Why Take Enzymes?: 10 Tips When Considering Enzymes

Author: Dr. Devin Houston, PhD

Throughout two decades of talking with individuals about how enzymes can help their digestion, this is often the first question I hear. Here is a list of reasons that should give you confidence in using enzymes.

  1. Which enzyme(s) do you need to take? Sometimes that answer is easy, say when you are lactose intolerant. Lactase is the only enzyme that normally decreases as you age. If you are an adult and find that eating dairy causes cramping, bloating, and diarrhea, then you have lactose intolerance and should take an enzyme product containing lactase.

    Other times the answer is not so clear cut. Try keeping a journal of what you eat and the effects you experience 3 to 24 hours after eating. If certain proteins are the problem, then try a product high in protease enzymes. Protein intolerances usually involve allergy-type issues, brain fog, as well as digestive upsets.

    If carbohydrates or starches are the culprits, expect more bloating, gassiness, and loose stools. Take those enzymes such as amylase, glucoamylase, alpha-galactosidase, and lactase.

    Fats may be problematic especially if you do not have a gall bladder. Lipase enzymes do a great job of breaking down fats.

    Some experimentation is usually necessary to find the right combination of enzymes and dosing that work optimally.

  2. Enzymes stay mainly in the gut. Some very small amount of oral enzymes (2-5%) are absorbed through the gut wall and into the circulation. There they may break down cellular debris - but other compounds in the circulation will bind and remove the proteins fairly quickly.

    Enzymes traveling through the gut are eventually broken down by the body's other enzymes way down in the colon, but are actually quite hardy and may still be in active form when eliminated in the stools. Which brings us to the next reason...

  3. Enzyme supplements work directly on digestion and indirectly on the consequences of digestion. This means that no one can say that enzymes help with issues that are not gut-related. By law and regulation, enzymes are not drugs and cannot be used to diagnose, prevent, or cure any disease.

    Good health is related to good digestion. Enzymes support digestion by breaking down foods more quickly and more thoroughly. The whole idea behind digestion is to break down foods to the smallest component possible.

    Enzyme supplements work to complement the normal digestive process. They will work just fine along side your pancreatic enzymes, intestinal enzymes and the enzymes produced by the probiotic bacteria in your gut.

  4. Because these enzymes are acid-stable and work in the stomach, many foods that may cause food intolerances can be broken down safely in the stomach. This is because very little is absorbed by the stomach. Only water, ethanol, some drugs and vitamins, and sugars are absorbed by the stomach. No protein absorption occurs.

    Most food intolerances are caused by food proteins. The enzymes can work in the acid stomach and break the proteins down in such a way that they no longer cause problems.

  5. Enzymes can be helpful for dietary infractions. If your youngster happens to get into a pile of wheat-based treats or cheesy snacks - don't spare the enzymes! Time is of the essence.

    The stomach will not empty for at least an hour or more, and remember, proteins are not absorbed in the stomach. Since gluten and casein are proteins, you have a window of opportunity to "defuse" the potential gut bomb.

    Use high-activity protease enzymes to break down gluten, casein, soy and other food proteins that are the major cause of food intolerances. Since you have a shorter amount of time to work, use higher amounts of enzyme dosing.

  6. Enzymes are safe. Safe to use whether you are an adult or child. Safe to use at any amount of dosing. Safe to take with 99% of any medication or other supplement.

    Don't fear enzymes. They are, after all, simply proteins produced by fungal organisms.

  7. Yes, enzymes are mostly derived from fungal organisms. That's right, fungus. Now go back to the first reason, don't be afraid.

    Whether you are allergic to mold, have a yeast infection, or were traumatized at an early age by a fungal organism, taking enzymes derived from fungi will not harm you. That is because the enzymes are highly purified away from any extraneous fungal material. Only the enzyme protein is selected for use in a product. No spores or icky fungus parts are included. Many steps are used in purifying the enzymes.

    The only caution here is in the rare instance of being allergic to an enzyme protein. This can happen to any food protein, including enzymes.

  8. Fungal enzymes work like your pancreatic enzymes with one important difference. Fungal enzymes are stable in acid. Pancreatic enzymes are not. This means that an enzyme supplement from fungal sources starts working in the stomach. No pancreatic enzyme can do this. Pancreatic enzymes only work in non-acidic environments like the small intestine.

    This means that fungal enzyme supplements start breaking down food hours earlier than what occurs "normally", which is to say when the food leaves the stomach and enters the small intestine.

  9. In some cases, enzymes may be an alternative to food restrictions. There is no doubt that all of us would most likely be better off reducing the intake of wheat and dairy. But avoiding these and other foods is difficult.

    Enzymes may allow some foods back into the diet because the science supports such. But we strongly encourage sensitive children (and adults) to stay gluten- and casein-free. However, we know that situations occur where dietary measures are not an option. In such cases, enzymes may be a better choice.

    In addition, enzymes break down all food proteins to some extent whereas diets only focus on what food is eliminated.

    It is quite possible that we are not aware of other foods that may be sources of food intolerances. We can only eliminate what we know, but enzymes do not discriminate. All proteins are targets for enzyme activity.

  10. Be skeptical. Don't buy into hype and slick marketing. Enzymes are one of the hottest items in the dietary supplement business. No special qualifications are needed to start your own enzyme business.

    This means you should find out as much information as possible about the company selling you enzymes. Do they actually know anything about how enzymes work? What is their educational background? Have they done actual research with enzymes? Will they communicate quickly and honestly with the customer?

    If an enzyme product is really helping, the results will be noticeable and obvious.

    Take an enzyme product for one month as a fair trial. Try different doses of the product. If you can’t feel or see a difference, then stop taking the product. Sometimes, once a product is discontinued, problems will recur, and you realize that you were being helped.