One of the most popular natural digestive aids is enzyme supplements. This quick guide will answer some frequently asked questions on these valuable dietary supplements.

What Are Digestive Enzymes?

Enzymes give us life. These biologically active proteins are found in all living cells. Enzymes act to build or break chemical bonds and are responsible for building new molecules or breaking them down.

Simply put, there are two types of enzymes: Metabolic and Digestive. Metabolic enzymes act within the human body and are essential for cellular function and overall health. Digestive enzymes are secreted by the digestive system to break down food and provide the necessary nutrients that our body needs for energy.

Where are Digestive Enzymes Produced in the Body?

Digestive enzymes are secreted along the digestive tract to break food down into nutrients and waste. Some of the enzymes are secreted by the salivary glands, the lining of the stomach and intestines, and the liver and gallbladder, but the major producer of digestive enzymes is the pancreas. The pancreas is a gland, about six inches long, that is shaped like a flat pear and is just below and behind the stomach. It empties its digestive enzymes in the first part of the small intestine. When food enters the stomach, the pancreas starts its release of enzymes into a canal (duct) that joins with the bile duct before it empties into the small intestine.

Why is it Important to Supplement with Digestive Enzymes?

Many people suffering from digestive issues may not be secreting enough active digestive enzymes or may need additional help. Digestive complaints affect nearly one in three adults. In clinical studies, Digestive enzymes supplements have shown to:

  • Help relieve bothersome symptoms. Improperly digested food is a big factor in producing digestive issues such as gas, bloating, occasional heartburn and/or indigestion, and altered bowel function.
  • Soothe digestive distress. If food is not digested properly, it can irritate and potentially damage the sensitive intestinal lining. Over time, this irritation may reduce our digestive capacity and inhibit our ability to gain the benefits of the food that we eat.
  • Improve the microbiome and bowel function. Promoting proper digestion encourages a healthy intestinal environment, and help relieve occasional constipation and irregularity.

For many years the primary source of supplemental digestive enzymes was from hog pancreas (pancreatin)and included enzymes like trypsin and chymotrypsin. However, the development of microbial and plant-based enzymes has revolutionized enzyme therapy. These vegetarian enzymes are now the most popular choice of supplemental enzymes. They exhibit significant advantages over animal-based enzymes in that they are the most stable and active. This means they are better able to retain their function in the harsh environment of the intestines and they contain a higher enzyme activity. What this means is that they are able to break down more fat, protein, carbohydrates, and other compounds in food compared to pancreatin. They are also able to work in a pH range than any other source.

While plant sources such as papain from papaya and bromelain from pineapple have been around a very long while, relatively new are the enzymes produced by microorganisms, most notably from the Aspergillus family. These enzymes have a strong record of safe use in the food industry and as dietary supplements. Of all the choices, these microbial enzymes are the most potent. This means they can break down more fat, protein and carbohydrates than any other source.

How Do Digestive Enzyme Supplements Work?

When taken with food, most often just before meals, these enzymes aid in the digestion of all foods. They work in digestion and are themselves digested after there is no more activity left in them to do their work. Proteases break down protein, amylases break down carbohydrate and starch, and lipases break down fat. These three enzymes break down the majority of the common food groups. Other enzymes include lactase (breaks down lactose-dairy), maltase & sucrase (break down food sugars), and cellulase (break down cellulose in plant foods).

How Quickly will I feel Results with the Use of Digestive Enzymes?

Some individuals will experience immediate improvements in their digestion. Others may experience more gradual benefits. In general, the effects of digestive enzymes can be felt more quickly than other nutritional products. The typical experience allows for a self-evaluation of benefits after just two weeks of use because of the speed of results with enzymes. Many people benefit from a 14-day trial with a high potency digestive enzyme preparation. In the 14-day challenge simply take one or two capsules of the enzyme supplement before each meal. Improving digestion via supplemental enzymes is often all that is necessary to eliminate a food intolerance.

What Should I Look for When Reading Labels?

When you look at the ingredient list of a high-quality enzyme product, you will find measurement units you may not be familiar with. What is more important than the amount of enzyme in weight (e.g., mg amount) is the activity level. For most enzymes activity is expressed in units of measurement and testing methods established by the Food Chemical Codex (FCC).

Why is it Important to Blend of Enzyme Variants?

The best results are obtained when a digestive enzyme product contains a blend of different variants of the major categories of enzymes (proteases, lipases, amylases). This allows for different ranges of pH activation so that the enzymes are effective throughout the entire gastrointestinal tract. Most digestive enzymes are effective or active within a very narrow pH range and since the pH of the human gastrointestinal tract varies from very acid to alkaline, many enzyme supplements may not be effective throughout the entire gastrointestinal tract. For example, the Thera-blend™ process used by Enzymedica involves using mixtures of carefully blended enzymes that have been shown to work 3X stronger and work more than 6X faster than leading other enzyme preparations.

Do Supplemental Digestive Enzymes Stop the Body from Producing its Own Enzymes?

No, the body will continue to manufacture the enzymes needed to benefit from food as best it can, supplemental digestive enzymes simply aid the digestive process.

What is the Proper Dosage of Digestive Enzymes?

As there are considerable differences in potency and quality of digestive enzymes in the marketplace the best advice that I can give is simply to choose well-respected brands and follow label instructions. The great thing about using digestive enzyme supplements is that you can feel if they are working. If you do not feel the improvement, change the dosage or the product.

What Side Effects Should I Expect from the Use of Digestive Enzyme Supplements?

Enzymes are typically very well tolerated and usually have no side effects. A very small percentage of people have reported upset stomach and soft stool (more frequent and softer bowel movements) when first beginning to take a high-potency digestive enzyme supplement. As with any adverse effect, discontinue use and consult a health care practitioner if needed.

What Digestive Enzyme Supplement Do You Recommend?

As Chief Science Officer for Enzymedica, I know firsthand what makes our digestive enzymes unique. It is why we are the leading enzyme company and why Digest Gold is a bestselling digestive enzyme product in North America. There are reasons why Digest Gold produces results in people when other products have failed. Digest Gold uses Thera-blend™ enzymes comprised of multiple variants within each enzyme type that are specially blended to provide maximum enzyme activity throughout the broad pH of the human body. Digestive enzymes are the most effective tools available to help support proper digestion and Enzymedica provides the best enzyme products available.