Digestive enzymes and probiotics are completely different health powerhouses that can be beneficial to your overall well-being when selected and used correctly. Read on to find out what they are, how they differ and how you can be sure you’re purchasing the right product for you and your body.
What are digestive enzymes?
Digestive enzymes are produced in your mouth, stomach and small intestine. They’re tiny proteins that help to break down fats, carbohydrates, proteins and other molecules in your food. Once broken down adequately, your body is able to absorb these nutrients so that you can get the maximum possible health benefit from your diet.
To do this, saliva starts the process in your mouth by breaking down the food, it then travels to your stomach where hydrochloric acid breaks it down some more. To finish it off, your pancreas releases a huge litre and a half’s worth of pancreatic enzymes daily which make their way to the start of your small intestine, called the duodenum, where the food is broken down completely so your body can absorb it efficiently.
Studies have shown that a properly functioning digestive system is essential to regulating crucial bodily functions. This minimizes the risk of food intolerances developing, prevents toxins from forming (in the gastrointestinal-tract) and allows more efficient extraction from nutrients in food.
When your digestive enzymes aren’t doing their job right, you might notice these uncomfortable symptoms:
- Abdominal pain/nausea
- Headaches/brain fog
- Stools that consistently float or have undigested food present in them
- Oily substances in the toilet bowl when passing stools (undigested fats)
- Feeling full after only a few bites of food
Other medical conditions are characterized by many of the symptoms above, so make sure to have a chat with your doctor first to get professionally diagnosed with a digestive enzyme deficiency before you try a digestive enzyme supplement.
These factors can cause a digestive enzyme deficiency:
- Stress – Stress causes your body to go into “fight or flight” where digestion is seen as a less necessary function and so works sub-optimally.
- Minor inflammation in your digestive tract – This can be caused by food allergies or intolerances, infections from parasites, etc.
- Aging – Your digestive enzymes naturally decrease in efficiency with age.
- Issues with your pancreas – Pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, etc.
How can a digestive enzyme supplement benefit me?
This is the main health issue digestive enzymes assist with because this is what they’re literally made to do. If you’ve got any of the health issues listed above then your digestive enzymes won’t be working optimally, a supplement will take the stress off your body by replenishing you with an abundance of healthy, working digestive enzymes. They can help alleviate more serious disorders like Crohn’s disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and more.
Helps with liver disease
There is evidence to suggest that digestive enzymes can assist in liver function. This disease and enzyme deficiency come hand in hand, so helping your body out with an enzyme supplement will help ease your symptoms.
Prevents low stomach acid (Hypochlorhydria)
If you don’t have enough stomach acid then you won’t be digesting your food properly. A digestive enzyme supplement could get these functions back to normal.
Helps you age gracefully
As with most things health related, efficiency declines with age. Having a digestive enzyme supplement will keep everything running smoothly digestion-wise and ensure you’re getting the correct nutrients from your food.
Types of digestive enzymes
Digestive enzymes come from different sources and each source is better at targeting different areas of your health, here’s how to know which source your enzymes should be coming from:
These digestive enzymes are found in the pancreas or stomachs of cows and pigs. They function only at high pH levels making them less efficient at digestion than other sources of enzymes. These enzymes, however, are great at helping with conditions like pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.
Within this source, you have bromelain from pineapple and papain from papaya. Bromelain is great at anti-inflammatory work in the body and breaking down proteins. Papain on the other hand, works best at breaking down all proteins, fats and carbohydrates in food – a good all-rounder for digestion.
This source is thought to produce the most effective digestive enzymes as they come from yeast and fungi and can function across a wider range of pH levels, surviving harsh stomach acids with ease. Studies into plant and microbe based digestive enzymes show promising results for digestive enzyme therapy. This ranges many different diseases and insufficiencies across the spectrum.
Tips and tricks for purchasing a digestive enzyme supplement
In this case, more is better. You should be buying a supplement that has a good range of digestive enzymes with the highest amount of active units as possible. Some of the main enzymes are proteases, lipases and carbohydrases. If the label doesn’t specify which enzymes it contains and how many – then steer clear of the product altogether.
Know how to read the label
Each enzyme will come with a unit code, look at the corresponding active unit count next to each code and compare with other brands to find the one that has the highest amount.
Do a little research to find out the best digestive enzyme source for your health concerns. After this, pick a supplement that primarily contains those kinds of enzymes. A good place to start is with a plant-based enzyme. However a mix of all three would be optimal if you just want a general digestive health improvement.
Added vitamins, nutrients and minerals are always a great bonus. Be sure to stay away from supplements with unnecessary fillers. Opt for one that specifies it is more than 95% purity.
What are probiotics?
