Digestive enzymes and probiotics work together, but they are very different. Digestive enzymes speed up digestion and optimize chemical processes within the digestive system. Probiotics are living microorganisms that help balance the environment of the gut so it can stay healthy and work efficiently.
Digestive enzymes and probiotics are both necessary for a healthy digestive system. Although their functions are very different, they both work to improve digestive function and prevent imbalance in the gut. Both of these benefits are essential to maintaining good gut health, which has a strong impact on overall health.
In fact, our beneficial gut bacteria assist many critical processes in the body, including digestion, nutrient absorption, immune function and neurotransmitter production.
Gut health in general is complex, and the same is true for the relationship between probiotics and digestive enzymes.
Some people may wonder whether it’s better to take one over the other, or if it’s safe and effective to take both. In this article, we’ll deep dive into digestive enzymes and how they work, how their function compares to probiotics, and the ways the two complement each other to support healthy digestion.
We’ll take a look at the benefits, things you should consider before adding a supplement, and the most effective ways to incorporate digestive enzymes and probiotics into your diet.
Are Digestive Enzymes the Same as Probiotics?
Digestive enzymes and probiotics are very different and affect gut health in different ways. The two actually complement each other: Digestive enzymes improve the processes of digestion while probiotics keep the digestive environment healthy. Having too little of either one is detrimental to gut health.
Probiotics are living microorganisms, and there are billions of them living in the gut. Often referred to as “good gut bacteria,” probiotics support not only digestion and absorption, but also the immune system and neurotransmitter production, to name a few.
When you consume foods with probiotics like yogurt, sauerkraut, or kimchi, the beneficial bacteria primarily work to prevent an overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Probiotics also support a strong gut barrier to prevent pathogens from entering the blood. Another interesting probiotic function is their role in creating certain vitamins.
Finally, taking probiotics may help with antibiotic-related diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and other digestive issues. When probiotics in the gut are depleted due to certain medications or conditions, digestive health will likely suffer. Over time, an imbalance in gut bacteria can also contribute to leaky gut, a weakened immune system, and even changes to mood.
What Are Digestive Enzymes?
Unlike probiotics, digestive enzymes are non-living proteins. They’re secreted primarily in the pancreas, and all along the digestive tract in the mouth, stomach, and small intestine. Their primary role is to help break down different foods so that they are small enough for the body to extract and absorb the necessary nutrients. Each type is unique to the role it plays in digestion and the type of macronutrient it breaks down.
Some of the most common digestive enzymes include:
Amylase: Targets carbohydrates.
Protease: Breaks down protein into amino acids.
Lipase: Helps to break down and digest fat.
Some disorders actually cause insufficient production of digestive enzymes in the body.
For example, lactose intolerance is caused by a lack of lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose which is a milk protein. People with this disorder experience extreme discomfort when they ingest anything made with milk because the lactose cannot be broken down.
Health conditions and food intolerances associated with decreased digestive enzyme production in the body include:
- Lactose intolerance
- Bean intolerance
- Pancreatic cancer
- Blockage of the pancreatic duct
- Celiac disease
- Cystic fibrosis
Researchers are also looking at ways in which digestive enzymes could impact conditions not directly related to the gut. One recent study showed noticeable benefits for children with autism spectrum disorder when they took a digestive enzyme supplement for three months.
Although digestive enzymes offer promising benefits for people with a deficiency, it’s not clear if they improve digestion for those without a specific need. Research is very limited, and to date focuses on prescription enzymes and enzymes combined with probiotic use.
How Do Digestive Enzymes Work in the Body?
You need digestive enzymes for nutrient absorption. Without them, macronutrients (carbs, protein and fat) aren’t effectively broken down before they reach the small intestine for absorption.
As a result, malabsorption occurs and nutrients are wasted. Improperly digested food then draws water into our intestines, causing uncomfortable symptoms like gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. Enzyme deficiency is also commonly associated with heartburn and indigestion.
Malabsorption caused by enzyme deficiency can also lead to vitamin and mineral deficiency. If your body doesn’t make enough lipase, fat can’t be broken down. Then your body can’t absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Likewise, if you have frequent diarrhea because of improper digestion, you’ll likely lose electrolytes and water-soluble vitamins.
Although some severe conditions require prescription enzyme replacement therapy, some digestive issues can be improved with a simple over the counter (OTC) digestive enzyme.
