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What Are Digestive Enzymes? Exploring How They Work & Their Benefits

Not many of us think much about how our food gets digested. Even as we finish chewing and swallowing, our bodies are already working hard to break down what we eat into nutrients the gut can absorb. Then our cells will use those nutrients for energy, and tissue and organ repair.

Reviewed by BiOptimizers Editorial
Fact checked by Nattha Wannissorn

Digestion begins in the mouth but takes place mainly in the stomach and the small intestine. That’s where digestive juices are mixed with enzymes that are produced in the pancreas and other organs. Digestive enzymes are proteins that catalyze the breakdown of food into nutrients.

A man and a woman happy eating a protein bar and orange juice

While your body makes digestive enzymes naturally, the term “digestive enzymes” may also refer to dietary supplements or medications. These are encapsulated enzymes to replace or replenish low enzyme levels.

The three main categories of digestive enzymes include:

1.     Amylase – breaks down starch

2.     Protease – breaks down proteins

3.     Lipase – breaks down fats

4. Sugar-digesting enzymes – break down sugar or convert unfamiliar sugar into the sugar that your body can use

There are also other digestive enzymes that help maximize nutrient absorption and post-meal comfort. For example, phytase breaks down phytates, a substance that binds up minerals and reduces their absorption. Phytase, therefore, allows minerals from food to be more readily absorbed. 

Other carbohydrate-digesting enzymes such as galactosidases, hemicellulases, and lactase can help break down sugars, fibers, and FODMAPs that can cause bloating and other digestive discomforts. 

Aside from containing the highest concentration of proteases on the market, MassZymes also includes phytases and these other carbohydrate-digesting enzymes. In addition, it contains enzymes that work across all ranges of acid/alkalinity in the gut. MassZymes is the most effective digestive enzyme supplement for digestion, nutrient assimilation, and digestive comfort.

Sometimes your body struggles to digest food because it can not produce enough digestive enzymes.

Signs You May Need Supplemental Natural Digestive Enzymes Include:

Consider introducing a digestive enzyme supplement if you struggle with the following symptoms:

  • Poor digestion
  • Post-meal stomach heaviness
  • Tiredness and brain fog after meals
  • Floating stool
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Nutrient deficiencies not corrected by supplementation
  • Food sensitivities, allergies, and intolerances
  • Any kind of suboptimal digestion and elimination

Also, you may find digestive enzyme supplements greatly helpful if any of the following apply to you:

  • Under a lot of stress
  • Eat your meals distracted or in a hurry
  • Regularly perform intense physical activity
  • Eat a lot to gain weight 
A young lady eating distracted with her laptop

Do Digestive Enzyme Supplements Work?: Clinical Evidence For Digestive Enzyme Supplements

Clinical evidence for digestive enzymes is scarce. However, many practitioners and our customers find digestive enzymes to be beneficial. Here are a few clinical studies demonstrating the benefits of digestive enzymes:

In a Belgian observational study, 62 volunteers with common digestive problems received either a full-spectrum plant-based enzyme supplement or domperidone, an anti-nausea medicine control. After 5 days, the group receiving the digestive enzyme reported a better reduction in abdominal discomfort than the group receiving domperidone. 

The digestive enzyme also helped with the inability to finish meals, heavy stomach, bloating, vomiting, and burping, although these effects were comparable to domperidone. 

In an Italian placebo-controlled trial, 50 patients with stomach discomfort received a digestive enzyme blend, while 40 received a placebo. The patients who received digestive enzymes reported less bloating, flatulence, and abdominal discomfort than the control group.

In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 16 healthy volunteers took a capsule containing 280 mg of acid-resistant lipase or a placebo immediately before a fatty meal. Those who took the lipase reported less stomach fullness, bloating, and vomiting than those who received the placebo.

When Digestive Enzyme Insufficiency May arise:

1.   Food Intolerances/Sensitivities

Insufficient lactase results in lactose intolerance. People with lactose intolerance may develop gastrointestinal symptoms like poor digestion and irregularities if they consume dairy. 

 2.       Low Stomach Acid (HCL)

Unhealthy stress responses, smoking, medications, or poor diet may lead to low stomach acid. Because your stomach acid activates certain enzymes and starts many digestive processes, low stomach acid can lower enzyme function and compromise digestion. In the long term, low acidity can lead to nutrient deficiencies and allow pathogens to grow in the gut. 

3.   Aging

As we age, our bodies become less efficient at producing digestive enzymes and absorbing the nutrients from our food. 

