Digestive enzymes: benefits, side effects, dosage and

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Digestive enzymes are proteins that help digest food. They are found naturally in the body.

Most digestive enzymes are produced by the pancreas . They help your body break down fat, protein, and carbohydrates.

When the pancreas does not produce enough enzymes, the body cannot easily break down food and absorb nutrients. This is called malabsorption .

Malabsorption can lead to nutritional deficiencies and unpleasant symptoms such as:

Digestive enzyme supplements can help prevent this, but they also have many other purported uses. Advocates say they can help people with arthritis, autism, and even cancer.

Digestive enzymes are available by prescription. You can also buy them over the counter (OTC) as supplements.

This article will discuss over-the-counter digestive enzyme supplements, their uses, side effects, and possible interactions.

Where do digestive enzymes come from?

The digestive enzymes in supplements come from a variety of sources. These can be the pancreas of animals such as pigs, cows, or lambs.

Other enzyme supplements are derived from plants. For example, bromelain is made from pineapple. Papain comes from papaya. Lactase comes from fungi or purified yeast.

Supplements may contain a blend of enzymes such as:

  • Proteolytic enzymes such as bromelain and papain, which are essential for the digestion of proteins.
  • Lipase necessary for the digestion of fats.
  • Amylase, essential for the digestion of carbohydrates.

What are digestive enzymes used for?

Health professionals often prescribe digestive enzymes for people with pancreatic disease. These conditions include:

Some people say that over-the-counter enzymes can help with digestive problems such as:

People who have trouble digesting dairy products can take over-the-counter digestive enzymes. These are the so-called lactase supplements. Lactase is an enzyme that digests lactose. Lactose is the main sugar in dairy products.

Lactase supplements can help prevent indigestion in people who have trouble digesting lactose.

Also, some people lack the enzyme that digests sugar in beans. These people can benefit from alpha galactosidase supplements like Beano or Bean Relief.

Summary

Digestive enzymes are used for many ailments, including digestive problems. They can also be helpful for people who lack certain digestive enzymes.

Digestive enzymes are generally taken with food. In addition to helping with digestive symptoms, these supplements may have other benefits, such as:

  • Boost the immune system
  • Treatment of arthritis
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Improving liver health
  • Reduce the side effects of cancer treatments.

Several studies support some of these benefits. However, as with many dietary supplements, there is insufficient evidence to show clear health benefits.

Many studies are small. Some are poorly designed or have conflicting results. Here are some key takeaways.

Irritable bowel syndrome

Pancrelipase is a digestive enzyme that can help people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

In one study, 69 patients with IBS were given pancrelipase or placebo. A placebo is a substance that does not contain an active ingredient. The patients were then asked to eat foods that were causing their symptoms.

The results of the study showed that patients with pancrelipasis fared better than patients who took placebo. Patients taking pancrelipase significantly improved symptoms such as cramps, bloating, and pain.

Another study looked at a supplement called Biointol. This supplement contains digestive enzymes, as well as beta glucan and inositol. Beta glucan is fiber. Inositol is a sugar that helps build cells.

In this small study, 50 IBS patients received the supplement. Their symptoms were compared to a control group of 40 IBS patients. The control group did not take the supplement.

The results showed that the supplement reduced symptoms. The patients had less abdominal pain, bloating, and flatulence. In the control group, there was no improvement in most symptoms.

Inflammatory bowel disease

Several initial studies in animals have shown that bromelain can help people with colitis . Colitis is an inflammation of the intestines.

A 2017 study found that bromelain reduced inflammation in mice with colitis.

Digestive enzymes can also be helpful for people with IBD-IBS syndrome. People with IBD-IBS syndrome have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) but also have symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Symptoms of IBD-IBS syndrome can include abdominal pain and diarrhea. Patients have these symptoms even if they have little or no active inflammation.

The standard treatment for IBD is Asakol (mesalamine) . It is an anti-inflammatory drug.

Biointol is a supplement that contains digestive enzymes. This supplement also contains beta glucan and inositol.

In a 2017 study, IBD-IBS patients received Asacol with Biointol. The other group received only Asacol.

After four weeks, those who took Asakol and Biointol said they had less abdominal pain. They also said they had less bloating and flatulence.

Those who took Asakol only experienced only a slight improvement in symptoms. These patients showed a moderate decrease in the need to defecate. The fecal urge is a sudden and immediate urge to use the bathroom.

Summary

Some research suggests that digestive enzymes can help with intestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. But these studies are usually small, and not all of them had a comparison group.

Cancer

There are reports that digestive enzymes can help cancer patients. However, they do not affect the disease process. Instead, they can reduce complications from treatment.

Unfortunately, there are problems with the research examining these benefits. Some have not been statistically analyzed. Others did not show that OTC enzymes were associated with significant or permanent improvement.

