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Unlock Digestive Health: Your Guide to Enzymes

Unlock Digestive Health: Your Guide to Enzymes

Have you ever experienced bloating, gas, or discomfort after a meal? If so, you're not alone. One of the many underlying issues that can cause these non-specific, though clearly disruptive symptoms might be traced back to your digestive enzyme function.

Digestive enzymes are tiny but mighty compounds that play a crucial role in breaking down the food we eat, ensuring that our bodies can absorb essential nutrients effectively. However, despite their fundamental importance, it’s easy to overlook the importance of these microscopic compounds in our pursuit of ideal gut health and overall health.

In this guide, we'll dive into the world of digestive enzymes, exploring what they are, why they're essential, and practical tips on how you can use them to support your digestive energy.

What are Digestive Enzymes?

Digestive enzymes take center stage in the chemical digestion of our food. Chemical digestion is an essential component of ideal gut health and function, and just as it sounds, it follows the laws of chemistry to exert their profound effect.

To better understand digestive enzymes, it’s important to know what enzymes are as a broad category and how they work.

Enzymes are proteins that are created in the body or consumed in the diet that speed up chemical reactions. When I say “speed up,” we’re talking over a million times faster depending on the chemical reaction! So you might imagine how important enzymes are in all the roles they play - detoxification, such as with liver enzymes, copying our DNA at fascinating speeds at the cellular level, and, of course, facilitating our digestive functions!

As their name appropriately suggests, digestive enzymes speed up the chemical reaction involved in the breaking down of our food and drink, or digestion.

Most of the digestive enzymes that we use come from our pancreas. Ideally, these pancreatic enzymes should be released when food enters the first part of our small intestine after leaving the stomach. Digestive enzymes are also present in our saliva and in our bile.

You may know that the pancreas plays a key hormonal function in regulating our blood sugar through the release of insulin, but its function to produce digestive enzymes is critical, too!

Why are Digestive Enzymes Essential?

To put it plainly, adequate digestive enzymes are essential for us to break down our food into components able to be absorbed. Without such enzymes, we would have no way of extracting nutrients from our food through the single-cell layer of our intestines and into our bloodstream.

Without this level of chemical digestion, our food wouldn’t be broken down enough to use the valuable macronutrients and micronutrients that we rely on for energy and nourishment.

Types of Digestive Enzymes

The enzymes that facilitate digestion can be separated into three main categories, based on the macronutrient that they break down - proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.

  • Proteases - These enzymes break down proteins into amino acids, which can then be absorbed and reassembled to make our own body proteins!
  • Lipases - The enzymes break down fats into smaller fatty acids that can then be absorbed and used for energy production or storage.
  • Amylases - These are a class of enzymes that break down carbohydrates such as glucose and lactose to be used for energy production or storage as well!

Natural Sources of Digestive Enzymes

In addition to creating our own digestive enzymes, you can also find natural sources of these important molecules in plant-based foods. Here are a few foods that you might consider incorporating to support your digestive power with their supportive enzymes:

  • Pineapple - contains bromelain, a potent enzyme that breaks down protein and has been studied for many purposes, including reducing inflammation.
  • Papaya - contains papain, an enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates.
  • Ginger - contains multiple enzymes that support protein digestion and improve gut health through many mechanisms.
  • Fermented foods - double as a source of probiotics and enzymes that support digestion.
  • Sprouted grain and legumes - when plants are in the sprouting stage, they produce increased concentrations of enzymes that work on carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
  • Good eating habits - Ideal eating habits support our natural production of digestive enzymes, such as chewing mindfully, being in a relaxed state while eating (i.e., not stuck in traffic), and cooking with herbs and spices.

Incorporating a variety of these foods can help support your natural digestive enzyme production and more efficient nutrient absorption!

Tips for Choosing and Using a Digestive Enzyme Supplement

  • Digestive enzymes generally work best to support chemical digestion when taken with a meal or up to 10-15 minutes before eating.
  • If you’re taking enzymes once per day, they may be most beneficial with your largest meal of the day.
  • Choose a supplement with a variety of enzymes that target proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
  • As with any supplement, choose a brand that is reputable with high quality-control standards such as certified Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). I recommend trying Horizon.
  • If you experience regular digestive symptoms, consult your primary care physician and consider working with a functional medicine practitioner to get to the root of your concerns.


Understanding the role of digestive enzymes sheds light on a crucial aspect of our overall health. These seemingly inconspicuous compounds have significant purpose and power in ensuring proper digestion and nutrient absorption. If we can absorb, we can’t repair and build!

By supporting digestive enzyme function through diet, lifestyle, or supplementation, you can take proactive steps toward fostering a healthier digestive system! If you are intrigued, you might consider a comprehensive function stool test that can reveal information about the status of your digestive enzyme production.

For more practical wellness content and community, feel free to follow Cielo and Dr. Kenny. We look forward to continuing our exploration of navigating through the noise out there and leaving you with empowering tips to improve your health from the inside out!

About the Author

Dr. Kenny Mittelstadt, DACM, DC, L.Ac., Dipl.OM.

Kenny Mittelstadt is a functional health practitioner and acupuncturist based in San Antonio, Texas. He is trained through the Institute for Functional Medicine and received both of his doctorate degrees with highest honors from Southern California University of Health Sciences. He focuses on empowering patients through wellness education and root-cause healing – transforming health through personalized, lab-based functional medicine programs!


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