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Digestive Health
What Are Digestive Enzymes?
Medically reviewed by Justine Hays, RD • August 18, 2023

What Are Digestive Enzymes?

When it comes to digestive health and maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, our bodies rely on assistance from specific proteins that work to help break down food in our GI tract for optimal absorption. These naturally occurring proteins are known as digestive enzymes.1

Most digestive enzymes are produced within the human body by organs such as the small intestine, the stomach and especially the pancreas. The digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas are particularly important as they help the body break down and digest fats, carbohydrates and even other proteins.1

Sources of Digestive Enzymes

Although many digestive enzymes are produced naturally by various organs in the body, some are also found in particular plants and microbes. For centuries, many cultures have relied on naturally occurring enzymes in certain foods to help them maintain digestive balance. Eating pineapple and papaya after a heavy meal is just one example. Not only do the enzymes in these foods naturally help us break down our foods and provide digestive comfort, they also help us make the most of the nutrients we are consuming. Some sources of digestive enzymes include:2

  • Pineapples
  • Avocados
  • Papaya
  • Kiwi
  • Kefir
  • Bananas
  • Yogurt
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut

While it is best to get the needed digestive enzymes from food, supplementing with digestive enzymes can help plug any gaps which may exist in your healthy diet and may also boost nutritional benefits. Swanson® Digestive Essentials also features GI allies such as fennel seed, licorice root extract and papain (derived from papaya fruit).

What do Digestive Enzymes Do?

In order for our digestive tract to properly absorb the nutrients in the food we eat, this system requires the help of enzymes. These digestive enzymes then work to break down the food so that its elements can be used by the body for cell repair or even growth. Digestive enzymes also help the body maintain a healthy system of detoxification and elimination.3

Types of Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzymes may be classified in one of four classes: lipases, proteases, fibrolytic enzymes or carbohydrases.4 Some of the most common digestive enzymes found in quality supplements include:

  • Lipase—this enzyme works with the gallbladder and pancreas to aid in digestion of fats such as phospholipids and triglycerides4
  • Proteases—a category of enzymes which include pepsin, bromelain and others, they help to break down gluten, proteins and casein-derived proline-rich peptides in the digestive tract5
  • Bromelain—a type of protease found in pineapples, this enzyme helps to break down amino acids and gluten proteins4
  • Amylase—found in saliva and pancreatic juices, these types of digestive enzymes help in the breakdown of starches and carbohydrates4
  • Lactase—this digestive enzyme is naturally present in the gut of most infants but decreases over time into adulthood. It is used to break down the milk sugar lactose into glucose, a form more easily used by the body for energy4

You can find these digestive enzymes and natural sources for them in expertly crafted supplements such as Swanson® Digestive Essentials or Swanson® Digestive Enzymes.

Benefits of Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzymes play an important role in the body’s absorption of nutrients as they directly assist in the breakdown of food in the gastrointestinal tract. Some benefits of digestive enzymes include:

  • Breaking down fats and carbohydrates for energy metabolism
  • Breaking down sugars and starches
  • Supporting the body’s natural digestive process
  • Helping to improve digestive comfort2
  • Possibly promoting healthy weight management
  • Promoting overall health by alleviating potential digestive concerns in certain populations

For the millions of people experiencing digestive discomfort, digestive enzymes can be part of a healthy diet plan that can help improve quality of life. “There are a number of new studies exploring digestive enzymes, that suggest [they] can help people experience less bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and flatulence. Using the current research as a starting point for a conversation with your physician is a great way to find out if enzymes can be right for you” said Justine Hays, a registered dietitian.

Side Effects of Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzyme supplements are generally considered safe to use, but it’s always a good idea to discuss them with your doctor before adding any to your health regimen, particularly if you take certain prescription drugs. Some of the more commonly reported side effects of digestive enzymes may include:2

  • Upset stomach
  • GI discomfort
  • Nausea

These types of side effects are typically rare, so you can take digestive enzymes daily if you feel the benefits are right for you. It’s important to note that medicinal use papaya or papaya extracts may have safety concerns during pregnancy and breastfeeding, to those with thyroid conditions, or those with blood sugar control conditions. Additionally, individuals with allergies to latex should take care to avoid papaya and avocado due to potential allergies.

 

Enjoying better digestive health and the long list of related benefits for long-term wellness is a goal easily reached when you’ve got the right knowledge and helpful supplements on your side. Swanson is proud to offer a variety of digestive enzymes and related supplements to help along your health journey!

You be well, now.

Swanson

Medically reviewed by Justine Hays

About Justine Hays, RD
Justine Hays has been a registered dietitian for nine years. She has a remarkable ability to communicate high level scientific information in a way that is tangible for all people to understand and apply to their everyday lives. This is evidenced by a robust writing career, which includes a cookbook on heart health and supporting other health and wellness entities in their public facing communications. Her list of publications is available in her resume and on her website. Additionally, she is a skilled facilitator in community nutrition, which includes public programming and hands on cooking programs through the SNAP-Ed program.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Sources

  1. Digestive Enzymes. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Read source
  2. Benefits of Digestive Enzyme Supplements. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Read source
  3. Enzymes. Cleveland Clinic. Read source
  4. Digestive Enzymes. Clinical Education. Read source
  5. Highly Efficient Gluten Degradation. American Journal of Physiology. Read source
  6. Digestive Enzymes and Nutrition by Sara Chatfield, MPH, RDN, LDN. Read source
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