Digestive Enzymes vs. Probiotics: Which Gut Health Supplement Is Right for You?

by Gaby Vaca-Flores, RDN, CLE · Updated April 6, 2022
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Probiotics and digestive enzymes dominate many conversations around supplements for gut and digestive health. Sometimes they’re even spoken about interchangeably, despite having different roles in the body. If you’re looking to boost your gut health, they both have their place in helping you feel your best. But what’s the difference between probiotics and digestive enzymes and what are the benefits of digestive enzymes vs. probiotics? Get to know these standout supplements for gut health and understand which supplement will best align with your goals.

Digestive Enzymes vs. Probiotics

Digestive enzymes and probiotics both support digestion, but in different ways.  

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live bacteria that when consumed, can provide an array of health benefits. One of the main functions of probiotics is to help colonize good gut bacteria. The human gut, also known as the gut microbiome, is home to trillions of bacteria. A healthy ratio of good to bad gut bacteria can aid digestion, the health of the skin, immune function, weight, and more. 

Additionally, there are several different types of probiotic genuses. The most well-known and studied types are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Both have a variety of strains, each with its own respective health benefits. 

Consuming probiotics can help ensure that you have an ideal balance of good gut bacteria. Probiotics are naturally occurring in fermented foods and beverages, including:

  • Kimchi 
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut 
  • Tempech 
  • Yogurt

Probiotics are also widely available in supplement form. These products usually target digestion.  However, other probiotic formulas address concerns ranging from breakouts to vaginal health given their diverse benefits. 

What are digestive enzymes?

Papaya smoothie, fresh papaya, and bananas to help with bloating

Digestive enzymes are substances that assist in breaking down the major nutrients, like protein, carbs, fat, and fiber for efficient absorption. You’ve probably heard of someone being lactose intolerant, which means they have a deficiency of the enzyme lactase and have trouble consuming lactase, the sugar found in dairy. That’s just one example of how digestive enzymes work in your body.

Without digestive enzymes, the body would not benefit from the nutrients in food. Plus, low enzyme levels are linked to poor digestive function (bloating, irregularity, indigestion), and in more serious cases, malnutrition. 

There are three main types of digestive enzymes. These include: 

  • Amylase, which breaks starches down into simple sugars
  • Protease, which breaks proteins down into amino acids 
  • Lipase, which breaks lipids (i.e., fats) down into fatty acids and glycerol

Digestive enzymes are naturally occurring throughout the digestive tract including the mouth, stomach, pancreas, and small intestine. Interestingly, they are also found in foods like pineapples, kiwis, honey, ginger, and avocados. 

Digestive Enzymes vs Probiotics

Which supplement is right for you?

Probiotics and digestive enzymes are similar in some ways since they both benefit your digestion, but ultimately have distinct benefits. To help you narrow down the best supplement for gut health based on your needs, identify what symptoms you want to improve, or situations that apply to you.

You feel bloating after eating.

If you only feel bloated after you eat, try taking a digestive enzyme blend at the start of your meal. By doing so, you’re introducing enzymes that will help break down major nutrients in your meal. As a result, they can provide relief from post-meal discomfort such as bloating and indigestion. 

You want a boost to your mood and skin health.

If you want to improve skin health and mood, add a probiotic formula to your daily routine to promote good gut bacteria. Imbalances in the gut can influence the overall health and appearance of the skin as a result of the gut-skin axis. In addition, daily stress can negatively alter the gut microbiome.

You eat bigger meals and aren’t a grazer.

If you typically eat large portions, a digestive enzyme can be your perfect ally. Generous portions, while mostly satisfying, can also be taxing on your digestive system. A larger meal can potentially take longer to digest and cause uncomfortable feelings of fullness. This is where a digestive enzyme blend can lend a helping hand by helping to break down the major nutrients in your meal. 

You’re taking prescription medication.

If you’re on a medication regimen that affects digestion, take a probiotic (with guidance from your doctor, of course). Certain medications can diminish good gut bacteria causing unwanted side effects like changes in bowel movement regularity. Adding a probiotic can help ease some of the digestive consequences by introducing and replacing beneficial microorganisms in the gut. 

You have a sensitivity to milk.

If you have lactose intolerance or sensitivity, you should consider both a probiotic formula and a digestive enzyme blend. There’s growing evidence suggesting that probiotics may provide relief from common digestive discomforts related to milk intolerances. Similarly, the digestive enzyme lactase can help break down milk sugars making it easier for intolerant/sensitive populations to enjoy dairy in moderation. 

How digestive enzymes and probiotics can work together for improved digestion

Digestive enzymes and probiotics are generally well tolerated and considered safe for healthy individuals. But as with any supplement, people who are taking medications should consult with their doctor first to rule out any potential interactions.  

Many people can benefit from adding both types of supplements to their routine. After all, they’re each important for our digestive processes. If you choose to add a probiotic and digestive enzyme blend to your routine, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind. 

First, probiotics are a long-term gain. Consistency is critical in order for meaningful benefits to occur. Additionally, the results of taking a probiotic may not be extremely obvious. However, you can expect to notice positive differences in your overall digestion. 

On the other hand, digestive enzymes work very quickly. They provide near-immediate relief upon ingestion. Many digestive enzyme formulas can be taken daily or as-needed with meals that can lead to bloating or indigestion. 

Second, you’ll want to make sure that you’re taking each formula correctly to get the best results. The majority of probiotic formulas are most effective when taken on an empty stomach such as first thing in the morning or before bed. Conversely, digestive enzymes must be taken with food in order for them to work properly. 

Final Thoughts

Probiotics and digestive enzymes, like those found in HUM’s Gut Instinct and Flatter Me supplements, are an efficient way to promote healthy digestion and support your overall gut health. Some people can benefit from taking both, while others should narrow down their selection based on their goals. Take our quiz to help you narrow down the right supplements for you.


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