For example, a previous study reported that over-the-counter enzymes improved quality of life in colorectal cancer patients . The study claimed that these patients had fewer signs and symptoms of the disease. It was also claimed that there were fewer side effects when treating cancer. However, other studies have yielded conflicting results.

Arthritis

Some research suggests that bromelain may help relieve osteoarthritis (OA) pain. This may be due to a decrease in inflammation.

A 2012 review of research on natural treatments for OA found evidence that bromelain may help relieve pain in OA. However, the authors noted that many of the studies were poorly designed.

Another study compared Voltaren (diclofenac) with Wobenzym. Voltaren is a prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain reliever (NSAID). Wobenzym contains bromelain. It also contains trypsin and rutin . Trypsin is an enzyme that breaks down proteins. Rutin is an antioxidant .

The study included 150 patients with moderate to severe knee osteoarthritis.

After 12 weeks, the patients taking Wobenzym had less joint pain and better knee function compared to those taking NSAIDs. This included better walking ability and knee flexibility.

Another supplement called Phlogenzym contains the same ingredients as Wobenzym. Phlogenzym research shows that patients may experience only slight pain relief.

Based on current research, it is difficult to understand how effective enzymes are in improving OA symptoms. More extensive research is needed.

Muscle pain

Studies have also looked at over-the-counter enzymes for treating muscle pain. The evidence for its effectiveness in doing this is mixed. Many studies are small and outdated.

In a previous study, 20 men received protease supplements. Protease is an enzyme that accelerates the breakdown of proteins. This study showed that supplements can help heal muscles. They also seemed to ease pain after strenuous exercise.

However, another study yielded different results. There were no differences between bromelain, Advil (ibuprofen) , or placebo in the treatment of muscle pain after exercise.

A more recent study found that, compared to a placebo, the DigeZyme enzyme blend significantly reduced pain after a treadmill test.

Summary

Research on the use of enzymes for arthritis and muscle pain has produced mixed results. More research is needed to confirm whether digestive enzymes are beneficial in these conditions.

Autism

Many people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have intestinal problems. These problems may be associated with other symptoms of autism. However, the research on digestive enzymes in children with ASD is mixed.

In one study, children with ASD were given digestive enzymes for three months. These children had improved symptoms compared to the control group.

The children who took the enzymes improved their emotional responses and general behavior. They also had improvements:

  • Chair quality
  • Abdominal pain
  • Threw up
  • Variety of foods (selective feeding is a common problem for children with ASD)

Other studies have not found similar effects. A 2010 study also looked at enzyme supplementation in children with ASD. Compared to placebo, the only improvement was in the variety of foods.

More research is required. However, enzymes are inexpensive, easy to obtain, and generally considered safe. For this reason, some researchers are promoting its use in children with ASD.

Talk to your healthcare professional before giving your child digestive enzymes.

Possible side effects.

Most enzyme supplements are safe at recommended doses. However, they can have side effects. Common side effects include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Threw up

Some people may also have allergic reactions to digestive enzymes.

Bromelain may have antiplatelet activity. Platelets are cells that form blood clots.

If you are taking blood thinners or have low platelet counts , bromelain may increase your risk of bleeding.

Pregnant or lactating women should consult a doctor before taking digestive enzymes.

Get Drug Information / Anastasia Tretyak

Dosage and preparation

There is no standard dose of digestive enzymes. Mixtures of various enzymes are often used in research, and effective dosages vary widely. Better to follow the directions on the label.

If you are going to test digestive enzymes, consider a short two to three week trial period. If that works, you may want to continue. If not, stop drinking.

What to look for

Digestive enzymes are widely available. They can be purchased online and at many health food stores, drug stores, and dietary supplement stores.

A ConsumerLab review found that labels can be misleading on some enzyme products. Some of them do not have the enzymatic effect indicated on the label. The rest were not clearly marked.

Enzyme products vary considerably in enzyme activity. If you decide to try these products, look for a brand that has passed third-party quality testing. Organizations that offer third-party testing include:

  • United States Pharmacopeia (USP)
  • NSF International
  • ConsumerLab

Quality control does not guarantee safety. However, it can help you make better decisions when buying any supplement.

Avoiding or postponing standard treatments in favor of digestive enzyme self-medication can have serious consequences. If you are considering digestive enzymes, check with your doctor first.

Summary

Digestive enzymes are used for many diseases. There is mixed research on whether they are beneficial for some of these conditions.

Research has shown that they can help people with irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. They can also help ease the side effects of cancer treatments.

Other studies have shown that they can help with arthritis and muscle pain. It can also be helpful for children with autism.

Most of the research is limited and some is problematic, making it difficult to understand how beneficial digestive enzymes are in these conditions.

Digestive enzymes can have mild side effects. Always be careful when buying supplements. Look for quality tested supplements.

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