Digestive Enzymes: The Better-Health Secret to Beating Bloat and Food Comas

Digestive Enzymes
istock/Porechenskaya

Want to relieve gas, bloating and indigestion? What about breathing easier, better circulation, a stronger immune system, reduced pain and inflammation? Digestive enzymes may be the answer.

To help you easily understand how to take digestive enzymes, we put together a panel of experts who weigh in on just how vital the right digestive enzymes are to our ultimate health.

Organic Authority: Why are digestive enzymes so powerful and necessary?

Maday Labrador, PhD in holistic nutrition and Vice President of Education at Enzymedica: Enzymes are the foundation of our health. They play a critical role in each and every chemical reaction within the body. We can see, touch, hear, taste and smell because of enzymes.

Marci Clow, MS, Registered Dietician at Rainbow Light: They enable food to be broken down into nutrients in our bodies to produce energy, and repair and maintain our physical structure and function.

Michael Kuhn, BS, MS, CMS, and candidate for CN and DHSc:  If there were no enzymes, life simply would not exist. They help facilitate biochemical reactions to occur in seconds, that would take millions to billions of years without them.

Udo Erasmus, author, health educator and creator of Udo’s Choice: They play critical roles in health and survival. Without digestive enzymes, the nutrients in the foods we eat would never be broken down and then absorbed.

OA: What are the health benefits of taking digestive enzymes?

Labrador: The majority of occasional digestive discomforts like gas, bloating and indigestion is the result of incomplete digestion of food. In particular, when carbohydrates are not fully broken down; bacteria in the GI tract will cause them to ferment, creating uncomfortable symptoms. This is particularly true for those who suffer from food intolerance, like gluten or lactose intolerance. Intolerances are enzyme deficiencies – the individual doesn’t have enough of a particular enzyme needed to break down that food. Supplemental enzymes can greatly assist with the digestion of these and other problem foods.

Erasmus: Digestive enzymes ensure complete digestion of foods and optimum absorption of the nutrients required for the structures and functions of every one of our body’s trillions of cells. They prevent the absorption of incompletely digested proteins, which would lead to immune and inflammatory reactions, and could lead to pain and bloating, food sensitivities, food allergies, and even autoimmune conditions. Enzymes can also prevent inflammation, water retention and the weight gain caused by it.

Enzymes are also able to free the immune system from having to get involved in digestion, which then enables that system to deal with virus, fungus, yeast, and bacterial infections in the body. They help to rejuvenate the body by freeing the immune system to deal with cell and tissue repair and recycling dead cell debris. Some enzymes help to digest raffinose, a three-sugar combination molecule that causes gas, found in bean, onion, and broccoli family vegetables. And some enzymes can help people who are lactose-sensitive to digest the lactose present in dairy-based foods.

Clow: Age, stress, digestive disorders, some medications and a variety of chronic conditions are factors that may affect the body’s enzyme production, making digestion more difficult. One largely overlooked factor that may be contributing to these digestive problems is the lack of regular consumption of raw fruits and vegetables, which contain digestive enzymes that play a beneficial role in initiating breakdown of food. Since cooking destroys digestive enzymes, supplemental enzymes may well provide digestive benefits to those who don’t regularly consume raw foods. Research has explored insufficient amounts of digestive enzymes as the cause of abnormal digestive conditions, such as maldigestion, food allergies or sensitivities, intestinal fermentation, putrefaction and peroxidation, and the phenomenon known as intestinal hyperpermeability, or “leaky gut.”

Kuhn: Potential benefits include reductions in pain and inflammation; meaning potential benefits in allergies, arthritis, asthma, fibromyalgia and improved recovery from training, injuries and surgery… In terms of weight loss and digestion, the inclusion of digestive enzymes amylase, lipase and protease enzymes will help with the proper digestion of food, leading to better absorption and assimilation. Moreover, the reductions in inflammation can help with the elimination of bloating commonly experienced in those looking to lose weight.

OA: How should we take digestive enzymes?

Labrador: Enzymes for digestion should be taken at the start of a meal. Because enzymes become active with moisture, as soon as they are ingested, they become active. When taking enzymes for systemic use, they should be taken 2-4 hours after a meal, so that they have an opportunity to work in the bloodstream, instead of on food.

Clow: Digestive enzymes are best taken with or before meals. Two commonly supplemented enzymes naturally occurring in the plant kingdom are bromelain from pineapples and papain from papaya. Bromelain is a proteolytic enzyme derived from the pineapple plant.  When taken with meals, it assists in the digestion of proteins; when taken on an empty stomach, it acts medicinally as an anti-inflammatory agent. Papain is a mixture of proteolytic enzymes derived from the juice of the unripe papaya, which hydrolyze proteins into peptides and amino acids, providing additional protein digestive support and anti-inflammatory activity.

Kuhn: They are best taken as capsules on an empty stomach at least 45 minutes prior to eating or 60 minutes after eating, twice daily.

Erasmus: Open the capsules and mix their content into foods cool enough to eat (enzymes, just like probiotics, are destroyed by high heat). But even taking capsules (without opening and mixing the contents directly into our food) during our meal is helpful. And if we overeat, taking a few capsules afterward helps to get rid of the pain that comes from overeating. We can’t get the enzymes we need from foods, because processing and cooking destroys them. Food that is poorly chewed can also add to the digestive burden. However, even those who eat only raw foods find that taking an enzyme supplement with their raw foods gets them even better digestion results.

OA: What else is important to know about digestive enzymes?

Labrador: Firstly, the most important thing with enzymes truly is pH. Consumers should look for enzymes that have been blended to work across a wide pH range in order for them to be most effective. Secondly, many consumers assume that probiotics are the go-to for digestive health. While probiotics are critical, they provide foundational, long-term support. Enzymes can function much more quickly and directly on the digestive process.

Kuhn: People should just be mindful to look for the inclusion of both plant-and animal-derived systemic enzymes, as they each have their own unique benefits.

Clow: If you want to be able to eat better, breather easier, have better circulation, have a stronger immune system and have less pain and inflammation, enzymes are super important.

Erasmus: Remember that nature’s mandate for foods for all creatures is ‘fresh, whole, raw, and organic’. Only humans and the animals we feed eat foods that are not raw.

Ready to include digestive enzymes into your daily health regime?

Here are 3 ways to get started!

  • Choose a high-quality reputable brand.
  • Take your digestive enzyme before, after, or during meals according to your health improvement goals.
  • Add fresh, raw fruits and vegetables to your daily diet.

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Donna Sozio
Donna Sozio

Author, journalist and publishing consultant, Donna Sozio has been featured in 200+ media outlets including the Tyra Banks Show, Early Show, Fox News, Good Day LA, Seventeen Magazine, Yahoo! Personals, Match.com, Lavalife.com, EcoSalon.com, OrganicAuthority.com and many more. Her books The Man Whisperer (Adams Media) and Never Trust a Man in Alligator Loafers (Kensington) were Amazon.com bestsellers, had TV/Film options and were translated into German, Portuguese and Czech.