A woman is taking an oral supplement
Digestive enzymes help the body absorb nutrients we need to function.

What You Need to Know About Digestive Enzymes

There are various types of enzymes throughout the human body. There are enzymes that help brain functions, enzymes that assist in the healing process, enzymes that take toxic substances out of our blood, and so on.

However, there are some very important enzymes that help the body absorb nutrients so that the rest of the body has the energy it needs to function. These enzymes are called digestive enzymes. Without digestive enzymes, it’d be significantly more difficult for our body to absorb nutrients. 

What Are Digestive Enzymes?

Digestive enzymes occur naturally, however, there are also enzymes that can be taken as supplements. Natural enzymes occur in the stomach, small intestine, the mouth, and mainly the pancreas.

What Do Digestive Enzymes Do?

Enzymes that naturally occur in our bodies help break down food and absorb nutrients. Most are made in the pancreas. The pancreas sends a large amount of these enzymes to the small intestine.

Some of these enzymes include lipase, amylase, proteases, and peptidases. Lipase is used to break down fats, amylase is used to break down to break down carbs, and proteases and peptidases are used to break down proteins.

Unfortunately, there are some instances where the body doesn’t create enough natural enzymes. This can lead to discomfort and a slowing of the digestion process. This is where supplemental digestive enzymes become useful. They can be either prescribed by doctors or purchased over the counter.

When to Take Digestive Enzymes

When your body isn’t producing the proper amount of digestive enzymes, often times supplements will be required. There are certain symptoms that may be indicative of a digestive enzyme deficiency. Some of these symptoms include: diarrhea, flatulence and bloating. People with chronic illnesses like chronic pancreatitis, or cystic fibrosis may be prescribed enzyme pills.

There are also some instances where digestive disorders like, Crohn's disease and celiac disease require treatment via PEPs (oral digestive enzymes). Of course one should always consult a medical professional first to help determine whether supplements will be needed.

The Benefits of Supplemental Digestive Enzymes

In certain situations, there are a lot of ways someone can benefit from taking digestive enzymes. For example, one situation that these supplements can be useful in is when one is lacking lactase enzymes.

“If you don't have lactase, the undigested lactose goes to the colon, which leads to more fluid entering the colon and more gas produced by bacteria in the colon. That creates bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea," said Dr. Staller, a gastroenterologist from Massachusetts General Hospital.

As we stated earlier, there are some people who are more susceptible to having a low amount of digestive enzymes due to pre-existing conditions. Many of these symptoms can be significantly reduced when taking supplemental digestive enzymes. However, it is recommended that one sees a medical professional in order to officially diagnose the problem because these symptoms could be indicative of another issue that digestive enzymes may not be able to help with.

The Side Effects of Supplemental Digestive Enzymes

Unfortunately, there can be side effects to taking digestive enzymes. This is especially so with over the counter digestive enzyme supplements because they are not regulated by the FDA due to the fact that they aren’t officially considered medications.

This may result in unforeseen side effects that haven’t been discovered because they have not gone through the rigorous trial process put into place by the FDA. On the other hand, if you see a healthcare professional they will not only be able to diagnose the problem, they’re able to prescribe prescription drugs if needed.

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Some of the digestive enzymes a medical professional may prescribe you include, Creon and Zenpep. There are also various other prescription enzymes that your doctor may consider prescribing you. Since these are medications, they have gone through the FDA clinical trial process. This means that they have a list of potential side effects.

According to Rxlist.com, some of these side effects include, but are not limited to:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • A headache
  • Neck pain
  • Nasal congestion
  • Swelling of the legs and feet
  • Rash
  • Dizziness
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and/or High blood sugar (hyperglycemia)
  • Diabetes mellitus exacerbation
  • Gas (flatulence)
  • Indigestion
  • Biliary tract stones
  • Abnormal feces
  • Fluid in the gallbladder
  • Renal cyst
  • Viral infection
  • Asthma
  • Inflammation of the stomach (gastritis)
  • Muscle spasm

Many of these medications can also have an interaction that can be serious with miglitol, and a less serious, more mild interaction with acarbose.

Digestive Enzymes: They’re More Important Than You’d Think

Whether your body is making digestive enzymes naturally, or you’re required to take supplements to help replenish them, it’s imperative for your health that your enzyme levels are where they’re supposed to be.

If you have reason to believe that your enzyme levels are low, you should contact a healthcare professional. They’ll be able to not only determine whether the issue is due to a digestive enzyme deficiency, but they’ll also be able to provide you with any treatment you may need.