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All about digestive enzymes

Good digestion means absorbing nutrients from the foods you eat – and for that, digestive enzymes are key. Digestive enzymes are proteins released into the digestive system that help speed up the breakdown of food into easily absorbed nutrients that our bodies can use.

Discover why digestive enzymes could be the key to good digestion below.

Why do we need a healthy digestive system?

It's only by digesting our food properly that we can absorb all the nutrients our bodies need to stay healthy. Symptoms of poor digestion include heartburn, indigestion, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. You may also notice undigested food in your stools.1

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What are digestive enzymes?

They’re proteins released into the digestive system, mainly by the pancreas and small intestine. They have a very important job to do – breaking down the food we eat into nutrients that our body can absorb and put to good use.

There are many different enzymes involved in digestion but the three main types are:2
  • amylase – this breaks down carbohydrate into sugars
  • protease – this digests proteins into amino acids
  • lipase – this converts fats (lipids) into fatty acids and glycerol

How can a digestive enzyme help?

A 2016 study published in Current Drug Metabolism found that digestive enzymes may help manage digestive disorders, including lactose intolerance.3 It can also help people with coeliac disease and low-grade inflammation in the digestive tract caused, for example, by irritable bowel syndrome.4,5,6 Stress also affects digestive enzymes, reducing their production; when we’re in fight-or-flight mode, our body gives digestion a low priority.7

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What to look for in digestive enzyme

Digestive enzymes are available either as single or mixed enzymes. They can be:

  • bromelain from pineapples or papain from papayas
  • extracted from plants like fungi and yeast
  • pancreatic enzymes taken from animals8

Check the label to see which enzymes are included and their source, particularly if you’re vegetarian or vegan. Also check which food they break down inside the body – if you have lactose intolerance, for example, look for lactase.

Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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Sources

1. Healthline. Malabsorption syndrome. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/malabsorption
2. BBC Schools. GCSE Bietsize. Science. Proteins and Enzymes. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/science/add_aqa/proteins/proteinsrev4.shtml
3. Ianiro G, et al. Digestive enzyme supplementation in gastrointestinal diseases. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4923703/
4. As Source 3
5. Roxas M, The role of enzyme supplementation in digestive disorders. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19152478
6. Ciacci C, et al. Effect of beta-Glucan, Inositol and digestive enzymes in GI symptoms of patients with IBS. Available from: http://www.europeanreview.org/article/957
7. Konturek P, Brzozowski T, Konturek S. Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22314561
8. As Source 5

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