Digestive Enzymes: Gut Health & Inflammation
Digestive enzymes are gaining popularity with claims of improving gut irritations and reducing inflammation. But, do you need them?
What are Digestive Enzymes?
Digestive enzymes are proteins your body creates to help break down food for absorption. Saliva in your mouth breaks down starches (carbohydrates) in your food using an enzyme. More digestive enzymes created in the pancreas help break down fats and proteins in the intestinal tract. Once broken down, these macronutrients are small enough to be absorbed through your gut lining.
Do You Need Digestive Enzymes?
The body naturally produces digestive enzymes. Most people do not need to take a digestive enzyme supplement. However, some people have difficulty digesting certain foods as their body doesn’t release enough digestive enzymes. Not breaking down certain foods can cause uncomfortable symptoms, but most importantly inhibits how well you can absorb nutrients.
6 Signs & Symptoms* That You May Need Digestive Enzymes
*Consult with a qualified medical professional about your symptoms, as they could be signs of gut irritation or indicate a more serious condition.
How to Know If You Should Take Digestive Enzymes
Do you struggle to digest dairy? It may be a sign your body isn’t producing sufficient amounts of the digestive enzyme, lactase. Beans are another food some people struggle to digest and may find a digestive enzyme called alpha-galactosidase helpful.
Those who may need digestive enzymes include those with:
Is Your Age Affecting Your Digestion?
As your body ages, it slows in many ways, including how quickly it creates cells, hormones, or proteins. There are also changes in the way the body breaks down and absorbs food. Scientists are looking into these impacts on digestive changes that occur with age, particularly as it can lead to malnutrition, impacting skin, frailty, and immunity. If sitting down to a large evening meal leads to digestive discomfort as an adult, listen to your body’s signals and discuss digestive enzymes with a qualified health practitioner.
Do Digestive Enzymes Help Reduce Inflammation?
The gut is intricately involved in inflammation in the body. Several studies show digestive enzymes, called proteolytic enzymes, reduce inflammation. Unripe papaya is a popular source of proteolytic enzymes.
It is unclear whether a lack of digestive enzymes causes inflammation. Stay tuned for more research trials to be released, investigating whether the presence of sufficient digestive enzymes helps reduce inflammation.
The best way to reduce inflammation may be a holistic approach, according to researchers. A very small study found patients with inflammatory conditions benefitted greatly from a combined treatment of diet, exercise, and digestive enzyme supplements.
How Do Digestive Enzymes Work?
Digestive enzyme supplements support food breakdown by working similarly to your body’s natural enzymes. The digestive enzyme amylase helps break down carbohydrates in your food. If you lack amylase, diarrhea may occur. The fats in your food are broken down by the digestive enzyme lipase, along with liver bile salts. Without sufficient lipase, the body struggles to absorb enough fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. As for protein in your meal, these are broken apart into amino acids by the digestive enzyme, protease.
3 Digestive Enzymes You Should Know
When Should You Take Digestive Enzymes?
If your body has indicated it needs more digestive enzymes to be at its best, then they are best taken just before eating.
Are there Natural Digestive Enzymes?
Digestive enzyme supplements available at your favourite health food store are naturally derived from animals, microbes, or plants. That’s right – many plants are natural sources of digestive enzymes. You can get digestive enzymes from the food you eat!
6 Foods to Eat for Digestive Enzymes
Best Foods to Eat for Digestive Enzymes
Eating enzyme-rich foods may help your digestion. Pineapples contain the digestive enzyme bromelain which helps break down protein. Kiwi and asparagus also contain proteolytic enzymes. Yet, there’s a lack of scientific evidence linking digestive enzyme supplementation with improved digestion. As such, build a well-balanced, whole-food diet that contains fresh vegetables and fruit, lentils, beans, whole grains, and other plants to support gut health.
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The role of enzyme supplementation in digestive disorders. Altern Med Rev 2008 Dec; 13(4): 307-14.
Characterisation of kiwifruit and asparagus enzyme extracts and their activities toward meat proteins. Food Chem 2013 Jan 15;136(2):989-98.
Bromelain, a group of pineapple proteolytic complex enzymes (Ananas comosus) and their possible therapeutic and clinical effects – a summary. Foods 2021 Sep 23; 10(10):2249.
Effect of oral enzyme combination, diet and exercise on chronic low-grade inflammatory conditions – a report of three cases. AME Case Rep 2023 Jan 5;7:7.