Digestive enzymes are supplements that help with digestion. For people with indigestion, digestive enzymes can be a real lifesaver. These supplements can provide you with tailored enzymes that assist with tough-to-digest foods, like fats, fiber, protein, and lactose in dairy. Foods that contain any of these four can be difficult to digest, but digestive enzymes enable your body to break them down naturally.
However, for digestive enzymes to be effective, they need to be used correctly. If you want to get the most out of your digestive enzyme supplement, read on–our research team has laid out the right way to reap the benefits of a digestive enzyme supplement for better digestion and improved gut function.
Digestive enzymes benefits
1. A digestive enzyme supplement can improve nutrient absorption
Digestive enzymes are compounds derived from plants or animals that help your body digest food more effectively, as well as helping it absorb more nutrients (1). If you don’t have the right enzymes to digest food, your nutrient absorption could be adversely affected.
2. Digestive enzymes can help with bloating, gas, and indigestion
The specific enzymes you should look for in your digestive enzyme supplement depend on what type or types of food cause the greatest problems for you. Lipase digests fat; cellulase digest fiber found in carbs and legumes, and protease digests the proteins found in meats and other sources of protein.
3. Some foods cause more digestive problems than others
Usually, people have digestive problems when they eat meals (especially large ones) that contain high concentrations of fat, fiber, protein and dairy, which could be causing your digestive problems (2).
These foods need special enzymes for effective digestion. Usually, your body produces these enzymes, but for people with indigestion, this may not be the case.
4. Digestive enzymes with lactase can help you digest dairy
Lactase helps digest lactose, which is a type of sugar found in milk, yogurt, ice cream, and other dairy products.
More than half the world’s population can’t digest lactose without supplemental lactase (3).
Research indicates that a digestive enzyme supplement with lactase, can successfully reduce or even eliminate symptoms related to poor dairy digestion (4).
5. Digestive supplements work best when taken close to a meal
This guideline is true both for people looking to avoid indigestion from dairy and from other food groups: the enzymes must be in your stomach at the same time as the food that contain the problematic compounds to be effective.
6. Lipase-containing digestive enzyme supplements help with meals high in fat
Just like lactase digests lactose, lipase digests lipids (i.e. fats).
Research shows that taking a digestive enzyme before a high-fat diet (like you might eat on the keto diet) reduces the incidence of bloating, gas, and fullness over the next several hours (5).
7. In the case of high fiber meals, cellulase is the go-to enzyme
Cellulase is an enzyme that attacks the long molecular chains that make up fiber, which otherwise ends up being a breeding ground for gas-producing bacteria.
When these bacteria ramp up their metabolism, the result is bloating, gas, and stomach pain (6).
8. Digestive enzyme supplementation might be helpful for people with type two diabetes
Digestive enzymes are naturally produced in the pancreas, which also happens to be the place that your body produces insulin.
One research paper argues that supplementation with certain digestive enzymes can help better control blood sugar (7).
9. Multi-ingredient digestive enzyme supplements improve symptoms of indigestion
A 60-day study on a multi-ingredient digestive enzyme supplementation strategy showed significant improvements on five different symptoms of indigestion (8).
Digestive enzymes side effects
Digestive enzymes are naturally-derived, so the risk of side effects is very low. Since digestive enzymes are derived from natural sources–and the best digestive enzymes are often derived exclusively from plant sources–the risk of any side effects is rather small.
In rare cases, digestive enzymes can cause allergic reactions. Very rarely doctors have reported cases of allergic reactions to specific enzymes in digestive enzyme supplements.
One such report surfaced in 2016, but the cause appeared to be an underlying allergy to the source of the plant or fungus that produced the enzyme, not the enzyme itself (9).
If you experience burning or swelling in your throat, there might be an ingredient in your digestive enzyme supplement that your body is allergic to, which indicates you should not take that digestive enzyme.
Digestive enzymes dosage
Timing matters more than dosage. The right dosage of each primary ingredient of a digestive enzyme (lipase, lactase, etc.) should be proportional to the amount of the problematic foods (fats, dairy, etc.) in your upcoming meal.
However, timing is the most important factor when it comes to digestive enzyme efficacy: you need digestive enzymes in your stomach at the same time as the food you’re eating for them to be effective.
Take your digestive enzyme about ten minutes before your meal. This is enough time for the capsule to start dissolving, but not so long that you’ll be losing out on the effective dosage.
Digestive enzymes benefits FAQ
Q: Do digestive enzymes really work?
A: According to the most recent research, yes, digestive enzymes are effective at reducing gastrointestinal symptoms when compared to a placebo (10).
The only catch to this is that to get this effect, you have to take a digestive enzyme supplement every day alongside your meals, and it can take up to a month for the benefits to become significant.
Q: Are digestive enzyme supplements bad?
A: As far as supplements go, digestive enzymes are pretty safe.
In extremely rare cases, it’s possible to have an allergic reaction to digestive enzymes, but for the vast majority of people, digestive enzymes are a simple, safe, and easy ways to reduce symptoms of indigestion.
Q: Where are digestive enzymes produced?
A: Your digestive enzymes are naturally produced in your pancreas, a important organ that’s connected to your digestive tract.
Q: How can you increase digestive enzymes?
A: While eating a healthy diet and losing weight are simple ways to increase your body’s ability to produce digestive enzymes, by far the easiest way to directly increase the level of digestive enzymes in your body is with a good digestive enzyme supplement.
A multi-ingredient supplement will increase the concentration of many different enzymes in your body all at once, making it easier to digest a variety of foods.
A single-ingredient enzyme supplement, such as lactase, for example, will only improve your ability to digest dairy.
Q: What are some natural digestive enzymes?
A: In some sense, all digestive enzymes are “natural” in that they are produced by the human body in some amount.
However, the most important natural digestive enzymes for managing problems like indigestion include lipase, which breaks down fat; protease, which break down protein, and lactase, which breaks down the otherwise-indigestible lactose in dairy products.
Related: Our best digestive enzymes picks
Digestive enzymes are tailored for digesting specific food groups: lactase for dairy, lipase for fatty foods, protease for protein, and cellulase for fiber.
The right digestive supplement to improve your gut health will depend on what food groups cause your indigestion, and the composition of your diet. So, you need to take both the foods you eat and the foods that irritate your stomach into consideration when choosing a digestive enzyme supplement.
Aim to take your digestive supplement ten minutes before eating for best results: this way, the enzymes will still be in your stomach and ready to digest foods. When used right, digestive enzymes can help combat indigestion and naturally boost gut function.