The Dirt on Digestive Enzymes

The Dirt on Digestive Enzymes

More and more people in health and wellness circles are talking about digestive enzymes, but what are they exactly?

In this article, we’ll talk about digestive enzymes and the role they play in the body. We’ll also try to answer some of the most common questions related to digestive enzymes so you can start taking action to support your body. 

You And Your Gut Microbiome

It seems as though every year we learn more about the importance of our microbiomes, which is great news for our guts. Microbiomes are collections of bacteria which live in different parts of our bodies. We need these bacteria for our bodies to properly function. In fact, there are 10 times as many bacteria in our body as there are actual human cells, so needless to say it’s important to take care of them.

There’s a skin microbiome, a pulmonary microbiome, a vaginal microbiome, and many others as well. The microbiome most people have heard about before, however, is the GI tract microbiome. This gut biome is the one people talk about the most in health and wellness. That’s because our gut bacteria help us digest our food and transfer the macro and micronutrients everywhere else.

There are a lot of different factors that can alter the health of your microbiome.

Here are just a few of them:

  • Birth/delivery
  • First foods as an infant
  • Gestational age at birth
  • Diet
  • Use of antibiotics

Obviously, it’s too late to change most of these factors. You’ve already been born after all, and if you’re reading this, you’re probably no longer an infant. But you can still control things like your diet.

Your diet can help support your body’s gut health allowing you to metabolize your food and get the nutrition you need in a healthy way. Additionally, changing your diet to improve your gut health can also help you find other types of support.

Some types of support include:

  • Digestive health
  • Normal bowel movements
  • Healthy weight goals
  • Skin health
  • Overall wellbeing

We’re not saying that if you fix your microbiome you can cure these conditions, but if you’re interested in holistic wellness, improving your gut health is definitely a step you could be taking.

There are many different ways to improve your gut health, but one of the best ways to do it is by increasing your digestive enzymes.

Everything You Need to Know About Digestive Enzymes

Enzymes are substances produced by living organisms. These substances create biochemical reactions in the body. These biochemical reactions do specific things that help your body accomplish specific tasks.

Digestive enzymes, as you have probably figured out, are a group of enzymes that are produced by bacteria and organs in your digestive tract. There are six primary digestive enzymes and you need all of them to support regular digestion.

Types Of Digestive Enzymes

There are many types of digestive enzymes. Each one plays an important role in the breakdown and transportation of nutrition. Here are six of the best digestive enzymes you should know about. Each of these enzymes plays an important part in your biology.

1. Amylase

Amylase is produced in two parts of the body: It’s produced by the salivary glands in your mouth and by your pancreas. Your body uses amylase to help it break down the carbohydrates you eat into simple sugars, which the body can then use for energy. 

Whether you’re gluten-free, keto, or otherwise, you do need a degree of carbs in your diet. And as long as you need carbs, you’ll need amylase to help digest them for energy.

2. Lactase

Lactase is an interesting example of human biology. It’s used primarily to digest lactose, a sugar that’s found in dairy products. A lot of people are lactose intolerant because their bodies don’t create enough lactase to safely consume dairy products without getting an upset stomach later. In fact, according to UC Berkeley, “10% of Americans, 10% of Africa's Tutsi tribe, 50% of Spanish and French people, and 99% of Chinese” people cannot drink a tall glass of milk without having stomach discomfort.

That’s because only certain populations have evolved the ability to produce a sufficient amount of lactase.

So if you like to have ice cream on your cheat day or you like having milk with your cereal, but you don’t produce enough lactase, you’re going to need to get it from somewhere.

3. Lipase

Think of lipase as the amylase for fats. Your tongue and pancreas make lipase which is then used to break down the fats you’ve eaten. These fats are broken down into two primary substances, fatty acids, and glycerol. Lipase creates other alcohols as well, but those are the main two products made by lipase.

Fatty acids can help relieve temporary inflammation. Glycerol is used for a variety of things from improved exercise performance to water retention.

Although most of us probably consume too much fat in our diets already, we certainly shouldn’t cut it all out.

4. Maltase

There’s a sugar whose scientific name is maltose, and it’s found in everything from malted milkshakes, malted candies, cereal, cooked sweet potatoes, and fermented yeast products such as bread and beer. It’s pretty much everywhere.

Maltase is an enzyme created by your saliva and pancreatic juices, and it helps your body break down maltose into different kinds of sugars which can then be combined to form glucose, which is the simple sugar that your body uses for energy.

