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Probiotics vs. digestive enzymes, while these two compounds are different and offer separate benefits, they are often mixed up. To help diffuse any confusion regarding these two compounds, we have compiled an in-depth explanation of them, what their purpose is, and when one might be preferred over the other. Let’s get started.

What Do Probiotics and Enzymes Do?

Both probiotics and digestive enzymes play an important role in helping with digestion and supporting the immune system. However, while this is a shared goal of the two compounds, and why they are often considered interchangeable, they accomplish these goals in different ways.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are rich in live, good bacteria, which are an essential component of the gut microbiome. When you take probiotics, either through supplements or food, you are restoring the natural balance of beneficial bacteria within the GI tract.

Probiotics support the digestive system by reducing digestive irritation and helping the gut absorb vitamins and minerals better.

Signs of an unhealthy and unbalanced gut include:

  • an upset stomach
  • chronic fatigue
  • difficulty sleeping
  • food intolerance
  • food cravings, especially sugar
  • skin irritations (acne, eczema, or psoriasis)
  • unintentional weight changes
  • headaches and migraines
  • autoimmune problems

Since the good bacteria in the gut play a direct role in the immune system by identifying harmful contagions for the immune system to attack, keeping a good balance also ensures that the immune system will work at its peak.

The gut bacteria also play a role in preventing autoimmune disorders by helping to teach the T-cells, a component of the immune system that destroys invaders, how to distinguish between the body’s own tissue and foreign invaders. An imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut can impact the ability of the gut to train the T-cells, contributing to autoimmune responses.

By maintaining this good balance through a probiotic supplement, the gut can continue training the immune system, identifying foreign diseases, and promoting good digestion by helping to absorb vitamins and minerals.

What Are Digestive Enzymes?

Enzymes speed up reactions within the body, and digestive enzymes accelerate the process of food absorption into usable nutrients. Not only do digestive enzymes speed up this process, but they also maximize the amount of nutrients absorbed into the body, making digestion even more efficient.

Digestive enzymes are naturally created throughout the digestive system in the stomach, small intestine, and pancreas. The pancreas, in particular, produces the most important digestive enzymes, those that break down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

Some common digestive enzymes and what they break down include:

  • lipase: breaks down fats
  • amylase: breaks down complex carbohydrates
  • protease: breaks down proteins
  • lactase: breaks down lactose
  • sucrase: breaks down sucrose

Despite the body naturally producing enzymes needed to break down specific food components, some people do not have enough digestive enzymes, or the body does not release the digestive enzymes as it should. The result of these problems is an inability to break down certain foods and absorb nutrients, leading to deficiencies that manifest as gastrointestinal irritation or malnutrition.

Some signs of a digestive enzyme insufficiency include:

  • belly cramps or pain
  • diarrhea
  • bloating
  • oily stools
  • gas
  • unexplained weight loss

What Can Cause Digestive Enzyme Deficiency?

For some families, digestive enzyme deficiency is entirely genetic, meaning if one person in the family has it, other family members should be aware that they are at an increased risk. This genetic condition is because a gene responsible for producing or releasing digestive enzymes is abnormal or has undergone a mutation, making it not work as it should.

There are also some disorders and conditions that can cause pancreatic enzyme deficiency (which leads to a deficiency in the enzymes that break down fats, carbs, and proteins):

  • cystic fibrosis
  • chronic pancreatitis
  • pancreatic cancer
  • gastrointestinal surgeries

Additionally, as we age our digestive enzymes decrease, specifically hydrochloric acid. This decrease in digestive enzymes can cause an imbalance in the gut and make it harder for the body to digest what you eat and absorb the nutrients from your food.

How To Supplement Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes

There are two primary ways to supplement probiotics and digestive enzymes: diet and supplements.

A Healthy Diet

For overall gut health, it is recommended to opt for a healthier diet overall, specifically one that limits processed, high-fat, and high sugar foods. These foods can disrupt the health of your gut, specifically the bacteria making up the microbiome. Since the bacteria support the work of the digestive system, including the enzymes that break down food, eating these types of food can upset the balance of bacteria and hinder the ability of enzymes.

By focusing on plant-based and lean-protein foods, you are supplying your body with food that supports a healthy gut, which can help with the efficiency of the digestive enzymes.

You can also eat foods high in probiotics, such as yogurt, to increase the good bacteria in your gut. However, while there are certain foods with high amounts of enzymes, research does not support the ability of these foods to increase digestive enzymes.

Supplements

Supplements exist for both probiotics and digestive enzymes, our G.I. Balance and Premium Enzyme Complex are both great options.  As a good rule of thumb, focus on improving your diet and supplementing with probiotics first, as these factors are much more likely to contribute to gut problems. It is suggested that taking an enzyme supplement before every meal helps your body break down and digest proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and amino acids; Helping your body absorb key nutrients for good health.  Incorporating probiotics and enzymes into your daily supplement regimen can address a wide range of digestive issues.

A Final Comparison

Probiotics and digestive enzymes both serve an overall purpose of helping the digestive system and supporting the immune system. However, the methods by which these compounds accomplish these goals, and the specific areas they help and support, vary.

Probiotics provide additional live bacteria, which helps correct any imbalance in the microbiome, while digestive enzymes break down the food that travels through the digestive system. Essentially, probiotics help support the work the enzymes do, but they do not personally break down food.

To promote general health in the digestive and immune systems, it is recommended to supplement with probiotics first to ensure the digestive system has a good balance within its microbiome. In many cases, correcting this imbalance through a healthy diet and probiotic supplementation is enough to also remedy any problems with enzyme deficiencies.

For those still suffering from the signs of enzyme deficiency or with a family history of this condition, digestive enzymes can then be supplemented to help combat this issue and provide adequate gut health. Both of these compounds help support a healthy gut, but knowing when to use each type can ensure you are providing the gut with what it needs help with.

 

 

References

Health benefits of taking probiotics – Harvard Health. (2005). Retrieved 4 April 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/vitamins-and-supplements/health-benefits-of-taking-probiotics

Dargahi, N., Johnson, J., Donkor, O., Vasiljevic, T., & Apostolopoulos, V. (2019). Immunomodulatory effects of probiotics: Can they be used to treat allergies and autoimmune diseases?. Maturitas, 119, 25-38. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2018.11.002

Digestive Enzymes and Digestive Enzyme Supplements. (2022). Retrieved 4 April 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/digestive-enzymes-and-digestive-enzyme-supplements

Patricia JJ, Dhamoon AS. Physiology, Digestion. [Updated 2021 Sep 18]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK544242/

Quin, C., Estaki, M., Vollman, D., Barnett, J., Gill, S., & Gibson, D. (2018). Probiotic supplementation and associated infant gut microbiome and health: a cautionary retrospective clinical comparison. Scientific Reports, 8(1). doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-26423-3

 

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