A young woman with abdominal discomfort and in pain

Supplemental Natural Digestive Enzymes Side Effects

It’s wise to consult your healthcare practitioner before introducing supplements. Some people may experience nausea or cramping when they start taking supplemental digestive enzymes. In these cases, take them with food. 

Avoid digestive enzymes if you have stomach or intestinal ulcers.  When in doubt, speak to your healthcare provider.

How To Select The Right Digestive Enzyme Supplements

Digestive enzyme supplements are not all created equal. Because dietary supplements are regulated like food, manufacturers are responsible for ensuring the safety and effectiveness of their products. Many cheap players in the industry are looking to make a quick sale.

When selecting your digestive enzymes, read the back of your bottles and look for the following:

  • Whether the ingredients are compliant with your diet. If you avoid pork or are on a plant-based diet, for example, read the ingredient list to ensure the product is compliant.
  • Whether the enzyme composition is comparable with your diet. For example, if you’re eating a low-carb diet, you need more proteases, lipases, and fewer carbohydrate-digesting enzymes. Whereas on a high-carb diet, you need the opposite.
  • Whether it contains inflammatory food components incompatible with your body.
  • Whether the company uses third-party testing to ensure the potency and purity of its ingredients. US-based supplement companies must legally follow certified good manufacturing practices (cGMP) and test their ingredients and final products.
  • The concentration of each active ingredient, especially proteases, which are the most expensive enzymes.
  • Your goals include whether you’re looking to build muscle, become keto-adapted, or enjoy your cheat meals. 

BiOptimizers is, first and foremost, a diet-agnostic digestive health optimization company. We help you thrive with all dietary philosophies. Therefore, we carefully consider these factors when we formulate our products. 

Therefore, we offer the most potent enzyme blends to break down food, improve digestive function and maximize nutrient absorption.  Plant-based, dairy-free, and soy-free, these supplemental digestive enzymes will help your body thrive.

Consider the following options to select the best digestive enzymes for your goals:

A man looking to a digestive enzymes by BiOptimizers

1) MassZymes – The Ultimate Full-Spectrum Digestive Enzyme Blend

Masszymes is a 100% plant-based, naturally-derived full-spectrum digestive enzyme blend. Masszymes contain a high concentration of the best digestive enzymes that are active at various acidity levels. This ensures optimal digestion throughout the entire digestive tract. 

Take Masszymes on an empty stomach to reap the systemic benefits of plant proteases, such as improving exercise recovery, breaking down inflammatory proteins and scar tissues, and wound healing.

2) Gluten Guardian – Digestive Enzyme Supplement For Gluten, Casein, And High-Carb Cheat Meals

Gluten Guardian contains a special enzyme that can digest gluten and dairy casein, which are very difficult to break down. Gluten Guardian can also relieve occasional bloating, gas, and indigestion from high-carbohydrate meals.

Take Gluten Guardian with high carbohydrate meals or gluten or dairy.

3) kApex – The Keto Digestive Enzyme

kApex® is a 100% plant-based supplement that contains the digestive enzymes needed to break down fats and proteins. It also has dandelion roots to increase bile flow and promote liver health. In addition, kApex has been designed to support a ketogenic diet by reducing the potential side effects of keto-adaptation.

4) VegZymes – The Digestive Enzymes For Plant-Based Eaters

VegZymes is a one-of-a-kind digestive enzyme for plant-based eaters. Most plant-based eaters consume fewer proteins and more carbohydrates, fibers, and fats. Bloating and gas are common issues for meat eaters transitioning to a plant-based diet due to the high fiber and indigestible sugars in plant-based foods. Therefore, we formulate VegZymes taking these factors into account to help maximize nutrient assimilation and digestive comfort. 

If you regularly consume high-carb meals, consider blood sugar balance supplements to mitigate the negative health effects of high blood sugar.

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  1. Quinten T, Philippart JM, De Beer T, Vervarcke S, Van Den Driessche M. Can the supplementation of a digestive enzyme complex offer a solution for common digestive problems? Arch Public Health. 2014;72(S1):P7. doi:10.1186/2049-3258-72-s1-p7
  2. Ciacci C, Franceschi F, Purchiaroni F, et al. Effect of beta-glucan, inositol and digestive enzymes in GI symptoms of patients with IBS. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2011;15(6):637-643. Accessed March 30, 2022.
  3. Levine ME, Koch SY, Koch KL. Lipase supplementation before a high-fat meal reduces perceptions of fullness in healthy subjects. Gut Liver. 2015;9(4):464-469. doi:10.5009/gnl14005
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