Digestive enzymes are fundamental to proper nutrition and overall health. People who suffer a shortage of digestive enzymes may well experience a compromised immune system, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and even malnutrition.
The good news is that digestive enzyme shortfalls can often be effectively treated by taking supplements. And there are a surprising number of high-quality supplemental enzymes on the market today that are easy to use and quite affordable. We’ve sifted through dozens of different brands to come up with the following list of the 10 best digestive enzymes.
1. Zenwise Health Digestive Enzymes Plus
Zenwise enhances the overall effectiveness of their digestive enzymes by including both pre and probiotics in the mix. Those additives help create or restore a healthy gut flora that works in concert with the digestive enzymes to enhance nutrient absorption and bolster immune response.
The list of digestive enzymes is impressive with bromelain, cellulase, lactase, amylase, protease, papain, invertase and lipase. This rich menu of digestive enzymes will enable you to more effectively digest proteins, fats, fiber and more. Zenwise Health Digestive Enzymes Plus are a good choice for older individuals determined to fend off nutritional lapses caused by decreased enzyme production.
2. Garden of Life Vegetarian Digestive Supplement for Men
Garden of Life Vegetarian Digestive Supplement is marketed to men but it’s just as effective for women. Sure, it’s designed to address prostate health. But it’s also effective at elevating overall nutritional levels and bolstering immune function. Things everyone should be concerned with. Garden of Life Digestive Supplement also provides an array of vitamins and minerals that help address nutritional gaps created by digestive enzyme shortfalls.
The array of digestive enzymes here is pretty impressive. But at the same time there’s no gluten or dairy and no artificial fillers, flavors or binders. An excellent multifaceted supplement that helps restore digestive health while providing important vitamins and minerals.
3. NOW Supplements Super Enzymes
Now Super Enzymes provide a wealth of stomach, pancreatic and intestinal digestive enzymes that attack the problem of enzyme deficiency from all sides. They’re particularly effective at breaking down tough proteins, fats and fiber and effectively metabolizing carbs so you have more energy at your beck and call. Just for the record, NOW Super Enzymes do not include lactase. So if you’re having trouble digesting dairy products this may not be the supplement for you.
That said, NOW has been a reliable producer of dietary supplements for more than 50 years. All of their supplements are free of genetically modified organisms. These particular supplements are also free of gluten, soy, sugar and most food allergens, are keto friendly and produced in their Good Manufacturing Practices facility in the US.
4. Pure Encapsulations Digestive Enzymes Ultra
Plant based digestive enzymes have emerged as a particular favorite of doctors and nutritionists in recent years. They cite the ability of many plant-based enzymes to survive in a wide range of gut environments. Even in cases of high acidity.
Pure Encapsulations Digestive Enzymes Ultra are entirely plant based enzymes that aid in the digestion of dairy, fat and even hard to break down fiber. Pure Encapsulations enzymes are free of gluten, egg, wheat, nuts, soy, dairy and shellfish. They’re vegan friendly, produced in a GMP facility in the US and contain no artificial colors, flavors or fillers. Great for older individuals with sensitive stomachs looking for a way to counteract a reduction in digestive enzyme levels.
5. Dr Tobias Digestive Enzymes
This is another collection of plant-based digestive enzymes that are ideal for vegans, vegetarians and older individuals with sensitive stomachs. Dr Tobias Digestive Enzymes provide 18 different enzymes that help break down fats, carbs, proteins and fiber. Unlike some animal-based enzymes these won’t shy away from high pH environments. They may however, be problematic for those with some common food allergies since they contain wheat, soy and dairy.
So be aware of that. All Dr Tobias supplements are subjected to rigorous 3rd party testing, are free of genetically modified organisms and are produced in a GMP facility right here in the US. Because the per-capsule dosage here is fairly modest you may want to tinker just a bit with it to find an effective level for your situation. The operative phrase being “just a bit”.
6. Enzymedica Lacto Enzyme Support
Some people have a particularly tough time breaking down lactose. For them there’s Enzymedica Lacto Enzyme Support. This supplement was formulated specifically for those who experience cramps, bloating, gas and other unpleasant effects when they consume dairy products. But it’s not a one-trick pony.
The wide array of digestive enzymes here will also help you break down fats and proteins and metabolize carbs into sugars for energy. As the enzymes here are gleaned from plants this product is 100% vegan friendly. It’s also free of common food allergens with no soy, gluten, wheat, dairy or nuts used in its production. If there’s a downside here it’s the price. Which is at the high-end of the supplement spectrum.
7. MAV Nutrition Digestive Enzymes
Mav Nutrition Digestive Enzymes are formulated to help those suffering from enzyme shortfalls more fully digest fats, proteins and carbs. Mav includes probiotics in their mixture to promote a healthy gut biome as well.
Under ideal circumstances the result should be a gut that is more efficient, less prone to upsets and less likely to undermine the efforts of the supplemental enzymes. The enzymes by themselves won’t boost your energy levels. But, you will likely find you have more energy simply because your body now has a larger amount of important nutrients at its disposal. The probiotics will also help bolster your immune system (1) which will let you take full advantage of your elevated nutritional profile.
