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Should You Supplement With Digestive Enzymes?

by Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD April 01, 2023 2 min read

 Woman using papaya slices as glasses

Dealing with gas, bloating and other stomach troubles after eating can take the enjoyment out of eating a meal. Digestive distress can be caused by many different things — from food allergies to intolerances. Figuring out what ails you might take a bit of sleuthing and tracking what you eat. But digestive enzymes might be one solution to help relieve some of the discomfort.

What Are Digestive Enzymes?

Simply put, enzymes cause chemical reactions in the body. Digestive enzymes help break down the food you eat into smaller compounds so that it can be absorbed in your small intestine and nutrients can be utilized throughout the body.

There are three types of digestive enzymes:

  1. Amylase breaks down carbohydrates
  2. Protease breaks down proteins
  3. Lipase breaks down fats

Your body naturally produces these digestive enzymes in the mouth, stomach small intestine and pancreas.

Some people don’t produce enough digestive enzymes and experience gastrointestinal distress as a result. There are many reasons why you might not have enough digestive enzymes, mostly related to genetics and age. Enzyme production slows down as you age.

Without enough digestive enzymes, food travels more slowly through the digestive tract and isn’t completely broken down. Poor digestion can result, with symptoms of gas, bloating, stomach cramps, constipation and diarrhea.

How Do You Take Digestive Enzymes?

Digestive enzymes are supplements usually found in pill form. They’re available both over-the-counter and by prescription.

Prescription-strength supplements may contain digestive enzymes harvested from the pancreas’ of animals and/or naturally occurring enzymes in plants.

Over-the-counter options usually contain plant-based enzymes, like bromelain (found in pineapple) and papain (found in papaya). Pineapple and papaya may help improve digestion when eaten regularly. These foods naturally contain enzymes that aid in digestion.

Digestive enzymes are typically taken at the start of each meal and/or snack.

Speak to your doctor to see if digestive enzymes can help manage your symptoms.

Individuals with lactose intolerance may benefit from a specially formulated supplement or dairy products containing lactase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose, or milk sugar. Over-the-counter digestive enzyme supplements  may also help if you regularly experience digestive upset, like gas and bloating.

If you enjoy pineapple and papaya, they may also bring some relief. For a convenient way to add the digestive enzymes from these fruits to your daily diet, try our superfood protein powder, which contains six digestive enzymes, including bromelain and papain.

If you have ongoing digestive trouble, avoiding foods that trigger your symptoms may be necessary in addition to taking digestive enzymes. Many people find relief from indigestion when they try eliminating dairy, sugar, gluten and/or artificial ingredients. Elimination diets should not be followed without some guidance. Working with a registered dietitian to find the right elimination diet based on your symptoms can help you pinpoint foods causing your stomach troubles. Digestive enzymes are just one part of the equation for healthy digestion.

About the Author

 Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD

Ana Reisdorf has 12 years of experience as a registered dietitian. She has a passion for creating health and nutrition content. She is the author of two books, the “Lupus Cookbook” and “The Anti-inflammatory Diet One-Pot Meals.” Find her at anareisdorf.com.

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