The Importance of Digestive Enzymes to Gut Health

Filed Under: Digestive Health, Digestive Enzymes, Gut Bacteria & Probiotics
Last Reviewed 09/01/2015

farmers market stand of fresh fruits and vegetables

In order to break down food efficiently and effectively, your body needs a sufficient supply of digestive enzymes.

Some of these digestive enzymes come from the pancreas, others are produced in the stomach, and still others are secreted by the salivary glands and glands in the small intestines. Raw foods contain natural enzymes that make their own digestion easier, but the more refined foods are, the more digestive enzymes your body must produce on its own to absorb nutrients properly.

Unfortunately, as we age, the gut becomes less efficient and we naturally begin to produce fewer digestive enzymes. As a result, our digestive tract gradually becomes more alkaline and it becomes more difficult for our bodies to completely break down the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in the foods we eat. This process can lead to a host of digestive health problems ranging from excessive gas and bloating to food allergies and food intolerances.

What's the Difference Between Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics?

Because they're both essential for healthy digestion, and because both are involved in the breakdown of foods, there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the separate functions of probiotics and digestive enzymes. It may help to think of them this way:

Digestive enzymes function like solvents that break foods down into the components that allow them to be absorbed and used by the body. They work primarily in the stomach and uppermost GI tract.

Probiotic bacteria, which live predominantly in the lower GI tract, are living organisms that live symbiotically with us. Their benefits mostly come from the byproducts they produce. These substances (e.g., lactic acid) favorably balance the digestive environment, inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, and promote overall health. We inherit probiotic gut bacteria from our mothers, and these microorganisms may be permanently lost as the result of antibiotic use or poor diet. 

How to Improve Your Digestive Enzymes

If your digestive symptoms are predominantly in the upper GI tract and not relieved by taking a probiotic supplement, the solution may be to re-acidify your intestinal tract and improve your overall digestive capabilities by supplementing with digestive enzymes. Here's how:

  • Try taking two tablets of digestive enzymes about 30 minutes before meals and two more about 10 to 15 minutes following a meal.
  • When shopping for digestive enzymes, look for a product that contains enzymes to help you digest the three main types of nutrients: proteases (for proteins), lipases (for fats), and amylases (for carbohydrates).

More on Gut Bacteria and Digestive Health

DISCLAIMER: The content of is offered on an informational basis only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health provider before making any adjustment to a medication or treatment you are currently using, and/or starting any new medication or treatment. All recommendations are "generally informational" and not specifically applicable to any individual's medical problems, concerns and/or needs.

Enjoy What You've Just Read?

Get it delivered to your inbox! Signup for E-News and you'll get great content like you've just read along with other great tips and guides from Dr. Williams!