Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics: What’s the Difference?

Gluten-free, bioavailable, hyperlocal, antioxidants, digestive enzymes, and probiotics…There are so many different buzzwords constantly floating around the world of health, it’s hard to keep track of what’s what! Even the most health-conscious amongst us get lost in a sea of terminology.

While many of us have a pretty impressive health and wellness vocabulary, very few of us really have an in-depth knowledge of the science behind the headlines. Let’s change that! Let’s learn about some of the things that make us who we are and allow our bodies to perform at the top of their game.

So, first things first, let’s explore the difference between probiotics and digestive enzymes. While you probably know that both digestive enzymes and probiotics are good for you, there are some major differences between them. Ready to dig in?

Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics 101

Digestive enzymes are proteins produced by your GI tract that break your food down into easy-to-digest nutrients that can be absorbed by your body and used for fuel. On the other hand, probiotics aren’t actually produced by your body at all. They are living microorganisms that exist in food and provide you with an essential health boost by impacting the balance of bacteria in your gut.

Where in my body are digestive enzymes made?

The stomach acid, saliva, and other intestinal juices in your gastrointestinal tract (AKA your GI tract) are packed with digestive enzymes that are working to break down your food. Your pancreas and small intestine, in particular, are loaded with digestive enzymes.

Which part of my body uses probiotics?

Would you believe that your body contains a whopping 3.5 pounds of probiotic bacteria? For a reference point, your brain only weighs three pounds. Your gut is loaded with this essential goodness.

But probiotics aren’t just in your gut – they also live in your mouth, throat, lungs, and genitals!

Why are digestive enzymes important?

To get nutrients, digestive enzymes are essential. Your body doesn’t actually absorb food. Food is useless without digestive enzymes breaking it down into useable fuel. When you eat, digestive enzymes break your food down into fatty acids, amino acids, sugar, vitamins, and minerals.

Why are probiotics important?

It’s hard to even wrap your head around all of the things affected by probiotics and the bacteria balance inside of your gut. There have been hundreds of studies showing that more than 170 diseases are directly related to the balance of flora in your gut.

Everything from digestion to depression to obesity to heart disease is linked to your gut bacteria. Find out the many benefits of probiotics for your entire body!

How do I know if my body doesn’t produce enough digestive enzymes?

While it is rare that healthy people don’t produce enough digestive enzymes, some conditions can cause underproduction. Diseases related to your pancreas like pancreatic cancer, cystic fibrosis, and pancreatitis can prevent your body from producing an adequate number of digestive enzymes.

In addition, severe cases of Celiac disease and Crohn’s disease can also affect production. In any of these cases, your doctor will advise you.

Some symptoms that may indicate an enzyme deficiency include the lack of muscle coordination, brain degeneration, learning problems, the loss of muscle tone, feeding and swallowing difficulties, and an enlarged liver or spleen.

Why do some people produce fewer digestive enzymes?

While it is rare to produce a truly inadequate amount of digestive enzymes, there is definitely a healthy range, and some people are at the lower end.

Unfortunately, the process of aging affects your entire gut. Your body becomes less efficient as it gets older and slowly begins producing fewer digestive enzymes. This is the reason why many older people have trouble breaking down food and have to deal with gas, bloating, and sometimes new food allergies or intolerances.

Young people with food allergies can also develop deficiencies in their digestive enzymes, as can people under chronic stress whose bodies function less efficiently.

What happens if I don’t get enough probiotics?

Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about your body producing inadequate probiotics since they come from food. You do, however, have to be mindful of your diet.

Hippocrates once said that “all disease begins in the gut.” It turns out that he was pretty spot on! From skin conditions to depression, you get health can affect everything. Since around ¾ of your immune system is inside of your intestinal tract, your health is closely tied to probiotics and their effect on the delicate bacteria balance in your gut.

Does lactose intolerance have anything to do with digestive enzymes?

Lactose intolerance typically comes about when your small intestine fails to make enough lactase, a digestive enzyme the body needs. Lactase breaks down the lactose we find in food, so the body can readily absorb it.

Someone with lactose intolerance can experience very unpleasant symptoms after they consume milk or milk products. Adding the right digestive enzyme supplement can certainly help with lactose intolerance and help make the lactose more easily digestible.

Can I increase the digestive enzymes my body produces?

Yep! Fortunately, you can up your body’s production of digestive enzymes. Here are a few quick and easy ways to go about it.

  • Add more natural enzymes to your diet with raw food. Eating raw fruit and veg gives you enzymes to help in food digestion. Pineapples are great for this, as are papayas. Sprouts of all kinds, as well as raw honey, will give you a major boost too.
  • Juice helps too. If you are having trouble eating enough produce during the day, drinking fresh juice made of fruits and vegetables will give you a major boost as well.
  • Have a dose of apple cider vinegar before you eat. Just a quick teaspoon before a meal can ramp up your enzyme production system and make food easier to break down.
  • Keep in mind that digestion begins in your mouth (with your saliva working to break down foods), and eat slowly! Even the healthiest people out there are often doing themselves an injustice by not really chewing their food. Keep gnawing away at your food until it is broken down. This will make a massive difference in your body’s ability to properly digest food.
  • Add more ginger to your diet. You might have heard that ginger is good for its anti-nausea, anti-inflammatory effect. That is because it contains a powerful enzyme that will aid in your digestion and protect the lining of your stomach.
  • Regularly eat fermented food. There’s a reason people have been eating fermented foods for centuries! Beyond just being tasty, fermented foods are loaded with enzymes. The bacteria in fermented food also gives food a sort of pre-digested quality, which doesn’t sound too appetizing but makes food much easier to break down.
  • Take a digestive enzyme. The best digestive enzyme supplements combine a range of potent plant-based enzymes with a wide array of multi-strain probiotics to support overall digestive function and increase nutrient absorption.

