How To Choose A Digestive Enzyme

Every time you bite into a delicious piece of food, your body secretes digestive enzymes to help you break down the nutrients so they can be absorbed. This starts in the mouth when your body releases saliva containing digestive enzymes, which is why it is so important to properly chew your food. After the saliva helps break down various compounds and moistens the food to help you swallow, the food travels through the throat and esophagus where it ends up in the stomach. The stomach then secretes enzymes and acid to continue the process of breaking down the food. Once it leaves the stomach, the food moves into the small intestine and awaits the arrival of enzymes released by the pancreas and bile from the liver. Bile helps digest fats, while pancreatic enzymes help break down fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Food that travels through the small intestine becomes absorbed and any leftovers then proceed through your large intestine for elimination. But what happens if we don’t produce enough of these enzymes?

Possible Outcomes Of Impaired Digestion

  • Malnutrition (brittle nails, unhealthy skin, poor complexion, dry hair, muscle weakness)
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Fatigue
  • Indigestion issues such as frequent gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea
  • Local Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
  • Food sensitivities or food allergies
  • Dysbiosis

Meet The Enzymes

  • Pepsin is one of the chief digestive enzymes of the stomach responsible for breaking down proteins.
  • Hydrochloric Acid (HCL) is found in the gastric juices of the stomach and is secreted when we eat to help break down food for absorption.
  • Amylase is an enzyme made in the salivary glands as well as the pancreas and helps to breakdown starches as well as complex sugars.
  • Lipase is produced by the pancreas and helps to breakdown fats found in the foods we eat.
  • Protease is the last enzyme secreted by the pancreas and include trypsin, chymotrypsin and elastase. These proteases are responsible for the breakdown of proteins into amino acids.
  • Papain comes from the papaya fruit and is a powerful digestive enzyme that plays a key role in the breakdown of proteins in addition to their many other health benefits.
  • Bromelain comes from pineapple and is a proteolytic enzyme responsible for breaking down protein fibers, and also has added health benefits.
  • Ox Bile contains lipase enzymes that help emulsify and break down fats.
  • Dipeptidyl peptidase 4 (DPP-IV) assists in the digestion of gluten in wheat, barley, and rye, and casein in dairy products.

What To Look For In Your Supplement

  • Look for a digestive enzyme supplement with a wide variety of enzymes included in the formula to help you digest a wide variety of different foods.
  • Although many of the digestive enzymes on the market are made from animal products, there is also a large selection of Vegetarian and Vegan based digestive aids available.
  • If you have any allergies or sensitivities to foods you will want to make sure your product is free of those allergens.
  • Limit fillers and additives.
  • Choose high quality and all-natural formulas.

Helpful Tips

It is best to take digestive enzymes supplements before meals. This way the enzymes are in your system waiting for the food to arrive. Additionally, many of the enzymes discussed above have added health benefits such as strong anti-inflammatory properties. When taken with food they help digestion, however, when taken away from food they can be absorbed through your gut and into your blood stream where they will have different effects throughout the body.

Dr. Jeremy Wolf, ND
By Dr. Jeremy Wolf, ND
Dr. Wolf is a Licensed Naturopathic Physician (N.D.). He completed his four-year medical training from the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine (SCNM) and Health Sciences. Dr. Wolf’s medical philosophy is based on a healthy balance of diet, exercise and proper nutrition to aid in the reversal of disease and stimulate the body’s innate ability to heal itself. A published author and researcher, Dr. Wolf is featured in publications such as MindBodyGreen and other mediums for health and wellness advocacy.
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