Digestive enzymes are naturally occurring proteins that can help regulate your body’s chemical reactions that are key in the digestion of food. These helpful enzymes ensure that the food you eat is broken down into small enough sizes to be carried into the bloodstream.
When it comes to weight loss, digestive enzymes are an important piece of the puzzle to consider. After all, it’s only with proper digestion that your body can effectively use the good nutrients it needs to stay happy and healthy.
What Are Digestive Enzymes?
Digestive enzymes are compounds that help break down foods into smaller components that your body can absorb (1). These include fatty acids, amino acids, sugars, and more. These enzymes are produced by the small intestine, pancreas and salivary glands and work with other substances in your body to facilitate food digestion and ensure maximum nutrient absorption.
There are several types of digestive enzymes:
These digestive enzymes break down carbohydrates, such as starch, into simple sugars.
An amylase deficiency can result in undigested carbohydrate molecules passing into the colon. As they are broken down there by intestinal organisms, they begin to ferment and produce water and carbon which leads to gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
Taking an amylase supplement assists with the complete digestion of starches and carbs.
This enzyme is responsible for breaking down protein into amino acids and small peptides.
As you age, fewer protease enzymes are produced in the pancreas. This deficiency can leave fragments of protein undigested. These molecules are toxic and have been linked to colon cancer.
Taking a digestive enzyme supplement can increase your body’s level of protease and reduce the stress on your pancreas of having to produce them by itself. Protease supplementation has also been shown to reduce meat’s allergenic potential.
These enzymes break down fat into fatty acids and glycerol. They also help your body absorb fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E, and K and essential fatty acids.
If you have insufficient lipase, undigested fats can pass through your gastrointestinal tract. This can lead to abdominal cramping and fatty stools. Over time, a lipase deficiency can cause malnutrition.
Taking a lipase supplement can ensure that fats are adequately digested.
If your body is unable to make sufficient digestive enzymes, you will be unable to digest food properly. This can lead to disorders such as leaky gut syndrome and lactose intolerance.
These enzymes break down lactose, a natural sugar in milk and dairy. Lactose intolerance, for example, is common in people who are deficient in lactase, an enzyme that breaks down this milk sugar. That’s why they may experience bloating, gas and changes in bowel habits after consuming milk and dairy.
Unfortunately, while the body naturally produces digestive enzymes, certain health conditions and lifestyle habits can affect the body’s ability to produce enzymes. Endocrine disorders, gallstones, nutrient deficiencies, smoking, heavy drinks and inflammation are just a few to mention.
Digestive enzyme insufficiency may cause digestive distress, diarrhea, bloating, heaviness, constipation and gut flora imbalances, among other symptoms.
As an answer to this problem, they are now available in supplement form.
Are Digestive Enzymes The Same As Probiotics?
Something to note is that enzymes, unlike probiotics, are not alive. Though they are technically organic and made by living things, enzymes can’t reproduce.
Additionally, enzymes aren’t necessarily always active in the foods we eat.
Though eating raw fruits and veggies can bring a certain amount of digestive enzymes into our diets, cooking or freezing our food can make them inactive.
Though each type of enzyme is different, it’s thought that enzymes become inactive once the temperature reaches 140 degrees.
How Can Digestive Enzymes Help You Lose Weight?
1. Promotes Nutrient Absorption
It would seem the more nutrition you absorb the more weight you gain. If you are malnourished because of a lack of nutrient absorption, digestive enzymes would bring your weight back up to a healthy level.
Absorbing nutrients is a good thing for weight loss too. If you have weight to lose, extra nutrients help you lose it in many ways.
If you aren’t digesting nutrients in food, it takes more food for you to feel balanced.
When your body has all the nutrients needed to function properly you lose nutritional hunger. Until the specific nutrients needed are fulfilled, your body continues to send you hunger signals.
Another example, all grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes have a certain amount of digestion inhibitors. A full spectrum digestive enzyme will counteract these enzyme inhibitors allowing you to absorb more of the nutrients from these foods.
So even if you eat highly nutritious food, if you aren’t absorbing all of their nutrients, your body will continue to send you signals to keep eating until it receives what it needs.
2. Boosts Energy Level
Have you ever noticed you make better decisions around your health and are more likely to be active when you are energetic?
