The body makes digestive enzymes to help break down food carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Healthy digestion and nutrient absorption depend on these enzymes, a protein that speeds up chemical reactions in the mouth, pancreas, and intestines. Certain health conditions like pancreatic insufficiency and lactose intolerance can cause low enzyme levels and insufficiency and may need replacement digestive enzymes to help prevent malabsorption. That’s where digestive enzyme supplements come in.
Table of Contents
Digestive enzymes are a vital part of digestion; without them, the body can’t break foods down, and nutrients can’t be fully absorbed. A lack of digestive enzymes can lead to gastrointestinal/GI symptoms and cause malnourishment, even with a nutritious diet. The result is unpleasant digestive symptoms that can include:
Digestive enzyme supplements have been used for treating common forms of gut irritation, heartburn, and other ailments.
Enzymes made in the small intestine include:
When the body does not produce enough digestive enzymes or doesn’t release them correctly. A few types include:
Common digestive enzyme insufficiency symptoms:
Talking to a doctor if symptoms persist is recommended, as these could be signs of gut irritation or indicate a more serious condition.
Depending on the severity, individuals diagnosed with enzyme insufficiency may need to take prescription digestive enzymes. These supplements assist in food breakdown and nutrient absorption. The most common enzyme replacement therapy is pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy or PERT. PERT is a prescribed medication that includes amylase, lipase, and protease. Individuals with cystic fibrosis often have pancreatic enzyme insufficiency, as the body can’t release the enzymes properly. And individuals with pancreatitis require PERT because their pancreas develops mucus and scar tissue over time.
Over-the-counter digestive enzyme supplements can contain amylase, lipase, and protease and can help with acid reflux, gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Some contain lactase and alpha-galactosidase. Alpha-galactosidase can help break down a non-absorbable fiber called galactooligosaccharides /GOS, mostly found in beans, root vegetables, and certain dairy products.
Certain foods contain digestive enzymes, including:
Supplementing the diet with some of these foods can help with digestion.
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Brennan, Gregory T, and Muhammad Wasif Saif. “Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy: A Concise Review.” JOP: Journal of the pancreas vol. 20,5 (2019): 121-125.
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Vogt, Günter. “Synthesis of digestive enzymes, food processing, and nutrient absorption in decapod crustaceans: a comparison to the mammalian model of digestion.” Zoology (Jena, Germany) vol. 147 (2021): 125945. doi:10.1016/j.zool.2021.125945
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