For example, taking lactase can improve digestion for those with lactose intolerance. People with this condition don’t make enough lactase naturally. A supplement helps the body break down lactose in dairy products.
As a result, people who are lactose intolerant can incorporate more dairy into the diet without issues. Similarly, taking an alpha-galactosidase supplement can improve digestion for people who otherwise cannot tolerate legumes.
Can Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics Be Taken Together?
Taking probiotics and digestive enzymes together can create a “best case scenario” for your digestion. Taking probiotics protects the digestive system from harmful gut bacteria and creates a balanced environment for digestion.
Taking digestive enzymes improves the actual process of digestion to ensure your food is broken down and absorbed properly. Together, probiotics and digestive enzymes help you get the most nutrition out of the food you eat while supporting healthy digestion.
Both supplements are considered safe to take in most cases. Since each type has a different function, there is no risk for how the two interact if you take them together. Taking both could actually offer the most benefit.
Are Digestive Enzymes or Probiotics Better For Digestion?
Deciding between digestive enzymes or probiotics, or whether to take them together, depends on your body and your goals.
Your body doesn’t make probiotics, so taking a supplement has potential digestive benefits for everyone. Taking probiotics can improve gastrointestinal symptoms if you already experience issues with digestion, but many people prefer to take probiotics on a preventative and supportive basis.
If you have food allergies or symptoms that suggest malabsorption, a potential lack of digestive enzymes is worth considering. A supplement could noticeably improve your digestion.
Digestive Enzyme Supplementation Considerations
If you’re thinking about supplementing digestive enzymes, the first thing to consider is what you’re hoping to get out of taking a supplement. If you have a specific condition or sensitivity causing a deficiency, you will need a specific supplement to give your body the digestive support it needs.
For some more severe conditions, a prescription supplement is necessary. In this case, your doctor will determine the best supplement for you. Both prescription and OTC supplements come in the form of pills, powders and liquids derived from animal and plant-based sources.
If you want to simply support healthy digestion, you can try an OTC supplement or incorporate natural sources of digestive enzymes in your diet. Foods with natural digestive enzymes include:
Lastly, there can be possible side effects to taking digestive enzymes like stomach pain, nausea and vomiting. However, these are usually more common with high doses or people who may be allergic to certain enzymes.
Probiotic Supplementation Considerations
Adding a probiotic supplement to your wellness routine can support optimal digestion and bowel function, as well as promote overall health. Probiotics are increasingly considered a staple supplement due to the connection between gut health and the immune system as well as mental wellbeing.
If you decide to take a probiotic supplement, there are some things to consider.
First, choose a supplement that fits your needs. There are trillions of microorganisms that live in your gut, and several types of probiotics that impact the body in different ways.
Since there are so many types of probiotics, it’s important that you don’t just grab the first supplement you see. Depending on your body and your goals, you’ll want to choose a product with a variety of high-quality probiotic strains that are shown in clinical research to address your health needs.
Finally, consider timing. The best time to take probiotics is on an empty stomach. Many people prefer to take them before breakfast in the morning or before going to bed at night. Digestive enzymes however function best when taken with meals.
Digestive enzymes and probiotics are excellent for digestion. Although they work together, they benefit the body in different ways.
Digestive enzymes may speed up and improve digestion. However, current research suggests that taking a supplement offers the most noticeable benefit for people who have a specific deficiency or need.
Probiotics on the other hand offer benefits for almost everyone of all levels of health, age, or gender. Probiotics support overall gut health, including seamless digestion and bowel functions, as well as a healthy gut barrier function that can absorb nutrients from your food.
If needed, it is totally safe to take digestive enzymes and probiotics together. In fact, some studies suggest that probiotics enhance the outcome of enzyme supplementation.
It’s important to choose a digestive enzyme appropriate for your needs, based on your symptoms and the foods that your body is sensitive to.
It’s best to choose a probiotic based on your needs as well. For example, Omni-Biotic Balance is a unique formulation of probiotics that promotes a healthy gut and immune system. If you’re experiencing diarrhea related to antibiotic use, AB 10 by Omni-Biotic can restore microbiome balance and provide relief.
All of the products from Omni-Biotic are developed based on deep research and extensive testing, and are tailored to specific health needs. Whether you decide to incorporate probiotics, digestive enzymes or both, carefully choosing high quality products to support your gut health will also benefit your overall health.