Will a Digestive Enzyme Help Me Feel Better After a Big Meal?
If you find yourself bloated, gassy, or otherwise uncomfortable after eating, this one’s for you.
The holidays are here. If you’re partaking, this time of year is probably accompanied by an array of digestive disruptors. Think: larger portion sizes, foods that aren’t a part of your regular diet, shifts in your daily routines, and heightened stress from travel, shopping, and other demands of the season.
These changes all impact your gastrointestinal tract, and the trillions of microbes residing there. As a result, you may have a more difficult time digesting your inputs in the coming weeks, which could leave you feeling bloated and gassy, among other digestive discomforts.
So, what can you do to support your digestion during this time? Should you take a digestive enzyme? What about a probiotic? Here, our SciCare team* answers four questions to break it down (pun intended).
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What is a digestive enzyme? Should I take one?
While you may be familiar with the digestive enzymes you can purchase as supplements, your body also produces them naturally. Generally, an enzyme is a protein that acts as a catalyst to increase the rate of a chemical reaction. Digestive enzymes, then, work by accelerating chemical reactions involved in the digestive process—specifically, they help break down foods into smaller nutrients that you can absorb.1 Different enzymes target different macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats). Let’s take a look at three different sources of digestive enzymes, starting with the ones you produce in-house.
Your body makes and releases its own digestive enzymes throughout your gastrointestinal system. The moment you start eating, salivary glands produce salivary amylase (also called ptyalin), which begins breaking down carbohydrates. Your stomach, pancreas, and small intestine are also rich in a variety of digestive enzymes, including pepsin (which helps break down proteins in the stomach) and sucrase and lactase (which both break down complex sugars into simpler sugars in the small intestine).2
The Unsung Heroes of Digestion
While digestive enzymes are essential to break down foods, there’s another, oftentimes overlooked, player that’s equally as important: your gut microbiome. The trillions of microorganisms that live symbiotically in your gastrointestinal tract are critical to your body’s digestive processes. Like digestive enzymes, they too help break down food passing through your system. Their focus, however, is on compounds your body couldn’t digest on its own, which is most often tough plant fibers, but can also include proteins and fats throughout the small and large intestine.
Digestive enzymes can be found in foods, too. For example, bananas contain amylase, which breaks down the starch in bananas into simpler sugars (this is how bananas ripen). Pineapples contain bromelain, and papayas have papain—two prophylactic enzymes that help break down protein. Interestingly, the digestive enzymes in pineapples and papayas may actually help your own digestion when you eat them.
So, what about those over-the-counter digestive enzymes? People take them to help support digestion and alleviate certain gastrointestinal problems, like acid reflux, gas, bloating, and diarrhea. These supplements can be especially helpful if your body doesn’t make enough digestive enzymes on its own. Take the case of lactose intolerance, which affects around 65% of people around the globe.3 People with lactose intolerance don’t make enough of the enzyme lactase to break down the natural sugar in milk, lactose. So, instead of being absorbed in the small intestine, the lactose travels straight to the colon where it can be fermented by gut bacteria to cause symptoms like gas and bloating.4 In these instances, taking a digestive enzyme supplement with lactase can help people digest dairy products.
Now, back to the question at hand: Should you take a digestive enzyme supplement? If you’re experiencing digestive symptoms like the ones we mentioned above, it could be a sign of trouble breaking down certain foods, in which case a digestive enzyme may help. But it depends. The digestive system is incredibly complex, and many factors can influence how it’s functioning (or not), so we recommend discussing your options with a healthcare provider who can help identify where your symptoms are stemming from and what particular digestive enzyme, if any, may be appropriate or beneficial for you.
How is a digestive enzyme different from a probiotic? What about a prebiotic?
As we just covered, digestive enzymes are compounds derived from either plant, animal, or synthetic origin that help your body break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins from food. Probiotics, on the other hand, are live microorganisms that have been studied to provide a specific benefit to the host (in this case, humans). Depending on the specific strain, probiotics can carry out a range of functions in the body (like producing vitamins, stimulating muscle contractions in the GI tract, and regulating immune cells), so they deliver their digestive benefits through different modes of action than a digestive enzyme.5,6,7
Prebiotics, like digestive enzymes, are non-living compounds, but they are specifically utilized by microbes (either your resident gut microbes or probiotic microorganisms) to produce certain secondary metabolites that can benefit the body. For example, gut microbes can utilize prebiotics to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), powerful compounds that support gut, immune, and brain health.8
Moral of the story: Probiotics, prebiotics, and digestive enzymes each have their own distinct properties and serve separate functions from one another. And while they can all support digestion, these terms can’t be used interchangeably.
