Digestive enzymes are naturally occurring substances that your body uses to digest food. They help break down macronutrients — proteins, fats, and carbs — so that your gut lining could absorb them.
However, enzyme production decreases with age. Also, this decrease may come out as a complication after gastrointestinal diseases or surgeries. Along with that, you may need additional supplementation after a heavy meal.
This comprehensive guide will help you learn more about enzymes and will offer you five best digestive enzyme supplements to choose from.
- 1 5 Best Digestive Enzyme Supplements
- 2 Main Types of Enzymes
- 3 Health Benefits of Digestive Enzymes
5 Best Digestive Enzyme Supplements
ZenWise Digestive Enzymes with Probiotics and Prebiotics
Zenwise is one of the best digestive enzymes for its ingredients — along with enzymes, it can offer you probiotics and prebiotics to ensure gut health and proper digestion.
This supplement contains a plant-sourced blend of enzymes and some useful plant extracts, such as turmeric, to keep you energized. Overall, this is a good blend for individuals with bloating and irritable bowel syndrome and for those who just need some digestion support.
You can choose between three package sizes — 25, 60, and 180 count — which is great for those who only want to give it a try or those who may want to take a long course.
Note that the labeling you will see on photos may not be completely correct. In particular, the company claims that their product is plant-based, but a large number of customer reviews include photos of the actual label of the product, where one can see the warning of wheat, dairy, soy, fish, and shellfish contents.
MAV Nutrition Digestive Enzymes
MAV Nutrition offers a balanced enzyme blend that contains bromelain, protease, lactase, amylase, lipase, and cellulase, along with three strains of gut bacteria. It will work great for occasional digestion problems — such as bloating, diarrhea, and constipation — and for systemic support if you have chronic gut conditions.
One serving is equal to 1 capsule per day. The whole package contains 60 servings and it’s the only size available. Thus, you can expect one bottle to last 20-60 days, depending on your diet.
Dr.Tobias Digestive Enzymes
Dr. Tobias proudly holds the place among the best digestive enzymes on the market not only because it’s third-party tested but also because it contains whole 18 enzymes in one capsule.
This supplement can be used for helping with digestion process after a holiday meal or for people that have enzymes deficiency, as it contains high doses of ferments.
The manufacturer states that their enzymes meet cGMP standards and are completely safe for long-term use. One package contains 60 servings and may last for up to two months with daily use.
Enzymedica Digest Gold with ATPro
Enzymedica is a great balanced enzymes complex. It is totally suitable for vegans and people with allergies because it contains no animal-based products, gluten, soy, dairy, or artificial additives.
Instead, you will get 14 digestive enzymes to break down different types of nutrients. The manufacturer also offers you an energy boost in the form of ATPro — the formula containing ATP as a natural source of energy mixed with CoQ10 enzyme for cardiac health and antioxidant properties.
One serving of this supplement is equal to 1 capsule per day; however, if you feel like you need more enzymes, you might double or triple this amount.
Another feature of Enzymedica is the variety of package sizes. The manufacturer offers you six sizes — 21, 45, 90, 120, 180, and 240 count — so you can easily choose what suits you most.
American Health Multi-Enzyme Plus
American Health can be easily called as a supplement with the best digestive enzymes. It comes in the chewable form, so along with improved digestion after a meal, it gives you a fresh breath due to subtle mint taste.
One serving of this enzyme blend is equal to 3 tabs following each meal; however, you can also use it as a breath freshener. In this case, dissolve one tablet in your mouth.
The American Health enzymes come in 180 and 360 count package sizes and may last between 2 and 4 months, depending on how you take them. They are great for supporting daily gut health and promote digestion if you have mild enzyme deficiency or recover from illness.
What Are Digestive Enzymes?
Enzymes are special compounds that your body uses in your digestive tract to break down the three main macronutrients found in food — carbs, fats, and proteins. They are naturally produced by your digestive organs, such as pancreas, liver, duodenum, and even salivary glands.
Plainly speaking, gastric juice is a mixture of different enzymes and gastric acid, which also serves as cleansing fluid and kills harmful pathogens you might get from food.
“Interesting fact: You don’t need to actually eat to trigger the production of the enzymes. Even thinking about food can boost their levels.”
What Do Enzymes Do in Your Body?
All enzymes work as highly-sensitive catalysts, making the complex molecules turn into simpler compounds your body is capable to absorb.
Each enzyme is specifically designed to break down a particular type of food.
For example, lactase is the ferment that helps break down lactose, the milk sugar. Many people in the global population experience the deficiency of this enzyme and need to take it in the form of a supplement.
