What are Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics?
In my recent studies, I have learned a lot about digestive enzymes and probiotics. Both can be very beneficial to the body. However, they are not the same. Each do different things. I wanted to explain to you what they are, how they work, and the differences between them.
Digestive enzymes can be very effective when the body isn't able to digest specific foods. This is generally due to lack of natural enzymes. As we age our ability to make these enzymes starts to decrease. They also can be disrupted due to disease and medications.
"Along with probiotics, digestive enzymes can play a role in supporting the digestive and immune systems. The foods we eat are composed of macronutrients, protein, fats, and carbohydrates. As these foods move through the digestive system, we extract macro- and micronutrients. Digestive enzymes break these down in order for our bodies to access these nutrients." (2)
If we do not naturally produce enough of these enzymes, foods are not properly digested leading to food issues and intolerance. We may feel bloated, gassy, have abdominal cramping and so much more. It is also very beneficial to properly chew your food and not gulp when eating.
What are Digestive Enzymes?
Digestive enzymes are natural "chemicals" that are produced in the body. All animals have them as they are needed to break down food into nutrients we later use for fuel. Our bodies create these specific enzymes to digest carbs, protein and fats.
Carbohydrase/amylase– break down carbohydrates into sugar (1)
Protease – break down protein to amino acids (1)
Lipase – break down fats into fatty acids and glycerol (1)
How about an experiment? Imagine you are holding 2 identical crackers. The first one is put in a glass of water, the other in your mouth without chewing it. What do you think will happen to them? The cracker in the water will get wet and soggy, but will still be there hours, right? What about the other cracker in your mouth? What happens to that? It too will get soggy but it will completely dissolve, even if you don't chew it! (3)
So, what's the difference? Both crackers are in a wet environment. The first is in water and the second is in saliva, which is mostly water. Well, saliva contains amylase which will break down the starch in the cracker. (3)
Carbohydrates are digested in the mouth, stomach and small intestine. Where proteins are digested in the stomach, and fats and protein in the small intestine.
photo source: pixabay
Most digestive enzymes on the market contain protease which is said to breakdown gluten. Some dispute this claim since there is a lack of scientific evidence to support these claims. I haven't been able to eat gluten for over a year. After taking an enzyme that contains protease for a few months, I can. Evidence or no scientific evidence, I do believe it is helping myself and my family. There is such a lack of scientific studies supporting natural remedies. It doesn't mean they don't help. Remember, supplements and natural products do not have the funding for studies that pharmaceuticals do. There may never be scientific evidence backing up claims that many natural products actually help. It doesn't mean they can't, or don't.
These enzymes help us break down our food better so we are able to use it more efficiently. Age and illness can cause our natural enzymes to become lower making it harder to digest the food we eat. If your stomach acid levels are low, taking a daily enzyme may help to increase it.
What Issues May Digestive Enzymes Help?
Improve Abdominal Pain
One study I found on pubmed.com, dated February 17, 2016, called Digestive Enzyme Supplementation in Gastrointestinal Diseases, states "Digestive enzymes are able to break down proteins and carbohydrates and lipids, and their supplementation may play a role in the management of digestive disorders, from lactose intolerance to cystic fibrosis. To date, several formulations of digestive enzymes are available on the market, being different each other in terms of enzyme type, source and origin, and dosage."
Sadly, there are not many studies done on digestive enzymes showing the effect on the human body. There are many different digestive enzyme companies on the market. Make sure you are buying from a reputable company that specializes in them. Walgreens, Target, Walmart, GNC and other stores like this are not a great place to buy your supplements. Some of the supplements you find may also contain herbs with the enzymes. They are not one size fits all. Please do your research.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are considered yeasts and different live bacteria that are great for your digestive system resulting in overall better health. We consider them "good" bacteria since they help to keep the gut healthy. There are natural probiotics in the things we eat such as yogurt, fermented foods and kombucha.
We need to keep a healthy balance between the good and bad bacteria in the gut. The introduction of antibiotics can cause the balance to be severely disrupted. If you nee to take antibiotics, talk to you doctor about adding in a probiotic. You can find them at most health food stores in the refrigerated section.
Most of these healthy bacteria come from one of two groups. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
Lactobacillus - "may be the most common probiotic. Commonly found in yogurt and other fermented foods. Different strains can help with diarrhea and may help with people who can't digest lactose, the sugar in milk". (4)
Bifidobacterium - "may be found in some dairy products. It may help ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and some other conditions". (4)
There are many issues that probiotics may help with. However, if you have an auto-immune issue, probiotics may not be the best solution for you. Before you start any new supplement, please research and speak to your medical doctor.
How can they help?
Skin conditions, like eczema
Urinary tract infections
Irritable bowel syndrome
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Infectious diarrhea (caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites)
Boost the immune system
Ease allergic disorders such as hay fever
H. pylori (the largest cause of ulcers)
As you can see, they are very different but can assist each other greatly. If I had to choose between one or the other, I would buy digestive enzymes every time. But, that's me. I haven't used probiotics in over a year. I also haven't been on any antibiotics. I have been using the digestive enzymes and feel like they are giving me the greatest benefit. When I was using the probiotic supplements, I didn't notice a difference in my health. I prefer yogurt and fermented food choices over a pill any day.
If you have any questions, please let me know. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Since every person is different, it is hard to say "If I were you I would use this one". If you want to book an appointment, please send a message so I am able to accommodate your request. Have a wonderful day!
Love and light,
Caution: The material on this page is not meant to take the place of diagnosis and treatment by a qualified medical practitioner. Since the actual use of this product by others is beyond our control, no expressed or implied guarantee as to the effects of their use can be given nor liability taken. Use at your own discretion. Any application of the recommendations is at the user’s risk. Sweet Willow Spirit, LLC disclaims any liability arising directly or indirectly from the use of this information and assumes no responsibility for any actions taken. This should not be used in place of traditional therapies but solely as a complementary means for bringing well-being. The FDA has not evaluated the statements on this website. No claims are made as to any medicinal value of any oil or healing modality.
(1) Digestion and Enzymes: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/ks3/science/organisms_behaviour_health/diet_drugs/revision/5/
(2) Studies Show Multitude of Benefits With Digestive Enzyme Supplements: https://1md.org/article/benefits-digestive-enzymes-clinical-studies-1md
(3) What is Amylase? - Definition & Function. Catherine Konopka. https://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-amylase-definition-function.html
(4) What are Probiotics? https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/what-are-probiotics#1