How does DS-01® ease bloating and support digestion? Does it contain digestive enzymes?
DS-01® does not contain digestive enzymes. It is a 2-in-1 prebiotic and probiotic that combines 24 select bacterial strains and a new class of non-fermenting prebiotic compounds—punicalagins sourced from Indian pomegranate.
Like digestive enzymes, probiotics support digestive processes but in a different way. Certain probiotic organisms travel through the digestive tract, interacting with gut cells, immune cells, dietary nutrients, and existing bacteria to deliver benefits. Depending on the specific strains included in a probiotic, the exact function and mode(s) of action will vary.
DS-01® contains a unique blend of probiotic strains targeted specifically at supporting multiple markers of digestive health such as regularity, gas and bloating, stool quality, and intestinal environment.
Two strains in particular—Lactobacillus plantarum SD-LP1-IT and Bifidobacterium breve SD-BR3-IT—were examined in a 5-year, 300-person study for their support of several gastrointestinal functions, including bowel movement regularity, stool consistency, ease of expulsion, bowel movement comfort, and occasional bloating.9
Can I take a digestive enzyme at the same time as DS-01®?
There are no known interactions between probiotics and other dietary supplements, so DS-01® should be fine to take while using digestive enzymes.
That said, as live microorganisms, probiotics are fragile and there is preliminary in vitro research (that is, research conducted outside of a living organism, like a test tube or petri dish) to suggest that digestive enzymes may damage the membrane of probiotic organisms.10 Of course, these results may not directly translate to effects on the human body. But if you are supplementing with a digestive enzyme, we recommend spacing it out at least 90 minutes apart from DS-01® for best practice.
We receive and answer questions like these every day. Stay tuned for more SciCare roundups on Cultured. If you have any questions of your own, email us at email@example.com.
- Ianiro, G., Pecere, S., Giorgio, V., Gasbarrini, A., & Cammarota, G. (2016). Digestive Enzyme Supplementation in Gastrointestinal Diseases. Current drug metabolism, 17(2), 187–193. https://doi.org/10.2174/138920021702160114150137
- Patricia, J. J. (2022, September 12). Physiology, digestion. StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK544242/
- Lactose intolerance: MedlinePlus Genetics. (n.d.-b). https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/lactose-intolerance/#statistics
- Olds, L. C., & Sibley, E. (2003). Lactase persistence DNA variant enhances lactase promoter activity in vitro: functional role as a cis regulatory element. Human Molecular Genetics, 12(18), 2333–2340. https://doi.org/10.1093/hmg/ddg244
- Vyas, U., & Ranganathan, N. (2012). Probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics: gut and beyond. Gastroenterology research and practice, 2012, 872716. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/872716
- Strandwitz, P. (2018b). Neurotransmitter modulation by the gut microbiota. Brain Research, 1693, 128–133. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brainres.2018.03.015
- Jiao, Y., Wu, L., Huntington, N. D., & Zhang, X. (2020). Crosstalk between gut microbiota and innate immunity and its implication in autoimmune diseases. Frontiers in Immunology, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2020.00282
- Chambers, E. S., Preston, T., Frost, G., & Morrison, D. J. (2018). Role of Gut Microbiota-Generated Short-Chain Fatty Acids in Metabolic and Cardiovascular Health. Current nutrition reports, 7(4), 198–206. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13668-018-0248-8
- Del Piano, M., Carmagnola, S., Anderloni, A., Andorno, S., Ballarè, M., Balzarini, M., Montino, F., Orsello, M., Pagliarulo, M., Sartori, M., Tari, R., Sforza, F., & Capurso, L. (2010). The use of probiotics in healthy volunteers with evacuation disorders and hard stools: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Journal of clinical gastroenterology, 44 Suppl 1, S30–S34. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCG.0b013e3181ee31c3
- Ouwehand, A. C., Tölkkö, S., & Salminen, S. (2001). The Effect of Digestive Enzymes on the Adhesion of Probiotic Bacteria In Vitro. Journal of Food Science, 66(6), 856–859. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2621.2001.tb15186.x