Digestive Enzymes vs Probiotics – Differences Explained
Digestive health ailments affect millions of people across the globe and, most often, are caused by an imbalance in our gut. Gastrointestinal tract or gut is full of enzymes and bacteria, which are known as Probiotics, and both these play a vital role in our digestion process.
Most people use probiotic and digestive enzyme supplements for helping with various stomach issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), lactose intolerance, bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, etc. (1)
A common myth is that digestive enzymes and Probiotics are similar, but this is far from the truth as both these are different substances that play different roles in the digestive system process. In this article, we will discuss digestive enzymes vs Probiotics in-depth and will guide our readers about the pros and cons of both.
What Are Digestive Enzymes?
Digestive enzymes refer to a group of enzymes that are naturally produced by several organs in our body, such as the liver, salivary glands, pancreas and small intestine.
As the name suggests, these enzymes help our body digest food. Enzymes are proteins held together by amino acids that break down food into smaller parts, thus making the process of nutrient absorption easier.
Contrary to popular perception, the digestion process starts before it reaches our stomach acid. It begins as soon as we put food into our mouth as our saliva is known to contain several enzymes that are produced by salivary glands.
These enzymes are the first ones to come in contact with food and make the ingested food ready for a further breakdown as it passes through the gastrointestinal digestive tract. (2)
What Are the Benefits of Digestive Enzymes?
The main health benefits of digestive enzymes vs probiotics are the ability to absorb nutrients present in a healthy diet.
Often our body is unable to absorb all the nutrients included in the food which could help with your immune system and potentially help with weight loss. However, there are no studies to back this up.
Enzymes work by helping your body to digest food more efficiently without putting too much stress on the gastrointestinal tract.
How Can I Get More Digestive Enzymes?
Our body produces enzymes regularly, but you could consider taking an extra dose of enzymes if it's clear that digestive enzymes are deficient in your gut.
When choosing an Enzyme supplement, it's best to check the supplement label and choose one that contains different types of Digestive Enzymes. Proteases break down protein, Lipases break fats into fatty acids, and Amylases break carbs into simple sugars.
You can get additional enzymes from digestive enzyme supplements or by increasing the intake of food rich in enzymes. Pineapple, papaya, raw honey, bananas, avocado, kimchi, kiwifruit, ginger, and mango are some of the rich food. (3)
Are There Any Side Effects for Taking Digestive Enzymes?
People taking digestive enzymes often complain of swelling around mouth/throat, itching or tightness in the chest, wheezing, and breathing problems.
Some people are also allergic to digestive enzymes. So, it’s a good idea to consult your physician before taking any enzyme supplements. I am not a medical professional, and nothing in this guide is medical advice. (4)
Are There Benefits to Taking Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes Together?
There is some confusion about taking Probiotics and digestive enzymes together as some people claim that enzymes may kill the bacteria found in Probiotics.
There is no study to back this claim, and many people take enzymes supplements together with Probiotics.
There is no evidence to suggest that taking both together will make either or both of them more effective.
What Is the Difference Between Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics?
Digestive enzymes and Probiotics are two different things that play a vital role in the digestive process. Enzymes are naturally produced in our body by several glands present in the stomach and mouth.
While Probiotics are the good bacteria that help us digest food and are only found in the gastrointestinal tract or gut.
Unlike enzymes, they cannot be produced naturally in the body. So, any imbalance or deficiency of Probiotics can be dealt with only by taking Probiotics supplements or Probiotic-rich foods.
What Are the Benefits of Probiotics?
Probiotics can help people suffering from stomach ailments, including diarrhea, constipation, relieve symptoms of IBS or irritable bowel syndrome, help with symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBD, and generally help you improve overall gut health.
Our gut is full of bacteria that help us digest food, and any imbalance in the number of these good and bad bacteria in your gut are often the underlying cause of several stomach issues.
Probiotics contain the good ones, and you can restore the balance of bacteria in your gut by taking probiotics supplements, thus improving conditions caused by the imbalance. (5)
When Should I Take Probiotics?
This is a tricky question as there is no simple answer to when you should take probiotics. To answer this question, we will need to consider different types of probiotics available in the market. Most sold in the market can be divided into normal and strong ones.
Regular ones are used to maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. These often contain anywhere from 1 to 10 billion CFUs or colony-forming units in a single dose. Generally, healthy people who may have some minor stomach issues use regular probiotics which fall in the category mentioned above.
Strong probiotics are the second category. These contain anywhere from 15 billion to 50 billion CFUs or colony-forming units and are generally used to treat severe issues such as IBD, diarrhea and IBS, with the latter said to affect between 25 - 45 million Americans.
People with Lactose Intolerance often make up a large number of that statistic. Still, they could benefit just as much by cutting out dairy from the diet, so it's essential to first find the cause of your symptoms before jumping to Probiotics.
A word of caution here, if you are going to use probiotics for the first time, then start with the normal ones with a lower CFU count as the stronger ones are known to have severe side effects in the early few days including stomach pain, cramps, constipation, gas, bloating, etc.
Although limited, some research has shown the best time to take ProBiotics is just before a meal is just as you start your meal. (6)
Are There Any Side Effects of Taking Probiotics?
There is some confusion about taking Probiotics and enzyme products together as some people claim that enzymes may kill the bacteria found in Probiotics.
There is no study to back this claim, and many people take digestive enzymes together with Probiotics. However, there is no evidence to suggest that taking both together will make either or both of them more effective. (7)
What Are the Best Probiotics?
Probiotics are available in the form of natural food and supplements which come in the form of tablets or capsules.
The best sources come from natural rich foods such as yogurt, natto, miso, kombucha, kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut, and tempeh.
Probiotics supplements differ from each other significantly and may even contain completely different strains or the types of bacteria.
Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Enterococcus, Streptococcus, Pediococcus, Leuconostoc, Bacillus, and Escherichia coli are some of the best-known good bacteria strains used in probiotics. You must carefully read the label of a supplement to know which strain it contains before making a purchase.
How Can I Get More Probiotics?
You can get more probiotics by either taking supplements that come in the form of capsules or pills or by increasing your intake of food rich in probiotics. As a general rule of thumb, fermented foods that have undergone fermentation process are a good option.
We want to conclude this article by summarizing some basic facts about digestive enzymes and probiotics. Enzymes are natural proteins produced by several glands in our body, whereas probiotics are the good bacteria that are only found in the gastrointestinal tract.
Our body can produce enzymes, but probiotics cannot be produced by the body naturally, so you have to take food rich in probiotics or probiotic supplements to deal with any deficiency of probiotics in the gut.
It may not be right to compare enzymes with probiotics as it would amount to comparing apples with oranges. Both play a vital role in the digestion process and are essential for gut health. But it would help if you considered them as complementing each other's role so it can't be said that one is better than the other one.
Your health, nutrition, food, and age may play a decisive role in deciding whether you need enzymes or probiotics. In some cases, a person may need to take both to improve his digestion or to treat stomach ailments.
There are no known side effects of taking enzymes together with probiotics. Although you may feel some minor issues in the initial days, these will go away once your body becomes accustomed to the supplements taken by you.
It's always a good idea to consult a physician before deciding whether you need enzymes or probiotics. If you are looking for the Best Vegan ProBiotics, then we have got you covered with this Vegan ProBiotic guide where you can find our number 1 recommendation.