’t produce enough sacrosidase, which is the digestive enzyme that breaks it down. However, sacrosidase deficiency is rare, and it can only be treated with a prescription, so an over-the-counter digestive enzyme supplement won’t help with this deficiency.
Who Can Benefit from Digestive Enzyme Supplements
Here are some of the people who may benefit from taking a digestive enzyme supplement:
- People with Celiac disease/People with gluten intolerance issues
- In a 2018 study, researchers found that patients with non-celiac gluten sensitivity had improved symptoms after taking an enzyme mixture containing cysteine protease, deuterolysin, dextrin, peptidase, and semi-alkaline protease. On the other hand, there was a conflict of interest in the funding of this study and there are very few other studies on the subject.
- People with Crohn’s disease
- People who get heartburn
- People who suffer from indigestion
- People with IBS
- People with ulcerative colitis
Types of Digestive Enzymes
Alpha galactosidase is a digestive enzyme that helps break down oligosaccharides and polysaccharides, which are found in plants.
Alkaline proteases are enzymes that break down proteins into amino acids and peptides, which the body can absorb.
Amylase is part of a class of enzymes that break starch down into smaller carbohydrate molecules for better digestion.
Amyloglucosidase is an enzyme that removes glucose from starch, which produces more glucose.
Bromelain is an enzyme mixture that breaks down protein. It is extracted from pineapples.
Cellulase refers to a collection of multiple enzymes that are produced by bacteria, fungi, and protozoans that break down cellulose and other polysaccharides.
Invertase is an enzyme that breaks sugar down into fructose and glucose.
Lactase is an enzyme involved in the breakdown and digestion of lactose, the sugar found in milk and milk products. Having a lactase deficiency is what’s called ‘lactose intolerance’.
Lipase is an enzyme produced in the pancreas that breaks down fats in your diet.
Phytase is an enzyme that breaks down phytate, which releases phosphorus, which the body can absorb.
Can Your Body Become Dependent on Digestive Enzyme Supplements?
Some suggest that digestive enzyme supplements can lead to dependency. However, there doesn’t appear to be any scientific evidence to support this claim.
Interactions With Medications
There are some interactions between digestive enzyme supplements and prescription medications that you should be aware of if you regularly take medication. Be sure to check with your doctor before taking a digestive enzyme supplement.
Potential Side Effects of Digestive Enzyme Supplements
Digestive enzyme supplements can lead to side effects but they’re generally mild. Some of the reported side effects of digestive enzyme supplements include:
- Stomach pain
Consult your doctor before taking digestive enzyme supplements if you are pregnant/nursing or if you’re on medications.
Wrapping Things Up
It’s possible that you may benefit from taking a digestive enzyme supplement, while some people may see little to no benefit. If your body already produces enough digestive enzymes, you won’t see any benefits.
Be aware that digestive enzyme supplements may react with medications and you should talk with your doctor before taking them.