A lack of energy is often the first symptom of poor digestion. Increasing nutrient absorption increases your energy levels and allows your body to work more efficiently.
In most cases, up to 80% of our body’s vital energy is spent on digestion. By aiding the breakdown and absorption of foods, you can free up enormous amounts of energy, increasing physical vitality and enhancing energy levels.
Digestive enzymes speed up transit time for your food. The faster food moves through the digestive tract the less backed-up you become. Waste is equal to weight!
The body wants to extract nutrients and rid itself quickly of these waste products. Undigested food, waste, and toxins that sit around in your digestive tract can weigh up to 10 pounds, giving you a bloated belly. Also, they can lead to a build-up of toxic intermediate products that are even more harmful to your body than the original toxins.
If these toxins are not moved out of the body they are reabsorbed and cause toxicity and inflammation.
Proper digestion and elimination can drastically reduce your body’s toxin load.
4. Increases Fat Burning and Muscle Building
When digestive enzymes are taken with a protein meal after a workout the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) in the protein are absorbed better. BCAAs are special protein building blocks that have incredible fat burning and muscle building effects.
5. Supports Good Bacteria
Approximately 70-80% of your immune system is housed in our digestive tract.
If your colon is full of undigested protein, your good gut bacteria are diminished and bad bacteria take hold. Craving refined sugar and processed junk food can be a sign that you have an overgrowth of bad bacteria in your gut.
Your good gut bacteria push out bad bacteria and colonize the intestine when your food is properly digested and is moving efficiently. As well, good gut bacteria make digestive enzymes.
Think of digestive enzymes as sprinters and the bacteria as long-distance runners. The enzymes quickly prepare the food for use by the bacteria which in the long run support a healthy gut and helps break down food as well.
6. Decreases Inflammation
Inflammation affects your metabolism. Undigested food can cause food sensitivities in the digestive tract leading to inflammation.
If the body sees undigested food as a foreign invader instead of nourishment it creates an inflammatory response which can decrease sensitivity to insulin and leptin. These two hormones control blood sugar levels, energy, fat storage, and appetite.
Inflammation in the body can seriously impair your metabolism and ability to lose weight efficiently.
How to Take Digestive Enzymes Supplements?
Ideally, you want to take digestive enzymes 5-30 min before meals. To maximize their effectiveness, take them as close to the beginning of your meal as possible so they are in contact with your food longer.
Most digestive enzymes serving size labels recommend taking 1 or 2 capsules before a meal, but as with any supplement you want to ease into using them.
It is usually a good idea to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and consult your family practitioner if you have questions.
What Are the Potential Side Effects of Taking Digestive Enzymes Supplements?
Most people tolerate digestive enzymes well. You can run into trouble by exceeding the recommended dosage or if you have an allergic reaction to ingredients in the supplement. Here are some negative effects to be on the lookout for:
- Upset stomach
- Changes in blood sugar
If you have a chronic health issue or are taking medications, you’ll want to consult your health care provider to make sure enzyme therapy is safe.
If supplements are not safe for you, might as well eat foods that are rich in digestive enzymes.
12 Foods That Are Naturally Rich in Digestive Enzymes
In the dairy section, look for this fermented milk beverage that’s thick and creamy. While studies suggest it can deliver a variety of health benefits, kefir is primarily sought out for its good-gut health benefits, including probiotics and digestive enzymes (2).
In kefir, digestive enzymes like lipase, lactase, and protease are created when bacteria in the beverage develop. As the bacteria grow and multiply, the number of nutrients and enzymes expand, too.
Despite being a milk beverage, kefir may be safe for people with lactose intolerance. Research suggests, however, that kefir might improve digestion of lactose (3). Kefir isn’t the only dairy food that’s good for your gut.
Pineapples are a delicious tropical fruit rich in digestive enzymes. In particular, pineapples contain a group of digestive enzymes called bromelain (4).
These enzymes are proteases, which break down protein into its building blocks, including amino acids. This aids the digestion and absorption of proteins (5).
Bromelain can be purchased in powdered form to help tenderize tough meats. It’s also widely available as a health supplement to help people who struggle to digest proteins (6).
