The Science of Nutrition

Is It Good to Take Digestive Enzymes?

Steph Greunke

Is It Good to Take Digestive Enzymes?

Table of contents

  • Intro
  • What Are They?
  • What Are the Different Types of Enzymes?
  • Why Do I Need Them?
  • What Are Some Signs I Might Need Digestive Enzymes?
  • If My Body Makes Them, Why Do I Need More?
  • How Do I Take Them?
  • Are There Any Side Effects or Will They Affect My Body’s Enzyme Production?
  • Do Digestive Enzymes Interfere With Probiotics?
  • What Do the Numbers and Letters After Each Enzyme Mean?
  • Why Are Needed’s Digestive Enzymes Different?

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Whether or not you’re familiar with Digestive Enzymes, you probably have questions about them. What are they? When should you take them? What are the different types? Are they different from probiotics? We’re answering these questions and more. Read on, and as always, reach out to our team if you have any questions!

What are they?

Enzymes are proteins that speed up reactions in your body. Digestive Enzymes help to break down the food that you eat into smaller components.

In other words, Digestive Enzymes make digestion more smooth and efficient in the body.

A variety of different types of enzymes are needed to support the digestion of a wide range of foods throughout different parts of your digestive tract, from your mouth to your gut. 

What are the different types of enzymes?

There are many different types of Digestive Enzymes. The main categories include:

  • Amylase (made in the mouth and pancreas, breaks down complex carbohydrates)
  • Lipase (made in the pancreas, breaks down fats)
  • Protease (made in the pancreas, breaks down proteins)
  • Lactase (made in the small intestine, breaks down lactose - found in dairy products) 

Why do I need them?

Digestive Enzymes help your body digest food more effectively and completely so that your body can absorb the nutrients that you eat. 

Digestive Enzymes have been shown to support everything from motility, constipation, bloating, gas, cramping, post-meal brain fog, and other digestive discomforts.

Related Reading: Postpartum constipation

What are some signs I might need digestive enzymes?

Here are some of the common signs or reasons that you could benefit from Digestive Enzymes:

  • You’re experiencing digestive related or pregnancy-induced symptoms like nausea, bloating, reflux, gas, and constipation.
  • You’re experiencing protein aversions.
  • You typically follow a vegan or vegetarian diet who are looking to more comfortably reintroduce animal products.
  • You have sensitivities to foods you’re currently craving, such as gluten or dairy.
  • You’re looking to more comfortably consume a wider variety of foods.
  • You’re looking to maximize your absorption of nutrients before, during, and after pregnancy.

If my body makes them, why do I need more?

Digestive Enzymes are produced naturally by the body, but a number of factors can inhibit their production which can affect your digestion and absorption of nutrients. For example, stress, eating too quickly, and alcohol consumption can all inhibit digestive enzyme secretion.

Pregnancy can increase the need for supplemental enzymes even more. In pregnancy, levels of progesterone are elevated. Progesterone serves a number of important purposes, but it also relaxes the smooth muscles that line the digestive tract. These muscles are important to keeping digestion moving, and when they are relaxed, your motility (the motion of the intestines that moves food and waste along) is also slowed. 

Progesterone also relaxes the sphincter in the esophagus and the sphincter that controls the release of digestive juices. This can lead to uncomfortable heartburn. Digestive Enzymes can help your food to move from the stomach into the small intestine more quickly, alleviating heartburn.

In addition, food quality has changed. Years ago, food came “packaged” with its own enzymes needed for digestion, so it wasn’t as critical that the body produced its own enzymes. Unfortunately, modern day farming practices have led to soil depletion, which has greatly reduced the presence of enzymes in our food. Key elements needed for enzyme production in plants, like nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur have declined. Furthermore, there has been an increase in processed food consumption, and processed foods lack the enzymes needed for digestion.

Finally, the enzymes that do exist in food exist in raw food. Once food is heated or cooked, enzyme potency declines.

How do I take them? 

Digestive Enzymes are a gentle and supportive supplement. They can be taken with as many meals and snacks you eat throughout the day. We recommend taking 1 just before you start eating.

We do not recommend opening this capsule and mixing it into a smoothie or other food or drink. The enzymes combined with food prior to entering the body could decrease efficacy as they are intended to break down food in the digestive system.

Are there any side effects or will they affect my body’s enzyme production?

Generally, Digestive Enzymes do not cause any negative side effects. You should benefit from better nutrient absorption, fewer digestive problems, and better gut health, immunity, and energy levels. However, there can be a transition period when adjusting to any supplement. Please reach out if you have any questions as you adjust to your new routine.

Taking supplemental Digestive Enzymes does not affect the body’s production of its own enzymes. This makes Digestive Enzymes safe to take multiple times throughout the day and over the long term.

Do Digestive Enzymes interfere with probiotics?

Digestive Enzymes do not interfere with probiotics. In fact, they both help to support gut health in different, complementary ways. Probiotics are live organisms that support the balance of good bacteria in your gut. Unlike enzymes, probiotics do not have the ability to break down or digest food components.

What do the numbers and letters after each enzyme mean?

The supplement facts panel looks different for Digestive Enzymes than for other supplements. This is because the potency of Digestive Enzymes is not measured in weight like vitamins and minerals, and enzymes do not provide nutrients in the form of calories or vitamins. Instead, the potency of Digestive Enzymes are measured by activity units.

An enzyme’s activity unit varies by enzyme type and represents the ability of one unit of an enzyme to break down a substrate (e.g., a food or other substance that an enzyme acts on) in a defined amount of time at a specific temperature and pH level.

Therefore, you will see a number followed by the activity unit next to each enzyme. This represents the potency of each enzyme.

Our Digestive Enzymes were designed to help digest a large, well rounded meal containing protein, fat, and carbohydrates, and including some difficult-to-digest foods like gluten, dairy, and legumes. They are also supportive of smaller, simpler meals and snacks.

Why are Needed’s Digestive Enzymes different?

Needed’s Digestive Enzymes are both safe and effective for use in pregnancy. While they are supportive at all stages, our Digestive Enzymes were selected to provide broad digestion support for foods that commonly cause digestive discomfort in pregnancy. They are also designed to provide support for other common symptoms in pregnancy and postpartum, including regularity support, heartburn, and more.

In addition, we included DPP-IV (the enzyme responsible for breaking down gluten) to support the digestion of gluten or accidental gluten exposure.

Our Digestive Enzyme is also vegan and free from dairy, eggs, shellfish, fish, tree nuts, peanuts, GMOs, and gross fillers (i.e., artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives, and other additives).

We test every batch for performance and quality, including through third party laboratories for enzyme potency, gluten, heavy metals, and microbiological testing.

Ready to try them? Get them HERE!

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Steph Greunke, MS, RD, CPT, PMH-C

Stephanie Greunke is a registered dietitian that specializes in prenatal/postnatal nutrition, behavioral psychology, and holds additional certifications in perinatal mental health and fitness. She's a key contributor and advisor to Needed as well as Needed’s Head of Practitioner Relationships. Steph is the owner of Postpartum Reset, an online postpartum nutrition course, and the co-host of "Doctor Mom" podcast.