Enzymes play a key role in digestion, and they are essential for a healthy lifestyle, but few people actually understand them. To help, we’ve put together this FAQ to answer frequently asked questions and help explain the basics of enzymes and enzyme supplementation.
What are enzymes?
Enzymes are proteins that are found naturally in every living cell. There are two main types: metabolic and digestive. Metabolic enzymes play a role in every biochemical reaction that occurs in your body, but they are not the primary focus of this article. Digestive enzymes help to break down the food that we eat, so that our body can make use of its nutrients. Each enzyme has a very specific function and only works on a particular type of food.
How do digestive enzymes work in the body?
There are approximately 1,300 digestive enzymes, but they break down into four main categories. Amylase breaks down carbohydrates; lipase breaks down fats; protease breaks down proteins; and cellulase breaks down fibers. This process begins in the mouth with digestive enzymes secreted in the saliva, but the majority of the digestive enzymes your body produces come from the pancreas. They work on breaking down your foods until they are small enough to be absorbed in the small intestine.
Where do digestive enzymes come from?
Digestive enzymes are found naturally in all raw foods. In fact, each of them contains the specific enzymes necessary to help your body break down that particular food. Unfortunately, cooking destroys these enzymes, forcing your body to pick up the slack by creating new ones on its own. And as the body ages, enzyme production can drop off.
That’s where digestive enzyme supplements come in. These help your body to support digestion with enzymes that might have been lost through cooking and replace its depleted enzyme stores, so that it can more readily absorb nutrients. Enzyme supplements can be derived from plant, animal or microorganism sources.
Should I take a digestive enzyme supplement?
It may be a good idea, especially if you suffer from occasional constipation, bloating or some other form of digestive distress. These issues are often caused by undigested foods that irritate the lining of your intestines, inhibiting the ability to absorb nutrients. By introducing digestive enzymes that may otherwise be lacking, these food particles get broken down properly, resulting in fewer digestive issues, increased regularity and more energy.
Does stomach acid destroy digestive enzyme supplements?
That depends on the supplement. A good enzyme supplement can tolerate a range of pH levels without denaturing, so the enzymes can pass safely through your stomach and make it to your intestines where they do the bulk of their work.
What are the best enzymes to take?
If you’re considering enzyme supplementation, you should look for a product that includes at least protease, lipase and amylase. Together, these three should cover most major foods. Consider taking Enzymedica’s Digest Gold, which contains the three enzymes listed above as well as cellulase for breaking down fibers.
There are certain cases where you may need to seek out additional enzymes. One common example is lactose intolerance. This condition causes digestive distress because your body is lacking the enzyme lactase, which is essential for breaking down milk proteins. If this sounds like you, you may benefit from adding a supplement like DairyAssist.
What should I look for when choosing a digestive enzyme supplement?
Unlike most supplements, digestive enzymes are not measured by their weight or volume, but by their potency and activity. You’ll see a lot of strange units listed on the label, but all you really need to know is that the higher the number, the greater the potency and effectiveness of the enzymes.
You also want to make sure that the supplement you choose is effective at a range of pH levels. Enzymedica’s supplements include Thera-blends, which are blends of enzymes designed to withstand a wide pH range for superior performance.
Stick with a vegetarian enzyme supplement whenever possible, as these are the most active and potent, and they can tolerate significant changes in pH level without breaking down.
You should also check the Other Ingredients section at the bottom of the label. Many of these ingredients are just unnecessary fillers, and a few of them could even be bad for you (see Common Fillers and Excipients in Supplements). Go with a supplement that has as few Other Ingredients as possible.
Will taking a digestive enzyme supplement stop my body from making its own digestive enzymes?
No. Whether you take in enzymes from raw foods or a supplement, your body will continue to produce its own as necessary. These extra enzymes just assist your body in functioning at its optimal level. With more enzymes coming in through the diet, your body doesn’t have to work as hard to make its own.
Is it possible to take too many enzymes?
No, unlike most vitamins and minerals, there is no upper limit for enzymes. If there is work for them to do, they will do it. Otherwise, they will eventually be excreted from your body, or they will be broken down and their amino acids will be put to some other use.
Will I experience any side effects if I start taking a digestive enzyme supplement?
Generally, the results from taking a digestive supplement are positive and include increased energy, greater regularity and fewer digestive problems. A small percentage of users may experience an upset stomach when first beginning to take an enzyme supplement. If this persists, you should discontinue use and consult with your doctor.
Can children take digestive enzyme supplements?
Yes, of course. Digestive enzymes are naturally occurring, and your child is likely already getting some from the raw foods in their diet. If you are concerned that they’re not getting enough, adding in a digestive enzyme supplement could help. Consider Enzymedica’s chewable Kid’s Digest. It contains kid-friendly doses of many of the same enzymes found in the Digest Gold product.
When is the best time to take a digestive enzyme supplement?
Always follow the directions on the product’s label. Ideally, you should take the supplement with food or shortly before eating. This enables it to get right to work on breaking down the food into smaller components that your body can absorb.
Can digestive enzymes be taken with prescriptions?
Digestive enzymes are naturally occurring proteins, and in most cases, they shouldn’t interfere with prescription medications. But it’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor if you’re on a prescription medication before you introduce a new supplement.