Everything You Need to Know About Digestive Enzymes
You may have heard that, “You’re not what you eat, you’re what you absorb,” and you know what? That’s absolutely right! Our bodies get most of their vitamins, minerals, and nutrients from food that needs to be properly digested and absorbed.
From the mouth to the small intestine, all sorts of enzymes are naturally released to help break food down into its building blocks and release nutrients. The most basic enzymes are protease for protein digestion, amylase for carbohydrate digestion, and lipase for fat digestion.
There are also more specialized enzymes, like pepsin for protein digestion in the stomach or cellulase to break down plant cell walls.
Despite our bodies producing plenty of enzymes, many foods even contain the enzymes that are necessary to digest them!
But what happens if we don’t have enough?
Digestive enzymes can also be purchased and taken as a dietary supplement to aid digestion or help break down very specific foods.
WHO NEEDS DIGESTIVE ENZYMES
While it should be safe for anyone to take them, extra enzymes are not always necessary. Even for a body in tip-top shape, specialty enzymes can help sensitive individuals tolerate foods that would otherwise cause digestive discomfort.
There are specific enzymes that digest things like lactose in milk (lactase), the troublesome sugars in beans (alpha-galactosidase), or even trace amounts of gluten (DPP-IV, propyl endopeptidase).
For anyone who experiences digestive symptoms after eating, a trial of high-quality digestive enzymes might be beneficial. While there are many other possible causes and solutions to digestive issues after eating, enzymes are easy to try and provide quick results.
You either digest the food well and feel better after eating, or you discover that wasn’t the real problem to begin with! On the flip side, digestive enzymes (over the counter or prescription) can be especially important for anyone with a digestive condition and/or malabsorption, like Celiac Disease or Crohn’s Disease.
HOW TO TAKE DIGESTIVE ENZYMES
Every time you eat, your body produces its own enzymes. The bigger the meal, the more food needs to be broken down and the more enzymes are necessary. Likewise, easy-to-digest meals like smoothies and soups require less effort as the food has been broken down before eating. To make the most of them, take digestive enzymes with the meals that need the most help – those that are large or contain foods that your body needs extra help digesting.
Digestive enzyme products will almost always have the same instructions: take with a meal. You want to introduce your enzymes at the same time as your food to make sure they’re at the same place, at the same time, together.
Alternately, you could take them up to 15-30 minutes before sitting down to eat. Read the label to make sure you’re taking the right amount, but taking 1-2 pills usually does the trick.
When taking specialty enzymes, you can sometimes take additional pills based on how much you’re eating. For instance, a whole wedge of cheese would certainly contain more lactose – and need more lactase to be digested – than a few cubes at a cocktail party. Just make sure you read your labels!
10 EASY TIPS TO HELP YOU PICK THE RIGHT DIGESTIVE ENZYME
1. Look for a digestive enzyme without other ingredients if you want to maximize the dose.
2. Look for a product that combines digestive enzymes with betaine HCl if you have low stomach acid or need additional support with protein digestion. Look for a product that combines digestive enzymes with bile salts if you need extra support with fat digestion.
3. Ignore digestive enzymes products that also have probiotics. The low dose that’s included isn’t usually high or helpful, and you’d be better off adding in a high-quality probiotic separately.
4. Look for a product that lists protease several times, followed by different numbers. This means you’ve got support digesting protein in your stomach as well as your small intestine. On a label, it might look like “protease 3.0” or “protease (6.0).”
5. Look for active units, not milligrams. Listing active units means you can easily compare products, and you know that the enzymes are ready and able to do their job. For just about every enzyme, there is a different FCC (Food Chemical Codex) unit of measure. On a label, this will show up as letters such as HUT, AGU, FIP, or SAPU on the right-hand side where doses are listed.
6. Look for a specialty product if you only need specific enzymes. If you can’t digest lactose, need support for all the avocados you’re eating, or just want to dine gluten-free safely, you can find products with just one ingredient. The fewer enzymes included, the higher the doses of each and the more digestive support you’ll be getting!
7. Compare doses. Choose a few products that look promising and see how the doses compare. Prioritize high doses of the 3 basic enzymes and any others you personally need. Remember: Make sure you’re looking at the same serving size!
8. Choose between high-dose support with the most basic enzymes or a more comprehensive formula with a greater variety of enzymes at lower doses. For a well-rounded and healthy diet, I usually recommend the latter to optimize the digestion of all the different foods being eaten.
9. Look for plant-based or fungal-based enzymes that can survive a greater variety of pH levels, like your acidic stomach as well as your almost-neutral small intestine. Double-checking that the enzymes you’re purchasing won’t be ruined by stomach acid can be as simple as choosing stable enzymes. Acid-resistant or enteric-coated capsules, while necessary for some products like animal-derived enzymes, means you’re missing out on any of the protein and fat-digesting action in the stomach.
10. Make sure any product you choose doesn’t have any ingredients you are sensitive, intolerant, or allergic to. A really comprehensive “does not contain” statement is one of my favorite ways to avoid any trouble!
Not everyone needs to take digestive enzymes, but with that said, there’s not much downside to trying them out!
The beauty of digestive enzymes is their speed. Unlike many other supplements that take weeks or months to see results, you get immediate feedback when you try out an enzyme product.
If enzymes aren’t the solution to your digestive woes, then it may be time to dig deeper, look closer at your diet, or work with a skilled Certified Transformational Nutrition Coach or health practitioner to figure out the root cause.
Have you ever tried digestive enzymes? Let us know what your experience was like in the comments!
As always, make sure you talk to your doctor before beginning any sort of supplementation.
For more digestive support, head here 11 Natural Ways To Improve Digestive Health.