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All About Digestive Enzymes

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You may be taking (or considering taking) a digestive enzyme supplement.

But, how do you know which one (if any) is right for you?

Because there are just SO many enzymes out there, I'm going to break down the most common enzymes, what they do, and what you NEED to know about them in this post.

Digestive enzyme supplements might be some of the most helpful supplements of all, but there are so many different kinds to be aware of and some considerations. Not everyone should be taking digestive enzyme supplements; and not all of them are created equal. That’s for darn sure!

As a practitioner, I find that many people with digestive issues want to jump straight into using a supplement. But many times I would rather try other strategies first.

So, let’s dive into a few of the common digestive enzymes, what they do, who should NOT take them and who SHOULD take them!

What are digestive enzymes?

Technically, “enzymes” are compounds that help critical biochemical reactions to happen in your body. These reactions can be anything, from making neurotransmitters like serotonin, to burning food for energy, to breaking down food that we eat into smaller pieces that our guts can absorb.

Oh, and they all end with “ase”.

As I just hinted, “digestive enzymes” are specifically those enzymes we use for digestion (food breakdown). They’re enzymes that our digestive system naturally makes and secretes when we eat.

Now, all of the “macronutrients” we eat (carbs, protein & fat) need to be broken down into their individual (smaller) parts so that we can properly absorb and digest them. They’re just too big otherwise, and if we don’t absorb them properly, we can get symptoms of fatigue, malnutrition, digestive distress, bloating, gas or a host of other symptoms.

It is these individual (smaller) parts that our body absorbs, amazingly rearranges and uses to create other larger molecules that our body needs.

The most common digestive enzymes 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.
  • Lipase - Helps to break down fats into its lipids.

In most digestive enzyme supplements there are a combination of various enzymes to assist with various aspects of digestion. Quite often you will also see additional herbs and even Betaine HCL (which assist with stomach acid production)

Who should consider taking digestive enzymes?

I would always recommend that you see a qualified health care practitioner for an expert opinion on whether your issues may be related to digestion, and which, if any, supplements can help you. There are SO MANY different enzyme products to choose from.

In general, the most common digestive symptoms that enzymes help with are bloating, cramping, acid reflux and/or diarrhea. Particularly if it happens after eating certain foods (think lactose-intolerance symptoms after eating dairy, or bloating after eating a big meal).

One reason for these symptoms can be that food particles are not broken down properly, and the larger pieces travel further down the digestive tract to the microbiota where those little critters start breaking them down themselves. And this is definitely troublesome for certain people. Basically, instead of absorbing the nutrients – the food rots or spoils, which can cause bloating, toxic gas and much discomfort.

Don’t get me wrong, a healthy gut microbiota is absolutely essential for good health. And more and more research is showing just how it can affect not only our digestion, but also our immune system, proper brain function and even our mood. The gut bacteria (microbiota) is helpful when the food it gets further down the digestive tract is appropriately digested before it gets there, this is why it may be very helpful for many people to use a high quality, well suited digestive enzyme.

Anyone who feels as though they need to rely on TUMS or ROLAIDS to control acid reflux and heartburn would most certainly benefit from a well suited digestive enzyme supplement. The reason is that TUMS and ROLAIDS are acid neutralizers – therefore they do the OPPOSITE of digestion – they PREVENT digestion by neutralizing the most powerful digestive fluid in our body, which is stomach acid. This puts much more responsibility on your digestive enzymes, which can likely use some supplemental support.

What do I need to know? - Medical conditions

Of course, you should read the label of any products you take, and take them as directed, especially if they’re not specifically recommended for you by your health care practitioner.

Here are two important things to be aware of:

1 - Digestive enzymes that break down carbohydrates into sugars are not recommended for diabetics, or pregnant/breastfeeding women.

This is because taking them breaks down more carbohydrates into sugars than your body normally would; so, anyone at risk of blood sugar issues should take caution and consider an enzyme with less amylase and lactase.

2 - When it comes to enzymes that break down proteins into amino acids, there are a few people who should avoid them because of potential interactions. That is if you have an ulcer, or are taking blood-thinners..

The reason is because the digestive enzymes that break down protein are thought to irritate ulcers and may thin the blood slightly.

What do I need to know? - Possible Side effects

Using digestive enzyme supplements for a prolonged period of time may well justify an appointment with a knowledgeable practitioner. There may be strategies other than daily supplementation that can help you address the root cause more appropriately.

If you find that your symptoms get worse, you should probably stop using them and talk with your practitioner.

Allergies are always a possiblity, so if you know or suspect you’re allergic, then you should avoid them.

Are enzymes right for you?

There is no question they are a valuable tool in the process of improving your overall health. In fact, I believe they are one of the most useful supplement tools available. So many people suffer from digestive issues stemming from other root causes such as anxiety, stress, poor eating habits, poor sleeping habits or improper breathing habits or being over medicated. I think enzymes are very useful tools when used correctly to ensure you are getting the nutrients from your food - rather than increasing internal intestinal toxicity due to improper breakdown (digestion) of the foods you consume every day.

There is pretty much an enzyme supplement out there that will work for anyone, however it’s important to make sure you do your research before making a decision.

If you want expert advice on whether a specific supplement is for you, speak with a qualified health care practitioner such as your Certified Holistic Nutritional Consultant or the train natural product advisors at Health Street.

Here are a couple high quality enzymes that work great for the vast majority of my clients who struggle with gas, bloating and/or IBS symptoms.

Enerex Digest Best

Enerex Digest Best


Genestra V-Enzymes

Tropical Easy Digesting Smoothie

These ingredients contain enzymes; bromelain & papain

This smoothie is an ideal snack for Spring and Summer but can be used occasionally as a delicious easy-digestive snack on during Fall and Winter.

Serves 1-2

1 cup pineapple, diced

1 cup papaya, diced

1 banana, chopped

1 cup coconut milk

ice if desired

Put all ingredients(except ice) into the blender and blend. Add ice if desired.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: The levels of enzymes in whole pineapple and papaya aren’t as concentrated as taking them in a supplement; so if you’re not allergic to these delicious fruits, you can try this smoothie.

Health Note: The core of the pineapple contains more bromelain enzymes than the rest of the fruit.








Natural Medicines Database, Bromelain, Papain, Retrieved January 21, 2017 from https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com


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