Along with aiding digestion, enzymes help you grow new cells by taking part in the DNA replication process.
Main Types of Enzymes
There are three main types of digestive enzymes based on the type of food they break down:
- maltase: breaks down such complex carbohydrates as fibers, starches, and sugars;
- lipase: helps dissolve fats;
- protease: breaks down protein molecules into amino acids.
Overall, the human body has more than a thousand different enzymes for regulating its functions. Here are just some examples of them:
- pepsin — a proteolytic enzyme found in gastric juice;
- trypsin — along with pepsin, aids in protein digestion;
- amylase — breaks down starches;
- maltase — found in saliva, helps transform maltose into glucose;
- lactase — helps your body digest lactose, by breaking it down to galactose and glucose;
- peptidase — breaks down specific proteins, such as gluten.
“Enzymes can be found even in your cerebrospinal fluid. They help break down neurotransmitter residue and maintain the health of your nervous system.”
In What Cases You May Lack Enzymes and How Do You Know That?
As mentioned above, enzyme production naturally decreases with age, as your digestive glands wear out. Apart from that, you may get enzyme deficiency in the following cases:
- long infection disease;
- gastrointestinal diseases, such as pancreatitis, irritable bowel syndrome or liver problems;
- gastrointestinal surgeries;
- irregular eating schedule.
But how do you actually know that you have enzyme depletion and that you need to treat it with supplements?
The most precise way to tell is to have your stool tested in the lab. However, you also can pay attention to the following symptoms:
- bloating and stomach pains shortly after a meal;
- appearing of certain food sensitivities;
- stool problems, such as foul smell, constipation, or diarrhea;
- weight loss (due to the inability of your body to absorb the nutrients it needs);
- fatigue and drowsiness during the day.
If you have at least three of these symptoms, you may want to consult your doctor whether you need enzymes supplementation or changes in your diet.
Where Are Enzymes Found Naturally?
Aside from supplements, you can actually find enzymes in a variety of foods. Here are some examples:
- Pineapple. Pineapples are great not only for their taste but also for being loaded with bromelain, the proteolytic enzyme which is sold around the world as a meat tenderizer and supplement for people with ferment deficiency. You can actually feel how it’s working when you bite into pineapple slice. That tingling sensation you get on your tongue is the release of bromelain from pineapple cells.
- Papaya. Papaya is mostly known for papain, the proteolytic ferment. Studies found that papain may be beneficial for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), who suffer from bloating and stomach cramps.
- Honey. Honey is the leader when it comes to enzymes in food. It contains several types of enzymes aimed to break down starches, sugars, and proteins. However, all this goodness mostly applies to raw honey since the regular honey you buy at the supermarket often undergoes heat processing, which destroys the enzymes.
- Sauerkraut. Sauerkraut and its Korean analog kimchi are, in fact, just fermented vegetables (primarily cabbage). The fermentation process increases the number of digestive enzymes in the product, so it may be the easiest way to boost your own enzymes production.
- Kefir and yogurt. These dairy products undergo the same fermentation process as sauerkraut. This results in a more balanced nutrients profile and makes kefir suitable for people with lactose intolerance because bacteria use milk sugar as food and naturally decrease its amount.
- Ginger. Along with containing a proteolytic enzyme called zingibain, ginger also improves the production of your own digestive enzymes and promotes healthy gut flow.
“A balanced diet rich in vegetables and fermented foods can help you maintain a healthy production of digestive enzymes and eliminate the most common gut disturbances.”
Health Benefits of Digestive Enzymes
Getting enough digestive enzymes from food sources or through supplementation will have a bunch of benefits. here’s what exactly they do for your health.
Aiding in the treatment of digestion issues is one of the main benefits of digestive enzymes. Enzyme supplements help solve a host of gut problems:
- Pancreatic deficiency. Enzyme replacement therapy is one of the standard lines of treatment in patients with pancreatic pathologies. The Journal of Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology reviews the use of pancreatic enzyme as a way of improving malabsorption and eliminating the symptoms of steatorrhea.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a chronic condition with the main symptoms being bloating, gas, and diarrhea. A study with a sample of 90 participants with IBS symptoms showed that taking the complex of digestive enzymes helped reduce the amount of gas in the intestinal lumen and therefore decrease bloating and painful symptoms, compared with the placebo group.
- Food sensitivities. Some foods, such as milk, beans, and meat, which is considered a heavy meal, may slow down the work of your gastrointestinal tract. Taking digestive enzymes that break down complex carbs and proteins may help people with food sensitivities and dietary needs.
