What Are Digestive Enzymes?

What Are Digestive Enzymes?

As the interest in gut health and well-being continues to grow, a variety of supplements and over-the-counter remedies are growing in popularity as well. Digestive enzymes represent an aspect of this market that is gaining traction with consumers.

According to recent marketing research, digestive enzyme supplements are so popular that global sales are expected to reach $1.6 billion by 2025. That’s a lot of income spent improving digestion, which speaks to how many people are seeking to curb tummy discomfort. But are digestive enzymes for everyone? Who really needs to take them?

First, it’s important to understand what digestive enzymes are and how they function in the body. Digestive enzymes are proteins found in saliva, the stomach, and the small intestine. They break down food so nutrients can be properly absorbed by your body. Without them, your body could potentially lose out on important nutrition.

Your body naturally produces these enzymes, which aid in the digestion of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. In many cases, unique enzymes break down specific foods. For instance, lactase is the enzyme that breaks down lactose, which is the sugar found in milk.

What your body doesn’t produce naturally are enzymes that break down cellulose, or fiber. Too much fiber may cause digestive issues for some of you. If a chronic gut condition exists, such as Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome, insoluble fiber can be especially irritating.

Soluble fiber passes through the small intestine undigested and into the large intestine where it is digested through fermentation. Fermentation in the large intestine can cause a lot of digestive issues, such as gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and stomach discomfort. To address these issues, your doctor may prescribe digestive enzymes.

You can get digestive enzymes in the form of supplements that can be sold on their own, as a part of a vitamin supplement, or as part of a probiotic. Regardless of the form, a lot of research still needs to be done to verify the benefits of taking digestive enzyme supplements.

One of the arguments against taking the digestive enzyme supplements found in health food stores or online is that they are not medications and they are not regulated by the FDA. This means no standard exists for the quality or source of the enzyme.

Since digestive enzymes can be derived from animal or plant sources, verifying their source is important if you are vegan or vegetarian or if you suffer from a specific food allergy or intolerance. This is standard with any vitamin or supplement you purchase.

That being said, in most cases taking enzymes in supplement form is not likely to cause any harm. However, some potential side effects include many of the gastrointestinal symptoms associated with poor digestion, such as gas, constipation, nausea, diarrhea, and bloating.

As with any ongoing digestive condition, it is best to consult with your doctor before taking digestive supplements on your own. There can be many reasons for gastrointestinal symptoms, and it’s best to communicate these with your healthcare provider.

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