The Importance of Digestive Enzymes to Gut Health

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

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:

See a list of all articles about Gut Bacteria in the Gut Bacteria and Probiotics Index

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 throughout the GI tract, but are especially plentiful in the stomach and uppermost sections.

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).

Read More About Gut Bacteria and Digestive Health

Gut Bacteria and Probiotics Article Index
See a full list of articles by Dr. Williams about gut flora, probiotics, and the microbiome. Read more
How Healthy Gut Bacteria Support Digestive Health
Read about four ways that healthy gut flora keep the digestive system running smoothly. Read more
Signs That You Have Too Much Bad Bacteria in Your Gut
Learn about the digestive and other health symptoms that may indicate you have dysbacteriosis, or an imbalance of gut bacteria. Read more
Lifestyle Habits That Damage Gut Bacteria
Learn how our normal, everyday routines can damage the microflora in our gut. Read more
How to Restore and Improve Gut Bacteria
Learn three strategies for restoring your gut health by improving the microflora residing there. Read more

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.

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