You can eat all the healthy food in the world, but it doesn’t mean much if you aren’t digesting it properly.
Enter, digestive enzymes. They can strengthen the immune system, promote weight loss, prevent inflammation, smooth skin, and support bone, liver, and overall cardiovascular health.
What are digestive enzymes?
Digestive enzymes are catalysts that enable molecules to change from one form into another. They’re necessary to break down macronutrients—such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats—into smaller nutrient particles. This way, they can more readily flow through our systems and absorb into our bodies. While these enzymes are critical for digestive health, many of us don’t have the correct balance in our bodies.
Types of Digestive EnZYmes & Their Benefits
When shopping around, here are the specific key enzymes to look for in broad spectrum blends.
Best Enzyme for: Inflammation, Stiffness, Joint Pain
This all-star enzyme is sourced from pineapples, which are also a great digestive aid. Bromelain helps aid in the digestion of proteins found in meat, grains, nuts, and cheese.
Best Enzyme for: Pain, Diarrhea, Sore Throat
Best Enzyme for: Digestion, Immunity
This enzyme helps to break down protein into basic building blocks. Ironically, our digestive tract creates these building blocks naturally, but we start to produce less of them as we age. Hence why I recommend taking a digestive enzyme that includes this specific enzyme.
Best Enzyme for: Starch Breakdown
This enzyme does a ton of work! It breaks down the starch, fiber, and sugars found in fruits, vegetables and grains into smaller molecules. It is also called a carbohydrase, which is produced in the pancreas and salivary glands to help break down carbohydrates into simple sugars.
Best Enzyme for: Indigestion, Constipation, Gas, Bloating
Cellulase is also a carbohydrase and is one of the basic building blocks of the plant kingdom that helps us digest fruits and vegetables. This enzyme isn’t one humans can produce naturally, so we must get it from supplements or fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, probiotic yogurt, and kombucha.
Best Enzyme for: Fat Digestion
This enzyme breaks down fats like olive and fish oils, but also butter and cheese, into fatty acids and glycerol. These acids then travel into blood and lymph vessels in our bodies to help boost our health.
Do I need a digestive enzyme?
Although we produce these enzymes naturally, there are a few challenges in getting enough. First, there’s a lack of nutrients in our modern diets. Then, as we age, we produce less digestive enzymes on our own. Yet another issue that affects our digestion is the air, soil, and water quality in our cities. For these reasons, supplementing with the right digestive enzymes can be a huge help.
After all, undigested food in the small intestine can cause a whole host of health problems, including:
- weight gain
- thyroid issues
- dull skin
- thin hair
- cracked nails
- sleep issues
- joint pain
- mood swings
That’s A LOT to digest, isn’t it? (Pun intended.)
How should I use digestive enzymes?
Keep in mind not everyone needs digestive enzymes, but if you’re experiencing any digestive issues regularly, they can provide intense relief for symptoms. Ideally, take your digestive enzymes just before a meal. If that seems difficult to remember, you can take it at the end of a meal as well, or leave it out on the table when you eat as a reminder to take it during the meal. If you have a history of stomach ulcers, you should consult with your primary-care physician before taking any enzymes.
It’s best to store your digestive enzymes in a cool, dry place (ideally 77 degrees or cooler) where there’s limited exposure to moisture.
A Buyer’s Guide
First, look for a broad-spectrum digestive enzyme supplement. This means the supplement combines multiple enzymes to cover all your needs instead of having to amass a big, expensive collection of single enzymes.
Then, be wary of purchasing digestive enzymes with a bunch of fillers such as artificial colors and flavors. Instead, look for natural herbal blends with ginger, fennel, or peppermint. You’ll also want to prioritize the quality of the enzyme you purchase over the price. (It’s better to pay more for digestive enzymes that work than spend less money on subpar products.)
The right digestive enzyme supplement will typically use plant-based enzymes. These enzymes help target gut health with low-to-moderate acidity. They can also help relieve stress on your small intestines, making them inherently more effective than animal-based enzymes.
As always, a good rule of thumb is to look for enzymes with science-backed evidence supporting its health claims. Check for real doctors specializing in gut health to back the enzyme you intend to purchase.