Should I Be Taking Digestive Enzymes? A Comprehensive Guide

By Nutritious Life Editors

Digestive enzymes are responsible for breaking down the food we consume into essential nutrients that our body can absorb and utilize, making them absolutely crucial to our overall health and well-being. When there’s an imbalance or deficiency of digestive enzymes, proper nutrient absorption can be hindered and may lead to digestive discomfort (think bloating, cramping or excessive gas).. Who wants that? No one, that’s who.

There are cases when taking digestive enzyme supplements may be beneficial, but before we go there, let’s start with the basics about digestive enzymes’ functions and benefits—also known as Digestive Enzymes 101.

Understanding Digestive Enzymes

As a quick reminder, digestive enzymes are substances produced by our body that aid in the breakdown of food into smaller, more easily absorbable components. Different enzymes work on specific macronutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Here’s a quick overview of the enzymes involved in the digestion process:

Carbohydrate Digestion

  • Salivary amylase: Begins breaking down starches in the mouth
  • Pancreatic amylase: Continues carbohydrate digestion in the small intestine
  • Maltase, sucrase, and lactase: Break down maltose, sucrose, and lactose, respectively, into simpler sugars in the small intestine

Fat Digestion:

  • Lipase enzymes: Break down triglycerides into fatty acids and glycerol in the small intestine

Protein Digestion:

  • Pepsin: Breaks down proteins into smaller peptides (secreted by the stomach)
  • Trypsin and chymotrypsin: Further break down proteins into amino acids in the small intestine (produced by the pancreas)

RELATED: 10 High-Protein Breakfast Recipes to Power Your Mornings

Natural Enzymes in Our Diet

Interestingly, many of the digestive enzymes we need are already present in the foods we consume. While the contribution of these natural enzymes to digestion may not be overwhelming, incorporating enzyme-rich foods into our diet can certainly support the digestive process. Foods like pineapple, papaya, kefir, and sauerkraut contain natural enzymes that can aid digestion.

Who Should Consider Digestive Enzyme Supplements?

While our body naturally produces digestive enzymes, certain conditions or factors can lead to an imbalance or deficiency. Here are some situations where taking digestive enzyme supplements may be beneficial. Remember,even if you fit any of these descriptions make sure to consult with your healthcare provider before giving supplementation a try.

Digestive Disorders

Individuals with conditions like pancreatic illnesses (e.g., pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer) or cystic fibrosis may experience enzyme deficiencies and can benefit from supplementation

Age-related Decline 

As we age, our body’s natural enzyme production may decline. Supplementing with digestive enzymes can help support optimal digestion and nutrient absorption.

Food Intolerances 

Lactose intolerance, a common example, occurs due to a deficiency of the enzyme lactase. Taking lactase supplements can aid in the digestion of lactose-containing foods.

RELATED: 28 Anti-Bloat Foods to Eat When You’re Feeling Puffy

Types of Digestive Enzyme Supplements

When considering digestive enzyme supplements (or any supplement at all!), it’s essential to choose high-quality products. Here are a few types of digestive enzyme supplements available in the market:

Broad-Spectrum Enzymes

These supplements contain a combination of enzymes that aid in the digestion of various macronutrients, including carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

Targeted Enzymes

Some supplements focus on specific enzymes, such as lactase for lactose intolerance or lipase for fat digestion.

Plant-Based Enzymes

Derived from natural sources like fruits and fermented foods, these enzymes are suitable for individuals seeking vegan or vegetarian options.

The Bottom Line on Digestive Enzymes 

Digestive enzymes are vital for proper digestion and nutrient absorption. While our body naturally produces these enzymes, imbalances or deficiencies can occur, leading to digestive discomfort and nutrient deficiencies. When that happens, digestive enzyme supplements can be beneficial. However, it’s important to always consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian or certified nutrition and wellness coach before starting any supplementation regimen. These people are trained in wellness and nutrition and can help determine if digestive enzyme supplements are suitable for your individual needs. 

(Don’t know a certified nutritionist? Why not Become a Nutrition Coach yourself?) 

Remember, a healthy diet rich in whole foods and natural sources of enzymes, such as fruits and fermented foods, can also contribute to better digestion and overall well-being. And leaning into all 8 pillars of a Nutritious Life on your wellness journey will guide you toward living your healthiest life, too. 

(Image: Unsplash)

About Nutritious Life Editors
The Nutritious Life Editors are a team of healthy lifestyle enthusiasts who not only subscribe to — and live! — the 8 Pillars of a Nutritious Life, but also have access to some of the savviest thought leaders in the health and wellness space — including our founder and resident dietitian, Keri Glassman. From the hottest trends in wellness to the latest medical science, we stay on top of it all in order to deliver the info YOU need to live your most nutritious life.

Interested in joining our wellness community and becoming a Nutritious Life Master Certified Nutrition and Wellness Coach?

Enter your info, get free access now to a sample class!

Inside Articles page - take a free class form

"*" indicates required fields

I agree*
I would like to receive text messages, and agree to the Terms of Service & Privacy Policy. Reply STOP to cancel, HELP for help. Msg & data rates may apply. Msg frequency varies.