If your body doesn’t have enough maltase in it, that means you can’t have beer or bread. And who wants to live in a world like that?

5. Proteases

Proteases, also known as proteolytic enzymes or the peptidase, are used to break down proteins and peptides into simpler amino acids. Your body then takes these amino acids and rearranges them into new proteins that it can use. Your body uses amino acids for a variety of things. The most obvious may be the growing and strengthening of your muscles, but that’s not the only thing your body uses amino acids for.

Almost every biological process in the body requires some sort of protein made from different kinds of amino acids. Your body uses protein to build cells, heal damaged tissue, improve your immune system, and it’s used to help support many other functions as well.

6. Sucrase

Sucrase is also called invertase. This enzyme is actually produced by the yeast in your body and it’s used to break down sucrose into something called invert sugars. An invert sugar is a combination of glucose and fructose. Sucrase uses a process called hydrolysis to create these invert sugars, but if it’s easier to think of it as “breaking down” sugars, that’s good enough for us.

Sucrose is also known by a more common name, table sugar. You’ll find sucrose in sugarcane, sugar beets, maple sap, dates, and honey.

Many of us probably consume too many calories and fat, but we almost definitely consume too much sugar. Sucrase helps us digest and use sugar so our bodies won’t store it as fat instead.

It’s pretty easy to see why each of these digestive enzymes is so important, isn’t it?

But there’s so much more to digestive enzymes than their individual benefits. Together they offer the body a bunch of other holistic benefits as well that go beyond simply “breaking down this macronutrient or that one.”

Health Benefits Of Digestive Enzymes

Let’s now explore two of the primary benefits of digestive enzymes.

Probiotic support

Probiotics are different from digestive enzymes. Digestive enzymes are simply the substances created within the body that help it break down food. Digestive enzymes can be found anywhere from the mouth to the stomach to beyond in the digestive tract.

Probiotics are a group of good bacteria which help support the body’s immune system as it breaks down food and does a bunch of other things. Some probiotics even help create certain digestive enzymes. But all probiotics live specifically within the walls of the stomach.

The main difference, however, has to do with that issue of being alive.

Since probiotics are alive, the hope is that one day, you would be able to achieve your ideal stomach bacteria balance and then you could stop taking probiotics. Digestive enzymes, on the other hand, do not duplicate, and should be taken consistently like you would any other supplement.

These digestive enzymes help support and maintain a healthy probiotic stomach population. By further breaking down your food, you’re creating a place that’s safer for probiotic bacteria to live and thrive within your stomach. Hopefully, digestive enzymes will further support probiotic balance in your body.

Healthy gut

Think of your gut as the gateway to the rest of your body. All of the food you consume eventually enters the body through the stomach and digestive tract. That’s where your food is broken down and distributed to the rest of your body. It’s so important to make sure your entire digestive tract is happy and healthy, so it can do its job and nourish the rest of your body.

If you’re wanting to support your gut health as we explained earlier, you might need to start taking digestive enzyme levels more seriously. Digestive enzymes are one of the many best options for supporting your gut biome. Several studies back this up too. Those who increase their digestive enzyme intake by changing their diet, and adding a supplement of some sort, have reported feeling relief from the stomach discomfort they’ve experienced.

With an increase in digestive enzymes, the foods you eat become more digestible. That means your body may be able to use them better than it could before.

Remember though, scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how beneficial adding digestive enzymes to your diet is. 


Foods That Contain Digestive Enzymes

When it comes to getting the digestive enzymes you need, you have three options. First, if you’re healthy, your body should be able to make a fair amount of its own digestive enzymes without much help. The second is through a nutritional supplement of some sort. And third is through the foods you eat.

So what kinds of foods can you eat to naturally increase your digestive enzyme levels?

Here are twelve foods that can help according to  Healthline:

  • Pineapple
  • Papaya
  • Mango
  • Honey
  • Bananas
  • Avocados
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Miso
  • Kiwifruit
  • Ginger

As you can see, digestive enzymes come mostly from citric fruits and cultured foods.

Some foods are incomplete sources of digestive enzymes. Similarly to how you can have an incomplete source of protein, you can have an incomplete source of enzymes. Honey, for example, contains diastases, amylases, inverses, and proteases, but it’s missing out on the other two.

This is why these foods are one part of a more holistic approach to improving your digestive enzyme levels. We recommend including a digestive enzyme supplement that helps you make sure you’re not missing any of the essential enzymes. Because although eating better is an essential step for improving gut health, a good diet together with a supplement may provide extra support.

