Digestive Enzymes: What Are They, and Should You Be Taking Them?

Digestive enzymes are naturally occurring proteins that do what their name suggests: Help the body digest food. Though the body does produce this protein on its own, some people may need more help digesting food than others. This is where over the counter and prescription digestive enzyme supplements come in.

What Are Digestive Enzyme Supplements?

Typically, the body is a pro at producing the enzymes you need to effectively digest food and absorb nutrients. However, when the normal functioning of the pancreas becomes disrupted due to damage or some other cause, the body may have a more difficult time producing the proteins and, therefore, digesting food. This can lead to uncomfortable symptoms such as bloating, indigestion, abdominal cramps, flatulence and diarrhea. Digestive enzyme supplements can protect against these uncomfortable symptoms by picking up the slack until the body’s functions return to normal.

The ingredients in the supplements can come from many sources, including from the pancreases of animals, such as lambs, pigs and cows, and plants. Plants that contain this helpful protein include papayas, pineapples and fungi. A supplement that contains a just-right combination of ingredients and other enzymes can strengthen your digestive system and help your body reach its full potential.

What Are the Benefits of Digestive Enzymes? 

Digestive enzyme supplements can have many benefits for people who live with diseases of the stomach or small intestine. Conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome and pancreatitis can hinder the body’s ability to produce a sufficient number of enzymes. Without supplements, afflicted individuals may have to live with all the uncomfortable side effects mentioned above. With supplements, however, they can significantly reduce digestive trauma and live a comfortable and healthy life.

Promoting gut health is not the only benefit of digestive enzymes. Though the research is still out on the total value of supplements, there are findings that suggest that digestive enzyme supplements can help reduce the complications associated with cancer therapy; reduce inflammation and, therefore, relieve pain associated with arthritis; improve the emotional response, gastrointestinal symptoms and overall behavior of children with autism spectrum disorder; and facilitate muscle healing and relieve muscle soreness.

Who Should Be Taking Digestive Enzymes? 

Many people, aside from those who live with chronic gut conditions, can benefit from taking digestive enzyme supplements. You may want to consider a supplement if you can relate to any of the following:

  • You have a busy schedule and struggle to find time to cook wholesome, nutrient-rich meals from scratch.
  • You’re not a big fan of raw vegetables.
  • You live with acid reflux.
  • You are lactose intolerant but really enjoy a glass of milk and cheese-based foods on occasion.
  • You have irritable bowel syndrome.
  • You live with inflammatory bowel disease.

Really, anyone who wants to enjoy increase comfort and well-being, along with more energy, can benefit from adding a supplement to his or her diet.

As with anything that may affect your health, however, you should consult with your primary care doctor before adding a supplement to your daily routine. While it is unlikely that your doctor will advise against taking one, it’s best to seek professional advice before putting anything new into your body.