How can I get more probiotics?

Since your body doesn’t naturally produce a probiotic strain, it is incredibly important to know how to properly add an adequate amount of these essential goodies to your diet. Here are a few of my favorite ways to get more probiotics.

  • Eat more yogurt! If you have a TV or a computer, you have likely seen some yogurt advertisements promoting the probiotics in this creamy good stuff. While many types of yogurt have tens of billions of bacteria per servings, it’s important to know that not all yogurts are creating equally. In fact, some have no probiotics at all! Make sure your yogurt is labeled as having “live” and “active” cultures.
  • Start to love kefir. This milk-like beverage is packed with probiotics. Famous throughout Eastern Europe and Turkey, kefir definitely doesn’t take like milk. Most people either love it or hate it. If you hate it, blend it into a smoothie. I promise you’ll never taste it!
  • Order some kimchi. You’ll find this Korean staple at countless Asian restaurants. It’s a delicious and easy way to add more probiotics to your diet. Eat it on its own or add it to sandwiches.
  • Get into pickles! These amazing little snacks are packed with probiotics. Be sure to grab the kind brined in water and salt, though! While tasty, the little cucumbers swimming in vinegar don’t have any probiotics at all. Check your local co-op or hunt down real pickles at a farmers’ market.
  • Have a side of sauerkraut. This amazing fermented cabbage treat is loaded with healthy bacteria. Once again, however, there are tons of imitators out there! The cheapest sauerkraut in your local grocery store probably doesn’t have a bit of probiotic in it. You have to go track down the kind of sauerkraut that hadn’t been pasteurized.
  • Eat more sourdough bread. The yeast for this tangy bread has probiotics in it. As a bonus, it’s low on the glycemic index, so it won’t cause the famous bread sugar crash!
  • Start loving miso soup. This incredible soup of fermented soybeans is amazing for your health. Packed with probiotics and ultra-low in calories, this a dream food. Just remember that it is high in sodium, so don’t go overboard with it.
  • Find recipes with tempeh. Another form of fermented soybeans, this vegetarian staple, is incredibly healthy, filling, and packed with probiotics.
  • Add a high-quality probiotic supplement to your daily diet. This is hands down the easiest way of making sure you’re getting a regular dose of various the most beneficial bacteria for your gut.

When should you take digestive enzymes and probiotics?

The goal when taking probiotics is to get the probiotic supplement through your stomach acid as soon as possible. For this reason, many recommend taking probiotics on an empty stomach; however, this is a misconception.

Even taking a probiotic at least thirty minutes before your next meal or in the evening before bed can be beneficial timing. You also want to take digestive enzymes right before you start eating or when you are eating. Since probiotics and digestive enzymes are different and perform different jobs, it is also okay to take them together.

young woman wearing a T-shirt printed with an intestinal illustration

What Is the Similarity Between Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics?

Now that we have seen the differences between probiotics and digestive enzymes, is there anything similar? Yes! Both can be destroyed by heat. So, if you have capsules you open and put into food, you want to make sure to add them to food that isn’t hot.

Another similarity between the two is that they both work inside our digestive tract to improve gut function, even though they work differently. Finally, they both support immune function. So, while the enzymes break the foods down into smaller nutrients the body can use, the probiotics step in and protect our digestive tract.

You don’t want poorly digested food to wreak havoc on your body. If we ignore it, the problem can become much harder to fix in the future.

For this reason, knowing the differences between probiotics and digestive enzymes is so important. It allows us to better address our digestive health while providing support to our vital functions.

And, there you have it! That is everything that you need to know to familiarize yourself with the crazy, amazing world of digestive enzymes and probiotics, as well as the difference between these two essentials and how they impact your body.

As always, it is so important to take charge of your health. Keep yourself informed, and never stop learning. Research, research, and then research some more!

While we might not all follow a healthy diet 100% of the time (and that’s okay!), it is really important to know what you are putting in your body and how to affects you. From probiotics to digestive enzymes, these are all essential building blocks to a healthy mind and body.

FAQ

Still unclear about digestive enzymes and probiotics and how they can be beneficial for your health? Read the answers to some of the more commonly asked questions below.

What are the side effects of digestive enzymes?

Some side effects of digestive enzymes can include nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, headache, neck pain, nasal congestion, soreness of the legs and feet, and a rash.

What are the symptoms of enzyme deficiency?

Some symptoms of an enzyme deficiency may include the lack of muscle coordination, learning problems, loss of muscle tone, slurred speech, an enlarged liver and spleen, sensitivity to touch, and feeding and swallowing difficulties.

Can probiotics cause addiction or dependency?

Currently, there is no known risk of addiction or dependency when it comes to probiotic use. It is safe to take probiotic supplements on a long-term basis without having to rely on them.

Is apple cider vinegar a good digestive enzyme?

Many people use Apple cider vinegar to help improve digestion. Some say that apple cider vinegar increases the stomach’s acidity, allowing your body to create more pepsin. Pepsin is an enzyme that helps break down protein.

Some experts also believe you can consume more digestive enzymes with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar before a meal to fight off the bacteria in the stomach and help with digestion.

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