A study on people with pancreatic insufficiency, a condition in which the pancreas cannot make enough digestive enzymes, found that taking bromelain combined with a pancreatic enzyme supplement improved digestion more than the enzyme supplement alone (7, 8).
Like pineapple, the tropical papaya fruit is also a good source of the digestive enzyme protease. However, they contain a different group of proteases known as papain (9).
Studies have shown that taking a papaya-based formula may help ease digestive symptoms of IBS, such as constipation and bloating (10).
If you want to eat papayas, just make sure to eat them ripe and uncooked, as heat exposure can destroy their digestive enzymes.
Mango helps break down carbs into glucose and maltose with the digestive enzyme amylase. The enzyme activity actually increases as the mango ripens. This also explains why the fruit gets sweeter with age. The enzymes break down the fruit’s starches into sugars (11).
Diastase breaks starches into digestible maltose. Invertase breaks sucrose into easy-energy sources glucose and fructose. Make sure to eat it raw. Heated honey has none of the good-for-you has fewer intact enzymes. Just remember that raw honey can be dangerous for children under the age of one and pregnant women.
Bananas are rich in potassium, but there are additional benefits to eating bananas. They also contain amylases, maltase, and glucosidases, two groups of enzymes that break down complex carbs like starch into smaller and more easily absorbed sugars (16).
Amylase is naturally found in saliva and is able to break down foods, including carbohydrates. Maltase is able to break down the malt sugars in the body and allow the digestive system to easily process these foods.
On top of their enzyme content, bananas are a great source of dietary fiber, which may aid digestive health. A medium banana provides 3.1 grams of fiber (17).
Miso is great for so much more than soup. The fermented soybean product is a rich source of digestive enzymes, including lactase, lipase, amylase, and protease. Plus, miso is a good source of probiotics, thanks to the fermentation process.
The duo of digestive enzymes and the gut-healthy bacteria is a mighty healthy dose for your digestive system. Indeed, evidence suggests miso, as well as other fermented foods, may help ease symptoms of digestive problems like irritable bowel syndrome (18).
This superfood has a number of health benefits, but digestion is a little known one of them. This food has a high level of healthy fat and it also contains lipase. This enzyme helps digest fat molecules into smaller molecules, such as fatty acids and glycerol, which are easier for the body to absorb (19).
It can help reduce the symptoms of indigestion and discomfort. Avocados have also been found to reduce inflammation levels in the body, making this a great choice.
This fermented cabbage food is rich with digestive enzymes. The fermentation process also adds digestive enzymes, which makes eating sauerkraut a great way to increase your intake of digestive enzymes (20).
As a bonus, sauerkraut’s probiotic effect keeps the gut and immune system strong. Just be sure to buy sauerkraut that is raw and not pasteurized. Heating sauerkraut for pasteurization will kill the good bacteria and deactivate the enzymes you want.
This fruit may be small but it brings powerful health benefits to the table when it pertains to your digestive system function. This fruit contains an enzyme known as actinidin, which will help break down proteins that are found in certain foods and is commercially used to tenderize meats (21).
Actinidin is very good at helping the body break down foods including red meat, eggs, dairy, and fish. It’s incredibly healthy to consume kiwi.
Many people do not actually know what tempeh is, but, once they hear how it can help with their digestive tract, they can become much more interested in it. Tempeh is used as a meat substitute, and vegetarians consume it to help them get all of the protein that they need.
This food also has natural cultures that help with digestion. It goes through its own special fermentation process, which takes soybeans and makes them into cake-like forms. Since they are fermented, they keep the natural enzymes that aid with digestion and offer a slew of health benefits.
Ginger is well-known for its anti-nausea effects, but the root also contains a digestive enzyme called zingibain, which digests proteins into their building blocks. Zingibain is used commercially to make ginger milk curd, a popular Chinese dessert (22).
Ginger is especially good for stimulating a stalled GI tract. Eating or drinking foods with ginger will promote contractions in the muscles that line the digestive organs. The root also happens to be good for your hair, skin, and nails.
It is fair to say that digestive enzymes can help you lose weight by improving your digestive function, maximizing nutrient absorption, and many more. They are particularly helpful in patients with digestive disorders.
However, no pills can replace good nutrition and regular exercise for weight loss. Your body needs more digestive enzymes from natural food.