Now that we’ve spoken in depth about digestive enzymes and their benefits, let’s dive into the fascinating world of probiotics. Another health superhero that has huge benefits for overall digestive health.
When you hear the word ‘bacteria’, nasty images of germs might pop into your mind, right? But not all bacteria is bad for you.
Probiotics are bacteria that live in your large and small intestine, and believe it or not – they’re actually healthy, friendly microorganisms that assist with proper functioning of many essential processes in your body. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations World Health Organization defines probiotics as:
“live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.”
According to new estimates from a study in 2016, a healthy human being can have a mix of about 40 trillion good and bad bacterial cells in their gut. Additionally a diverse range of around 400 different species of bacteria are all mixed up in there to make your ‘gut flora’.
If the bad bacteria overrun your gut then you may notice a huge range of health issues that probiotics (good bacteria) would normally be working to keep at bay.
What are the benefits of probiotics?
Similar to digestive enzymes, probiotics are amazing for keeping your digestive health in tip-top shape. They encourage the optimal absorption of nutrients from your food by digesting it efficiently which also reduces bloating, gas or cramping after eating as a result.
Something that digestive enzymes don’t have a huge hand in though, is your immune function. Probiotics actually control about 70% of your immune response and regulate many hormones, especially in females, which balances vaginal flora to prevent infections from nasty bacteria that can cause thrush and bacterial vaginosis. They will also stimulate the production of B12 for energy and vitamin K for healthy and strong hair, skin and nails.
In that same vein, probiotics create a slightly acidic environment in your gut to ward off bad bacteria. This, in turn, has been seen to reduce the uncomfortable symptoms of illnesses like IBS, ulcerative colitis, liver disease and loads more!
Tips and tricks for purchasing a probiotic supplement
Colony forming units (CFU’s)
CFU’s are the count of bacteria in each capsule. Just like with digestive enzymes, more is better.
Probiotics come in different strains that each target different parts of your health, this is similar to how different sources of digestive enzymes are better at improving some parts of your health than others.
Your stomach acid is harsh and strong, but your probiotics are fragile. Get an acid resistant coating on your capsules to make sure they last their journey to your gut.
Expiry date and refrigeration
Just like with most household food items, probiotics will expire and lose their potency over time. So be sure to check the expiry isn’t close and get them into a refrigerator straight away if necessary (will specify on bottle).
Vitamins and minerals
Just like digestive enzyme supplements, opt for a product with added vitamins and minerals but no unnecessary fillers.
These are tiny, indigestible fibres that feed probiotics and help them thrive and multiply in your gut. A great probiotic product will contain prebiotics to give your friendly bacteria the boost they need to really get into gear.
Probiotics are just one more thing to remember to put into your everyday routine, so make sure it’s an easy one. One capsule a day is perfect.
So which one – digestive enzymes or probiotics?
Now that you’ve got all the basics and benefits of each, you should be able to determine which supplement will be better for you. It all really boils down to exactly what you’re needing this supplement for, and if you’re in doubt – take both!
If you’re considering increasing your intake of both digestive enzymes and probiotics, then the best way to go about it is by consuming them in your everyday diet. Raw foods like kefir and fruits and veggies will give you the best of both worlds.
Here’s a quick guide on which supplement does what better. If you’re looking to improve…
- Immune function – Take probiotics
- Digestion – Take either probiotics or digestive enzymes
- Nutrition absorption – Take digestive enzymes
- Balancing your gut – Take probiotics
How to get the most out of your new supplement or foods
Cutting back on sugar and fats and introducing healthier alternatives like fruits and veggies will allow your body to work efficiently to utilize your new influx of probiotics or digestive enzymes.
When you get active, your organs all respond by working at full capacity. This means your enzymes or probiotics will be able to work faster and harder.
Some medications like antibiotics and laxatives can turn your body into a hostile, acidic environment which could hinder your results.
Strains and sources
Use our tips and tricks above for purchasing the best kind of probiotics and digestive enzymes for your particular health concerns, paying close attention to the probiotics strains and digestive enzyme sources.
If you’re purchasing a supplement, fork out a little extra. Same goes for new foods you might introduce into your diet to get more probiotics and enzymes – higher quality is always better and worth the money when it comes to your health.
Both digestive enzymes and probiotics can have amazing health benefits for you as we’ve discussed above, introducing them into your everyday routine might be exactly what you need to start feeling on top of the world. If you’re struggling with digestion or immune issues, whether they’re chronic or trifling, one of these products may be able to help ease your symptoms.
As with all new health supplements, be sure to ask your doctor for a professional medical opinion about how these products can best work for you and any potential side effects.
Writer, Product Tester.
Adele is a budding content writer with a passion for all things health and fitness related. In her time off Adele enjoys reading, travelling and exploring Sydney’s culinary delights.