Digestive enzymes are one of the most popular topics in health and nutrition blogs…but are they right for you???
Along with probiotics, digestive enzymes seem to be popping up more and more in drug stores, advertising campaigns and health-focused websites. A lot of people struggle with symptoms like constipation, gas, bloating and allergies, and these enzymes are thought to eliminate these problems (or at least make them better).
However, not all digestive enzymes are created equal and not everyone actually needs them! Like probiotics, seek the advice from a qualified health consultant to see if your symptoms are related to lack of digestive enzymes. And, like most supplements, there are certain brands that are much higher quality than others and your health consultant will help you navigate the abyss of nutritional products too!
A lot of people I know seem to jump right into using a supplement to deal with their health concerns. Let me clear something up – supplements are not a cure nor do they react in your body the way prescription drugs do.
Supplements give your body nutrients that you can’t get from a healthy diet. However, supplements can’t fix health problems. You must address the root cause of health problems to see noticeable results.
Some supplements can even be harmful, depending on underlying health issues, prescription drug use, or other factors!
Since digestive enzymes CAN be very helpful for some people (I am a regular user of high-quality enzymes for my own health), let’s dig deeper into the facts about them.
What are digestive enzymes?
Enzymes are required for pretty much every biochemical reaction in your body; some are made by your organs while some are consumed via food. Enzymes help regulate hormones, manufacture neurotransmitters, break down food into its usable components, and improve liver function.
An enzyme is something that ends with the letters ‘-ase’, if you were curious!
You need digestive enzymes to break down macronutrients in food into a smaller component so your body can absorb and utilized them. Enzymes are made when we eat because our bodies naturally make most of them.
Sometimes, though, poor digestive function can lead to a depletion of these enzymes and we have to get help. Low digestive enzyme function can manifest as fatigue, acne, gas and bloating, and worsening of allergies. Improper chewing, large meals and repetitive eating cause low digestive function and low enzyme counts.
A Short Enzyme Lesson
The most common digestive enzymes include:
- 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 want to reiterate the importance of seeing a qualified health care practitioner to help determine whether you even need enzymes (or any supplement).
People who experience regular bloating, cramping, constipation and/or diarrhea, especially right after eating, may benefit from short-term digestive enzyme support. Or, if someone experiences these or other digestive symptoms after eating specific foods, they could be lacking in natural enzymes.
Improperly broken down food in the stomach causes these symptoms. Therefore, the gut bacteria must work harder to break down food into usable molecules. Other reason for these symptoms could be allergies, low stomach acid, gallbladder issues or candida overgrowth.
If you are planning to use digestive enzymes, make sure you read the label of ANY products you buy, especially without the advice of a professional. I like the website National Nutrition for great supplement health information. Read information provided by experts by clicking on each product.
Two critical things to understand about digestive enzymes are:
- Diabetics, pregnant or breastfeeding women, or anyone with blood sugar issues shouldn’t take digestive enzymes. The enzymes will breakdown the carbs into sugars too quickly for the body to manage.
- Enzymes that break down proteins into amino acids can be problematic for people with ulcers, taking blood thinners or anti-inflammatories, or who are about to have surgery.
Possible Side effects
Don’t take digestive enzymes for a long time. Depending on the client, I recommend digestive enzymes for 2 weeks to 2 months based on a thorough nutritional assessment. There are many lifestyle strategies to implement first for most people who have digestive issues and clearing these up usually improves digestive enzyme quantities.
Some possible side effects of taking digestive enzymes could be allergic responses or worsening of allergies, gas/bloating, or diarrhea.
Things You Can Do Now
I take digestive enzymes from time to time because I tend to eat too much at dinner, especially on the weekends (no, I am not perfect). I notice, over time, that my digestion becomes messed up so I consciously work to relieve my health concerns while also mindfully eating and implementing portion control; but, honestly, I’m not that good at either of these things!
My skin also stays clearer when I take digestive enzymes before meals high in protein. There are patterns that emerge once you really start to pay attention to your body!
If you have many of the signs of a digestive enzyme deficiency, start today by relaxing while you eat, think about your food before you start your meal, eat slower and chew well, and avoid drinking too much with your meal.
You can also eliminate common problematic foods like all dairy and gluten. And, because you likely ate way too much gluten and dairy as a kid, your body is depleted of the enzymes needed to break these foods down.
(If you notice that, overtime, these foods no longer agree with you, chances are you’ve lost the ability to make those enzymes. The good news is there are ways to reverse this!)
I know you want to try out a new product that is directly marketed to your most irritating health concerns. But, please wait before you start any new supplements. Make sure you read your labels very carefully. Make sure that no other prescription drug or supplement is going to negatively interact with the new one. If you want expert advice on what supplements your body needs, contact me for a personalized assessment of your health.
TIP: The enzymes in pineapple, papaya and kiwi aren’t as concentrated as those in supplements. If you’re not allergic to these fruits, eat these on a regular basis if you suspect an enzyme issue.
Natural Medicines Database, Bromelain, Papain, Retrieved January 21, 2017 from https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com