nutrition

Digestive Enzymes vs. Probiotics: Head to Head

Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS

5 min read

aerial shot of a table set with food in bowls

Digestive enzymes and probiotics can both help support your digestive system. Let’s review the research behind these two supplements.

What are probiotics and its health benefits?

Did you know that you have trillions of bacteria and other microbes living inside of your body? While it may sound like something out of a science fiction film, the colon (large intestine) is actually host to an unbelievable number of tiny organisms that make up the “intestinal microbiome.”

These microbes make important nutrients, such as vitamin K, and may play a role in the amount of serotonin produced by our gut. Beneficial bacteria (a.k.a. “good bacteria”) ferment the food we eat and produce a fatty acid called butyrate that can potentially help boost our immune system and keep us regular.

While we already have microbes living in our gut, we can also consume microbes from food, drinks, and supplements. These beneficial organisms are called probiotics and are mostly bacteria, but can also be certain types of yeast.

Research suggests that probiotics may have a variety of health benefits.

Probiotic-rich foods include miso, yogurt, and kimchi. Fermented drinks like kombucha are also a source of probiotics in the diet. One study found that eating yogurt led to better bowel movements and a positive shift in the microbiota.

Probiotics from foods may have some researched health benefits, but there is always a question of whether the microbes actually make it to the colon. This is where probiotic supplements come in. They are created as pills or powders to deliver a high dose of probiotics to the proper areas of the body.

Research suggests that probiotic supplements may promote digestive health and support the immune system.

Many of the studies on the benefits of probiotics have been done on:

  • B. lactis
  • L. rhamnosus
  • L. acidophilus

These three strains are found in our Probiotic Blend!

What are digestive enzymes and its health benefits?

Digestive enzymes are made by the body to help break down the food we eat. Protein, fats, and carbohydrates need to be made small enough to be absorbed in the small intestine.

Enzymes are made in the stomach, small intestine, and by the pancreas. Here’s a handy summary of some of the main enzymes in the body and what they break down:

  • Amylase: Complex carbohydrates
  • Lipase: Fats
  • Protease: Proteins
  • Lactase: Lactose (found in dairy products)
  • Alpha-galactosidase: Complex carbohydrates (like those found in beans and legumes)

Enzymes can be found naturally in certain foods, such as papayas and pineapples. If you’ve ever felt some mouth irritation from eating too much of these fruits, then you’ve felt the action of enzymes at work!

Digestive enzymes are also available in the form of dietary supplements as an addition to the enzymes made by the body.

One popular way digestive enzyme supplements are used in practice is for those with lactose intolerance. These individuals do not make enough of the lactase enzymes and can experience gas, bloating, and diarrhea as a result of eating lactose in dairy products. Research suggests that adding lactase to dairy products can help improve tolerance.

Beans get a bad reputation for causing some unpleasant and embarrassing side effects. This is because they contain certain types of starches that get fermented by the microbes in the large intestine. However, when beans were eaten with the enzyme alpha-galactosidase, study participants reported fewer gas symptoms.

Have you ever eaten a high-fat meal and felt really full? Lipase is important for breaking down fat, but the amount of lipase a person makes may not be enough. Scientists found that giving the lipase enzyme with a high-fat meal reduced the feeling of fullness.

All three of these enzymes can be found in our Digestive Enzymes blend!

Are digestive enzymes and probiotics the same?

While digestive enzymes and probiotics can both support digestion, they are not the same.

Digestive enzymes help break down protein, fats, and carbohydrates into smaller molecules that are absorbed by the body. Probiotics, on the other hand, are beneficial microbes that can support the intestinal microbiota.

Probiotics and digestive enzymes for weight loss

There is no current evidence to suggest that digestive enzymes can help with weight loss. Unintentional weight loss can actually be a sign of digestive enzyme deficiency, since someone with this deficiency may not be able to break down and absorb foods as efficiently.

The research on the microbiome and body weight is ongoing and shows mixed results. However, research on Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains of probiotics have shown benefits for weight loss in addition to maintaining healthy habits like exercise, adequate sleep, proper nutrition, and hydration.

Should you take digestive enzymes or probiotics?

Both digestive enzymes and probiotics may help support digestion. One is not necessarily better than the other and the decision to take them will depend on your needs.

Digestive enzymes can be helpful for those who experience gas and bloating or have trouble digesting fats or dairy products. They tend to have a more immediate effect by reducing the side effects from the meal they are eaten with.

Probiotics can help bring balance to the gut and reduce occasional gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. But they can take time to show a benefit.

Can you take digestive enzymes and probiotics together

You can take digestive enzymes and probiotics together. Digestive enzymes should always be taken with meals since they help break down foods. For probiotics, follow the dosing instructions for the product you are taking or ask your healthcare professional when to take them.

Potential side effects and medication interactions

Digestive enzymes and probiotics are generally safe for most people. However, you should always check with your healthcare professional before starting any new supplements and make sure they know all the medications you are currently taking. They can help you decide if digestive enzymes and/or probiotics are right for you.

You should follow the dosing instructions or defer to your healthcare professional’s dosing recommendations.

Probiotics can cause some mild bloating or gas when first starting, but this should resolve in a few days.

Final takeaways

Digestive enzymes and probiotics can both promote a healthy digestive system. Digestive enzymes are needed to break down foods so the nutrients can be absorbed into the body. Probiotics may help support the intestinal microbiome and could have weight management benefits.

When taken as dietary supplements, digestive enzymes and probiotics may both support the digestive system. Furthermore, probiotic supplements may also have immune-supporting benefits.

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