8. OrganiZymes Live Digestive Enzymes
You should always be wary of products that wave the “revolutionary” flag in their marketing. And so we approached OrganiZymes Live Digestive Enzymes by Organixx with a healthy dose of skepticism. But aside from the price would couldn’t find any reason why someone suffering an enzyme deficiency wouldn’t want to give these a try.
They’re entirely plant-based enzymes and are compatible with the keto, paleo and Atkins diets. They don’t contain any common allergens like gluten, soy or dairy. And they’re vegan and vegetarian friendly. The only thing we weren’t crazy about was the fact that they hide precise amounts of the various enzymes behind the dreaded “proprietary blend” label. Other than that it’s all good. Pricey, but good.
9. Source Naturals Essential Enzymes
Each 500 mg capsule of Source Naturals Essential Enzymes features an array of plant-based digestive enzymes. They’ll make short work of fats, carbs, proteins and even fibers and aren’t afraid of highly acidic stomach environments.
For those with food allergies they contain no soy, wheat, gluten, dairy, egg, yeast or nuts. And there is no sugar, salt or artificial flavorings added to make them more appealing. There are none of the probiotic bells and whistle you’ll find in other such supplements. And no added vitamins or minerals. But they’re a solid choice for those concerned they may be falling behind in the nutrition department due to aging, stress or other factors.
10. Divine Bounty Digestive Enzymes
The final item on our list of best digestive enzymes is from a company we had never heard of before. But being open-minded types we gave them a try and found a lot to like. Divine Bounty Digestive Enzymes is one of the more well-rounded digestive supplements on the market. There’s a dozen or so plant-based digestive enzymes.
Along with both probiotics and prebiotics to promote a healthy gut biome. In addition, they provide vitamins A, C, B6 and B12, as well as thiamin and niacin. There’s no gluten, soy, dairy or artificial additives. And no genetically modified organisms. To top it all off they’re one of the more affordable digestive supplements out there. So if you’re looking for a good value it would be hard to go wrong with Divine Bounty Digestive Enzymes.
What Are Digestive Enzymes?
Digestive enzymes are enzymes the body uses to break down the food you eat into its useable component parts. Obviously, your body can’t simply take that piece of pork chop you just ate and send it as-is to your muscles. It needs to extract the proteins and other nutrients in the meat. Digestive enzymes are how it does this.
However, as we age our bodies tend to produce fewer and fewer digestive enzymes. There are also a number of health conditions that can result in our bodies producing inadequate numbers of these important compounds. In such cases a person may need to consider taking supplemental digestive enzymes. But which ones to take?
There are many different types of digestive enzymes (2) that inhabit different parts of our body related to food consumption and digestion. There are enzymes in our mouth, our stomach, our pancreas and our small intestine. All play a part in turning raw food into useable nutrients. The most common supplemental digestive enzymes tend to be:
- Amylase – This enzyme is found in the mouth and begins the process of breaking down starch.
- Alpha-galactosidase – This enzyme goes to work on tough food products.
- Cellulase – Cellulase is used to break down certain types of fiber.
- Glucoamylase – Breaks down simple starches into carbs that are used for energy.
- Lactase – Breaks down lactose, a sugar found in milk products.
- Lipase – This enzyme is produced in the pancreas and helps you break down fat.
- Peptidase – Breaks down proteins into amino acids.
- Protease – Also assists in breaking down protein chains into amino acids.
Keep in mind this is only a partial list and represents some of the most common digestive enzymes you’ll find in supplements today.
What Could Cause Digestive Enzyme Deficiency?
This isn’t the type of condition you hear much about or which most people could pin down to obvious causes. Yet it’s more common than most realize. Here are some of the reasons a person may develop a digestive enzyme deficiency.
- Pancreatic issues – Since many digestive enzymes originate in the pancreas it follows that someone experiencing pancreatic issues might develop a digestive enzyme deficiency. Those pancreatic issues include pancreatitis (3), cystic fibrosis and pancreatic cancer.
- Stress – Stress can do strange things to your body. Including causing it to shuffle its physiological priorities. That might mean it decides digestion just isn’t worthy of as much attention and instead prioritizes muscle preparedness or mental alertness. This shift in priorities could leave you enzyme deficient.
- Bulimia – Bulimia is a complex and vexing condition that’s as much mental and emotional as it is physical. It can wreak havoc on your entire body, but particularly your digestive tract. Constant vomiting can cause a depletion of digestive enzymes in the gut which only exacerbates the nutritional challenge.
- Aging – Even if a person does not suffer from any other conditions the simple act of aging will in time almost certainly reduce the amount of digestive enzymes being produced by the body. Animal studies confirm this effect (4). As such it can be quite beneficial for older individuals to engage in digestive enzyme supplementation.
What Are the Benefits of Taking Digestive Enzymes?
