Lots of people have started to take digestive enzyme supplements. They are available over the counter, so they must be useful right? Well, it’s important to first consider why you are taking them, and whether they are actually right for YOU.
As a practitioner, I find that many people with digestive issues want to jump straight into using a supplement. Digestive enzymes can be extremely helpful! But it’s important to note that you may not need them.
So, let’s dive into a few types digestive enzymes, what they do, how they are useful as well as some alternatives you can try.
What are Digestive Enzymes?
Enzymes are molecules (typically proteins) that help to speed up chemical reactions in the body. They are important for a wide range of functions from making neurotransmitters like serotonin, to burning food for energy, to breaking down the food we eat into smaller pieces that our guts can absorb. Typically you can identify them as they end in “ase”.
Digestive enzymes are specifically those enzymes we use for digestion. They’re enzymes that our digestive system naturally makes and secretes when we eat.
All the macronutrients we eat (i.e. carbs, protein & fat) need to be broken down into their individual (smaller) parts so that we can properly absorb and digest them. They’re 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.
Types of Digestive Enzymes
The most common digestive enzymes that you’ll see on product labels are:
- 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. (Pineapple is a great source!)
- Lipase – Helps to break down fats into its lipids.
Who Should Consider Taking Digestive Enzymes?
I 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.
Generally, 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 the food particles are not broken down properly, and the larger pieces travel further down the digestive tract to cause problems with the microbiota. This can spell trouble for certain people because from there this can lead to other, seemingly unrelated negative health symptoms around the body.
To Consider Before Using Digestive Enzymes
Test, don’t guess. I use the GI-Map stool test in my practice to give us precise information on your enzyme function so that we can select the enzymes that you actually need and not ones you don’t.
You shouldn’t just jump to supplementing with digestive enzymes without a proper diagnosis or trying a few strategies first. There may also be strategies you can learn about other than daily supplementation that can serve you better.
Some other strategies that I use in conjunction with testing include:
- Consider the amount of stomach acid you are producing. Many people with digestive or heartburn symptoms are actually producing too little rather than too much. Check out my post on that here.
- Focus on “how” you eat. Relax more, eat slower, and chew more thoroughly. This helps to break down food and can put less stress on your digestive tract.
- Try eliminating troublesome foods from your diet (we can also add an MRT food sensitivity test if needed here).
While many supplements are safe products, they’re not all for everyone.
I recommend that you:
- Test, don’t guess to determine what is right for you.
- Read your labels carefully (who should take them, how to take them, when to stop taking them).
- If you have a medical condition or are taking medications speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
- If you want expert advice on whether a specific supplement is for you, speak with a qualified healthcare practitioner or book a strategy call with me here.