Digestive Enzymes are like “health insurance” for your body—they help insure you’re digesting your food thoroughly. Here’s all you need to know about how digestive enzymes work and the best digestive enzymes and supplements to take to boost your own gut health.
WHAT ARE DIGESTIVE ENZYMES?
You have hundreds of digestive enzymes in your body—primarily in your mouth, stomach and small intestine.
Digestive enzymes help break down the food we eat, releasing nutrients for energy production, cell growth and repair.
In essence, digestive enzymes act like “Pac Mans”—helping your digestive system break down foods into simple, soluble substances [so you fully absorb all the vitamins, minerals, amino acids (proteins), fatty acids and glucose (energy)!]
Not all digestive enzymes are the same. There are four primary types:
FOUR TYPES OF DIGESTIVE ENZYMES
- Salivary Enzymes (enzymes like amylase that digests carbohydrates and lingual lipase that digests fats in your mouth)
- Gastric Enzymes (enzymes in your stomach, like pepsin that particularly help digest proteins)
- Pancreatic Enzymes (enzymes in your pancreas that help balance blood sugar and metabolism; pancreatic enzymes digest proteins, carbs AND fats)
- Small Intestine Enzymes (enzymes in your small intestine that help fully break down all partially digested foods, like lactase the enzymes that help digest carbs, fats and proteins in dairy)
For optimal digestion, you need a variety of the best digestive enzymes for proteins, fats and carbs. Here’s how they work during the process of digestion:
PROCESS OF DIGESTION & DIGESTIVE ENZYMES
Step 1: Salivary Enzymes Digest Carbs & Fats in Your Mouth.
With your first bites, salivary enzymes (salivary amylase and lingual lipase) are released in the mouth, breaking down carbohydrates and fats into smaller molecules before passing them on to the stomach.
Step 2: Food Enters the Stomach & Protein Digestion Begins.
As food comes on down the hatch into your stomach, the cells of your stomach trigger the release of hydrochloric acid, pepsin and other enzymes that specifically break down proteins, as well as continue the digestion of fat and carbs in your stomach, forming chyme (a semifluid mass of partly digested food).
Step 3: Nutrients Are Further Broken Down in the Small Intestine.
After an hour or so in your stomach, the chyme “juice” moves into the duodenum (upper small intestine), where it begins the long winding digestive process of the small intestine (6-8 hour process). Enzymes continue to break food down into smaller molecules.
Step 4: Pancreatic Enzymes Assist Small Intestine Enzymes to Help Balance Your Blood Sugar & Energy Levels.
As your food moves through your small intestine, the pancreas releases hormones (like insulin), bicarbonate, bile and tons more pancreatic enzymes (like lipase, trypsin, amylase and nuclease) to help break down food more and deliver energy to all your cells. The pancreas is responsible for balancing blood sugar, ensuring your cells get the right amount of energy.
Step 5: Liver & Gallbladder Digest Fats and Get Rid of Toxins.
While your pancreas is busy at work, the liver and gallbladder go to work too. The main function of the liver and gallbladder is to detox toxins and form a substance called bile, a yellowish-green liquid that is required to digest fatty acids.
However, if your digestion and enzyme production is already under-functioning, then the gallbladder is NOT triggered to create and release bile, resulting in further impaired digestion. Other side effects of a sluggish liver or gallbladder may include gallbladder attacks, pain in the right side of your body or between your shoulder blades, fatigue and/or feeling nauseated when you eat fats.
Step 7: Poo Time.
Remains of any undigested food particles end up in your large intestine where the final stages of digestion occur: Elimination (your poo). However, if your food was not fully broken down in the first place (due to LOW enzyme supply) then constipation, loose stools or slow-bowel transit time can occur.
The moral of the story? Digestive enzymes are essential to keeping the “flow” of digestion going throughout the entire process.
DIGESTIVE ENZYME DEFICIENCY & SYMPTOMS
Natural digestive enzyme deficiency is common.
While no formal “digestive enzyme test” exists stool testing can help assess the health and quantity of digestive enzymes. In addition, self-assessment of your own gut health symptoms and how you feel is a good barometer for gauging if your digestive enzymes are up to speed.
Typical symptoms of digestive enzyme deficiency include:
- Liver or Gallbladder Dysfunction
- Acne & Pimples
- Eczema & Rashes
- Other non-specific gut-related symptoms (like acne, allergies, brain fog, anxiety, etc.)
How do you get digestive enzyme deficiencies in the first place?
Common triggers of digestive enzyme deficiencies over time include:
- Low stomach acid
- Pathogenic bacteria in your gut
- Gut infections
- Medications, NSAIDs and Antibiotics
- Eating food too fast, on the go or mindlessly
- Poor quality foods (packaged, processed)
- Artificial sweeteners and sugar
- Conventional meat and dairy consumption
- Toxic burden (cleaning products, environment, beauty products)
- Tap water
- Chronic stress
- Sedentary lifestyle or overtraining (stressing the body out)
HOW TO GET THE BEST DIGESTIVE ENZYMES FOR YOUR BODY
Fortunately, if you don’t have enough natural digestive enzymes, digestive enzyme supplements can help.
Digestive enzyme supplements come in different forms:
- Some are better for protein digestion (pepsin, pancreatic enzymes)
- Some are better for carbohydrate digestion (amylase, protease, lactase, cellulase, pancreatic enzymes)
- And some are better for fatty acid digestion (lipase, pancreatic enzymes), and bile secretion (ox bile) to help break down fats.
Take 1-2 capsules with each meal, preferably with the first couple bite of food to go ahead and get those enzymes triggered to start going to work.
CHOOSE THE BEST DIGESTIVE ENZYMES FOR YOUR GUT
How to know which enzyme formula is best for you?
Pay attention to your signs and symptoms around meal time.
1. Protein Enzymes
Feel like meat or protein sits in your stomach when you eat it? You may be low on stomach acid and pepsin enzymes—the necessary “ingredients” for protein digestion.
- HCL (hydrochloric acid) with Pepsin like Spectrazyme-Metagest
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Pancreatic Enzymes
- Note: If you are on PPI drugs or pregnant, do not take HCL directly, use Apple Cider Vinegar.
2. Carbohydrate Enzymes
Bloated, gassy, loose stools or constipated when you eat carbs? Even if you eat “healthy carbs,” if you don’t have enough digestive enzymes to digest sweet potatoes, apples, broccoli, spinach, rice, squashes, or other glucose sources, your body may need some extra carb-enzyme support.
3. Fatty Acid Enzymes
Do fats (even “healthy fats” like salmon, butter/ghee, coconut oil, nuts, etc) make you sick or nauseated when you eat them? Bile support with lipase enzymes may be helpful for you.
- Beta Plus by Biotics if you don’t have a gallbladder
- Bilemin by APEX or Beta TCP by Biotics if you still have your gallbladder.
- LypoZyme by Transformation Enzymes
Not particularly struggling with one food group in particular and just want a quality “broad spectrum” support?
3-STEP GAME PLAN TO BOOST DIGESTIVE ENZYMES
Now what?! Here are 3 simple steps to boost your digestive enzymes, banish bloating, curb constipation and improve your gut health all around:
- Take 1 tbsp. Apple Cider Vinegar in 2-4 oz. of water 2-3 times per day
- Take 1-2 digestive enzymes with meals (before or during)
- Chew your food really well, put your fork down between bites and practice mindfulness (taste your foods)