Best digestive enzymes

By Rachael Link, MS, RD

Believe it or not, what you put on your plate is only one component to consider when it comes to the health of your diet. In fact, if you don’t get a good mix of the best digestive enzymes to support the digestion and absorption of the nutrients in your meals, it doesn’t make much of a difference what foods you fill up on.

In addition to assisting in the chemical breakdown of food into smaller components that are easier to absorb, digestive enzymes and their select ingredients may also support gastrointestinal health, a healthy gut microflora and a healthy immune system.

So how do digestive enzymes work and why should you consider adding them to your routine? Here’s what you need to know.

What Are Digestive Enzymes?

Digestive enzymes are a group of enzymes used by the body to break down macronutrients — such as carbohydrates, fats and proteins — into their individual components to ensure proper digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Specific digestive enzymes are responsible for breaking down specific nutrients. Amylase, for example, facilitates the digestion of starches whereas phytase is needed to break down phytic acid. Others are responsible for aiding in the digestion of fats, fibers and proteins as well.

Older adults and people with certain health concerns and digestive problems often lack key digestive enzymes needed by the body. This can cause a number of negative effects, including gas, bloating, diarrhea and more.

Digestive enzyme supplements may be beneficial for those who need a little extra support with their digestion. Our Fermented Enzymes supplement, for example, features 10 important digestive enzymes and a potent prebiotic and probiotic blend that can support gastrointestinal health.

Types

Each type of digestive enzyme plays a specific role in the digestion and absorption of nutrients in the body.

Here are a few of the main types of digestive enzymes:

  1. Amylase: Found primarily in the saliva, amylase helps break down starches into simple sugars to facilitate digestion.

  2. Alpha-galactosidase: Needed to break down starchy, hard-to-digest foods, including gas-causing ingredients like beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage.

  3. Cellulase: Responsible for the digestion of cellulose, a type of fiber found in the cell wall of many types of plants.

  4. Glucoamylase: Helps break the bonds of common dietary starches to help form simple carbohydrates.

  5. Invertase: Aids in the hydrolysis of sucrose, or table sugar, into fructose and glucose.

  6. Lactase: Catalyzes the breakdown of lactose, which is a type of sugar found in milk and milk products.

  7. Lipase: An enzyme produced by the pancreas that helps your body digest and absorb fats.

  8. Peptidase: Responsible for splitting peptide protein chains into individual amino acids.

  9. Phytase: Facilitates the digestion of phytic acid, which is a natural compound found in plant seeds as well as nuts, whole grains and legumes.

  10. Protease: Helps break long chains of proteins into smaller units known as amino acids.

Low Enzyme Counts

Many different people may have a reduced natural production of digestive enzymes. This can inhibit your body’s ability to digest and absorb the nutrients in your food efficiently, leading to several negative effects.

Some of those may include:

  • The pancreas

  • The bowels

  • Gluten digestion 

  • The stomach

Lowered levels of digestive enzymes can affect proper nutrient absorption, which can make it more difficult to get the nutrients that you need from your diet. This can directly or indirectly affect certain areas or functions in the body, including:

  • Bowel transit time

  • Gut discomfort

  • Digestion of fats

  • A person’s weight

  • Gas

  • Bloating

Benefits

Here are a few of the potential benefits of digestive enzymes.

1. Optimize Nutrient Absorption

Even if you follow a healthy, well-rounded diet, it’s unlikely to make much of an impact if your body is unable to properly extract the nutrients from your food.

Digestive enzyme supplements can help supply your body with the enzymes it needs to fully break down foods. Not only could this optimize digestion and ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need, but it can also help support a healthy you.

2. Support Gastrointestinal Health

Digestive enzymes can help support gastrointestinal health by keeping your digestive tract running smoothly and assisting in the normal breakdown of proteins, fats and carbs from the diet.

What’s more, certain ingredients such as probiotics found in digestive enzyme products can also support healthy gut microflora, which is a group of beneficial bacteria housed in the digestive tract that are important to health.

3. Support a Healthy Immune System

Our Fermented Enzymes supplement (on our store) is formulated with a combination of ingredients, including fermented enzymes, a fermented botanical blend and a prebiotic and probiotic blend.

In addition to supporting gastrointestinal health and supporting a healthy gut microflora, it’s also designed to support a healthy immune system to maintain overall health.

4. May Decrease Occasional Gas and Bloating

Certain enzymes like alpha-galactosidase, lactase and cellulase are often used to help with occasional gas and bloating. This is because these enzymes help break down specific foods that are difficult for many to digest, including legumes, fiber-rich veggies and dairy products.

Foods

Digestive enzymes can be found naturally in a variety of food sources, including in many different raw fruits and fermented foods.

Some of the top sources include:

  • Bananas

  • Kiwi

  • Pineapple

  • Papaya

  • Mango

  • Avocado

  • Ginger

  • Kimchi

  • Kefir

  • Kombucha

  • Miso

  • Sauerkraut

Choosing the Right Supplements

There are several factors to consider when selecting the right supplement for you. For starters, be sure to look through the ingredients list carefully and steer clear of supplements full of cheap fillers and additives.

Supplements should also contain a blend of different enzymes rather than one or two specific types, and the amounts should be listed in FCC activity units, which are a measure of potency.

Note that this is different from the weight, which is typically listed in milligrams or micrograms. This is because specific enzymes have differing levels of potency, which are not related to the respective weights of the enzymes.

Finally, be sure to buy from a reputable retailer and skim through the customer reviews to see what other purchasers are saying, which can help make sure you get a high-quality product.

If you’re looking for a product to support gastrointestinal health, our Fermented Enzymes supplement (on our store) is a great choice to get started. In addition to supplying 10 important digestive enzymes, it also contains a fermented botanical blend with whole food, gut-friendly ingredients like apple cider vinegar, turmeric root and organic ginger root.

Other Considerations

Digestive enzymes should always be used as directed. However, if you have any chronic conditions or health problems, it’s best to consult with your doctor before adding digestive enzymes or other supplements to your routine.

Final Thoughts

  • Digestive enzymes are used to break down macronutrients into smaller components that are easier for the body to use.

  • There are many different types, each of which is responsible for digesting specific nutrients found in food.

  • Digestive enzyme supplements and their select ingredients may help support gastrointestinal health, support healthy gut microflora and support a healthy immune system.

  • When selecting the right product for you, look for a supplement that is free of fillers and provides a blend of enzymes and other gut-supporting ingredients.

Rachael Link, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian based in New York City. She completed her undergraduate degree in Dietetics at the University of Central Missouri and later received her Master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. Rachael is passionate about plant-based nutrition and enjoys providing easy-to-understand information to readers looking to support their health.

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