Probiotics have gotten a lot of attention from researchers in recent years. Studies show they support digestive health, relieve indigestion and even support mood and cognitive function. There’s no question probiotics are good for health. Yet, there’s research that shows digestive enzymes provide the same results for digestive health.
In all the fuss over probiotics, have we overlooked the importance of digestive enzymes to our overall health?
Digestive Enzymes Relieve Indigestion and More
More and more people are turning to digestive enzymes for relief from digestive distress. The research shows there’s good reason for this – they work to relive the pain that comes with indigestion and gas.
In one Chinese study, 80% of the patients given digestive enzymes reported less indigestion after meals.[i] Another study found people who took a digestive enzyme with their meals had less cramping, bloating and other symptoms of dysfunctional digestion.[ii] Digestive enzymes even produced relief for IBS patient from gas and abdominal pain following meals.[iii]
The absence of pain and other symptoms of inadequate digestion, like gas and bloating, suggests better digestion, the ultimate key to good health and longevity. After all, if you cannot digest your food, you’re not getting the nutrients your body needs to thrive.
Factors that Could Lead to Decreased Digestive Enzyme Levels
There’s still a debate in science and medicine about whether enzyme deficiency is a serious problem. The science, however, shows that the elderly have such low levels of digestive enzymes that many may actually be suffering from malnutrition![iv]
The human body doesn’t simply stop producing digestive enzymes at a certain age. This suggests the decline starts years earlier. Some sources suggest it starts as early as the mid-20s with already 25% less produced by age 50. Interestingly, instances of indigestion increase with age.
Of course, other factors could be at play as well. Some of these include:
- A diet lacking in nutrition. Many vitamins and minerals act as co-factors to enzymatic reactions in the body, including those that produce the complex protein molecules we call enzymes. Inadequate nutrition would deprive the body of essential building blocks.
- Irritable bowels. Inflamed bowels disrupt nutrient absorption, again depriving the body of the essential nutrition needed to work properly. Conditions like celiac disease interfere with digestion and absorption of food.
- When the sympathetic nervous system is active, digestion slows down. Constant stress, whether it’s physical or emotional, would suppress the systems that produce enzymes.
- “Sick” organs. A fatty liver, inflamed small intestine or stomach with reduced stomach acid all interfere with the ability of digestive enzymes to do their job.
- Inadequate chewing. Did your mother or grandmother ever tell you to “chew your food 34 times” before you swallow? While that may be excessive, she wasn’t wrong. Digestion starts in the mouth where amylase goes to work breaking down sugars. The increased surface area produced by chewing is essential to improve enzyme efficiency.
- Foods that lack enzymes. Processed foods do not only lack nutrition, they don’t supply any enzymes. Neither do cooked foods as enzymes break down at 120 F. This means even if you eat plenty of vegetables, if you cook them, you won’t get the natural enzymes they supply. Vegetables also begin losing enzymes the minute they’re picked. This means those that endure long supply chains from field to store also lack the enzymes provided by fresh, raw fruits and vegetables.
Are Low Digestive Enzyme Levels a Problem?
The fact that studies show digestive enzymes relieve indigestion including in patients with IBS suggests there may be something to this. Testimonials from those who take them also support their value. A lot more research is needed to find a definitive answer to this question.
[i] Wu Y1, et al. [Efficacy of compound digestive enzyme tablet for dyspeptic symptoms: a randomized double-blind parallel controlled multicenter clinical trial in China]. [Article in Chinese] Zhonghua Yi Xue Za Zhi. 2014 Nov 18;94(42):3326-8.
[ii] Money ME, Walkowiak J, Virgilio C, et al. Pilot study: a randomised, double blind, placebo controlled trial of pancrealipase for the treatment of postprandial irritable bowel syndrome-diarrhoea. Frontline Gastroenterology 2011;2:48-56.
[iii] C. Ciacci, et al. Effect of beta-Glucan, Inositol and digestive enzymes in GI symptoms of patients with IBS. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci, Year: 2011, Vol. 15 – N. 6 Pages: 637-643.
[iv] Rémond D, Shahar DR, Gille D, et al. Understanding the gastrointestinal tract of the elderly to develop dietary solutions that prevent malnutrition. Oncotarget. 2015;6(16):13858-13898.