When you consider that the job of supplemental digestive enzymes is to help you better absorb the food you eat (5) the potential benefits become clear and include:
- Better nutrition – We eat because we require nutrients to run our heart and other vital organs, to provide our brain with fuel to keep it going and to power our muscles. If our body is not producing enough digestive enzymes the fundamental purpose of eating is not being fulfilled. As a result our overall health suffers. Supplemental digestive enzymes allow us to glean a greater number of nutrients from the food we eat which results in more complete nutrition and better health.
- Preventing natural decrease in enzyme production – If we don’t do anything to counteract it our bodies will begin producing fewer and fewer digestive enzymes as we age. The result will be progressively worse nutrient absorption and the aforementioned decline in overall health. By taking supplemental digestive enzymes we counteract the decline in enzyme production and ensure better overall health as we age.
- Alleviating gas and bloating – People who suffer from conditions which tend to cause gas and bloating often benefit from taking supplemental digestive enzymes. Enzymes such as lactase and cellulase are typically prescribed for those suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome for instance (6). These enzymes go to work on hard to digest food such as dairy products and legumes and alleviate the bloating, gas and discomfort that can sometimes accompany their digestion.
- Reducing symptoms of acid reflux – GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (7), can produce a very unpleasant phenomenon commonly known as acid reflux. Acid reflux often occurs because the stomach is overloaded shortly before going to sleep. The digestive process simply can’t keep up with the food that’s been introduced and stomach acid leaks into the esophagus. When this happens the person may sometimes wake up feeling like they are suffocating. It’s very nasty (8). Supplemental digestive enzymes can help prevent acid reflux or at least reduce its frequency.
- Supporting digestive health – Not enough can be said about the value of an efficient digestive process. Being able to gain optimal benefits from the food you eat has wide ranging ramifications on overall health. It can also help ensure a robust immune system which will enable you ward off a range of health conditions. More effective digestion can also prevent conditions such as leaky gut, whereby partially digested food particles and various toxins breach the wall of the gut causing inflammation and a potential cascade of other issues (9).
Are Digestive Enzymes Safe?
Digestive enzyme supplements are generally considered to be safe for most people. However, people who suffer from certain chronic diseases or health conditions should probably consult their doctor before deciding to take these supplements. Such a person may still be able to take them and enjoy some benefits. But they may need to work with their doctor to determine exactly which type of enzyme would be most effective for them. If you do have a chronic health condition or conditions be sure to follow your doctor’s advice to the letter when it comes to taking digestive enzymes.
Are There any Side Effects to Taking Digestive Enzymes?
As we mentioned digestive enzymes are typically considered to be safe for most people. However, they have been known to produce side effects from time to time. In many cases these side effects are a result of a person simply ignoring the dosing recommendations either laid out on the supplement bottle or provided by their doctor. That said, possible side effects from digestive enzymes include:
- Stomach cramps
- Bloating and discomfort
- Loose stools
- Lack of energy
A very limited number of people may experience some form of allergic reaction to digestive enzymes. Potential reactions include:
- Swelling of the tongue, mouth or face
- Wheezing or difficulty breathing
- Red skin, swollen skin or a rash
- A tight feeling in the chest
If you experience any of these symptoms discontinue using digestive enzymes immediately and contact your doctor.
Are There Different Sources for Digestive Enzymes?
There are three main sources for supplemental digestive enzymes. They are:
- Animals – Digestive enzymes sourced from animals typically come from the stomach or pancreas of cows and pigs. Animal-sourced enzymes are are often recommended for people with various pancreatic conditions, including pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.
- Fruits – Almost all fruit-sourced digestive enzymes come are derived from either pineapple or papaya. Bromelain (10) is an enzyme derived from pineapple. It is renowned for its anti-inflammatory powers. Papain is an enzyme derived from papaya. It’s primarily useful for breaking down proteins.
- Plants – Plant derived digestive enzymes are gaining in popularity in recent years for a variety of reasons. pH levels in the gut is an extremely complex subject (11). But suffice to say that not all digestive enzymes thrive in a highly acidic gut environment. Plant digestive enzymes often do.
How to Pick the Right Digestive Enzyme?
When looking for a digestive enzyme supplement you should consider the following:
- The variety of enzymes included – Unless you are treating a very specific condition or deficiency then it’s typically best to look for a supplement that features a broad spectrum of different enzymes. This is particularly true for older folks because they typically experience a loss of enzyme production across the board.
- Source of the enzymes – Are the enzymes derived from animals, fruits or plants? As we saw above enzymes from the different source groups typically have different characteristics and are used to address different conditions.
- Nutrients – While it is not necessary that digestive enzymes come with vitamins and minerals added to their formula, it can be helpful. Particularly if you know you have an enzyme deficiency. That’s because that enzyme deficiency is affecting the amount of nutrients gleaned from the various foods you eat. So if you have an enzyme deficiency you are likely short of different vitamins and minerals as a result.
The Bottom Line
Digestive enzymes play a fundamental role in our overall health. Without adequate levels of them in our digestive system we are susceptible to all manner of health problems, including malnutrition and suppressed immune function. You are bound to find that one or more of the digestive enzymes on our list will suit your particular needs. But if you have any questions or concerns, or you suffer from a chronic health condition, discuss digestive enzyme supplements with your doctor before taking them.