Adding a supplement of some sort may help you get some basic level of digestive nutrition outside of your everyday diet.


Digestive Enzyme Supplement Q&A

Are Digestive Enzyme Supplements Safe?

Yes! Digestive enzymes are most certainly safe. They’re a natural part of your body’s digestive system, so there’s no need to worry.

It is possible that you may experience some minor side effects, but ultimately, taking a digestive enzyme supplement is no more dangerous than eating yogurt or apple cider vinegar.

You should still be mindful and take your digestive supplements as instructed on the packaging. These supplements are meant to be taken in a certain way, which is outlined in the supplement directions, and taking more than you should will not speed up your body’s digestive processes.

In the off chance you start experiencing any negative side effects after taking the supplement, take a break from them and talk with your doctor about what you can do to fix the problem.


When Should You Take Digestive Enzymes?

If you’ve done some research, you’ll know that there are still some discrepancies regarding the best time to take a digestive enzyme supplement. When you take digestive enzymes, you want to preserve as many of them as possible, so some supplement companies suggest that you take them on an empty stomach about 30 minutes before you eat. The idea is that this is when your stomach acids are at their lowest, they’re less likely to destroy the digestive enzymes before they can be absorbed and distributed throughout the rest of the body.

But the problem with taking them beforehand is that there is nothing else in your stomach to protect the digestive enzymes from your stomach acid.

This is where the second opinion comes into play.

Certain nutrition experts suggest it is more effective to take your digestive enzyme supplements with food. That way, the food can act as a protective layer between your supplements and your stomach acid. Of course, taking your digestive supplements with food will likely increase your body’s stomach acid production, which can negatively hurt the enzymes, but the food is still there to protect them.

At the end of the day, however, your best bet is to take your digestive enzyme supplements according to the directions on the box or bottle. Every supplement will be formulated a little bit differently, and it’s probably best to assume that, whatever the directions say, is the best way to take that particular supplement.


Do Digestive Enzymes Cause Stomach Discomfort?

Generally, no. 

Digestive enzymes may cause the opposite to happen. Stomach discomfort is typically caused by undigested foods in the body. Undigested foods can cause a lot of problems for your stomach. This is usually because undigested foods begin to ferment when they reside too long stomach. It’s this fermentation process which causes stomach discomfort. Digestive enzymes may help break down those more difficult foods, and soothe stomach discomfort.

That being said, everyone will react to digestive enzymes a little bit differently.

It’s usually a good idea to make changes to your diet slowly, so you can notice any and all effects caused by one change before you start implementing another one. If you notice that you’re experiencing stomach discomfort after you start taking digestive enzymes, you should probably stop taking them for the time being and talk with your doctor. He or she will help you figure out whether or not your discomfort has anything to do with your digestive enzyme supplements. Additionally, your doctor should be able to make some recommendations so you can start taking supplements again without stomach discomfort.

Do Digestive Enzymes Relieve Temporary Inflammation?

Yes, there is evidence out there that digestive enzymes can help relieve temporary inflammation. This is probably due to the fact that digestive enzymes may help you more efficiently use the food that you consume. This gives your body more of those basic nutritional building blocks to send where they’re needed.

This also allows your body to better soothe temporary inflammation as it pops up.

It’s a good idea to relieve temporary inflammation wherever you can, because in the end, doing what you can to relieve temporary inflammation will make life easier and healthier.

Does Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) Help Digestion?

Yes, apple cider vinegar may help with digestion. As you saw in our aforementioned list of foods, many fruits and cultured foods contain digestive enzymes, and ACV is another example of this. Not only does ACV contain digestive enzymes, but it also contains certain probiotics, so you get both gut-supporting ingredients from one source.

ACV is also used as a cleansing and detoxing tool. You can combine ACV with ginger and turmeric to help support your metabolism and further support healthy digestion. This combination may also help people feel fuller for longer.

There are plenty of concentrated ACV supplements out there that will help you get an appropriate dose of ACV every day, and we even offer one here at Zhou Nutrition called Cider Detox.

Taking Digestive Enzyme Supplements Is One Step Towards Better Health

Health and wellness cannot be achieved by doing only one thing differently, but every journey does start with a single step.

Supporting your gut health and digestion are great first steps to take in pursuit of better health and wellness. The fact of the matter is, many people claim to have kept their digestive tracts healthy with digestive enzymes.

Part of those enzymes can come from the foods you eat, and part of them can come from the supplements you consume, so if you’re looking to start your fitness journey, there’s no better place to start than by improving your digestive enzymes.




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