Improve Vascular Health
Some proteolytic enzymes, e.g. nattokinase, may act as natural blood thinners by reducing the fibrin production and the level of platelets in the blood serum. This may help people who are prone to thrombosis and hypertension to maintain healthy blood flow without putting pressure on their heart and vessels.
A bunch of studies shows that proteolytic enzymes may work as a promising treatment for inflammation.
Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Journal published a review of several clinical studies involved the use of bromelain in patients with osteoarthritis. Studies show that taking high doses of bromelain showed reducing swelling and pain. However, more data is needed to determine the effectiveness of this enzyme in long-term treatment.
Another study conducted on rats revealed that the use of the proteolytic enzymes complex (chymotrypsin, trypsin, and serrapeptase) showed better results in reducing both acute and subacute inflammation compared to aspirin.
Increase Energy Levels
Obviously, when you take digestive enzymes, they help your gastrointestinal tract to absorb more nutrients, therefore boosting your energy. Along with that, enzymes alleviate that ‘rock-in-a-stomach’ feel after the heavy meal and make you less drowsy.
Some supplement brands also contain useful additives and extracts, such as turmeric powder to increase your vigor boost even more.
Promotes Wound Healing
Proteolytic enzymes, according to studies, may promote regeneration and speed up wound healing and recovery time after surgery.
For example, according to this study, taking 5 mg of serrapeptase for 7 days helped reduce the cheek swelling and pain intensity in people who had just underdone molar removal.
Dosage, Safety and Side Effects
The main drawback with the enzymes is that they’re not regulated by the FDA and hence there’s no recommended dosage.
Along with that, digestive enzymes are not measured in grams or milligrams in most cases. Instead, manufacturers indicate the potency of each enzyme in their product in ‘active units’. The active unit describes the amount of food that a particular enzyme can potentially break down.
Thus, almost all enzyme blends have approximate measurements; however, they can be useful when you decide to compare two given products.
If you want to know your individual dose, consult with your doctor.
Now, although all digestive enzymes are considered safe for adults, you still can take too much of them. In this case, you may experience some side effects of digestive enzymes:
- Abdominal pain and IBS-like symptoms. Sometimes your body needs to adjust to a new enzyme supplement and may produce these unpleasant symptoms for a couple of days.
- Bleeding. Taking proteolytic enzymes with the blood-thinning effect isn’t recommended a month prior to surgery because they can increase the risk of bleeding by reducing the platelet activity.
- Allergic reactions. All enzymes are active ingredients, so they may cause an allergic response in sensitive people.
- Low blood sugar levels. Taking digestive enzymes may interfere with the use of diabetic drugs and drop sugar levels too low.
“Women who are pregnant or plan to have a child should avoid eating underripe papaya or taking papain supplements, as these may lead to uterus contractions and miscarriage.”
FAQ for Enzymes Users
Are enzymes the same thing as probiotics/prebiotics?
No. Digestive enzymes are compounds that are produced inside your body to break down and ingest food. Probiotics and prebiotics, on the other hand, need to be ingested to work.
Probiotics are strains of gut bacteria, similar to those living in your bowel. You may take them to increase the amount of healthy gut flora.
Prebiotics are substances that serve as a fuel to gut flora. These can be some sugars or soluble plant fiber.
Can I use digestive enzymes for weight loss?
Digestive enzymes cannot be considered a magic pill for weight loss. However, they can help you maintain a healthy weight by improving nutrient absorption, thereby making you a less impulsive eater.
How long should I take enzymes?
Usually, you can observe positive effects in the first 3-4 days after you started taking supplements. However, the overall longevity of enzyme supplementation should be discussed with your doctor.
Can your body become dependent on the enzymes?
No. Supplementation with the enzymes supports your digestive system without affecting its ability to produce enzymes naturally. Most of today’s supplements contain enzymes in their natural form, the one that can be found in food. Since eating the enzyme-rich foods doesn’t slow down your gut work, supplementing with enzymes won’t do that either.
Can I take enzymes on an empty stomach?
For the best effectiveness, it’s advisable to take enzymes after each meal, so that they’d begin to work in your digestive system right away. However, some healthcare practitioners allow taking proteolytic enzymes on an empty stomach (e.g. nattokinase) to reveal their anti-inflammatory and cardioprotective properties.
Digestive enzymes are highly important and beneficial to your health.
In some conditions, such as aging and gastrointestinal issues, the production of enzymes naturally decreases and you may need to supplement yourself with these compounds.
Taking enzymes has plenty of benefits that can improve your overall quality of life, including better gut flow and enhanced production of your own ferments.