Digestive Enzymes Supplementation: All You Should Know

how long does it take for digestive enzymes to work

Many of us are aware that enzymes play an essential role in the life of our digestive system; it is digestive enzymes that keep our digestive system healthy, supporting a healthy immune system.

Digestive enzymes have a connection with our immunity.

It’s an important job of ours to know just how enzymes work digestively in our bodies.

What are enzymes?

Enzymes [1] are secreted with perfect precision by the digestive organs.

They accelerate the breakdown of the food we eat, whether it’s protein, fats, or carbs.

The gut will extract and distribute all the nutrients that are locked inside. 

Enzymes also assist you to absorb the nutrients properly and eliminating what can’t be used.

So basically, without enzymes doing their very important job, food would just stay in your digestive tract, your gut, and slowly rot away.

See what an important role they play?

You get several enzymes, each with a role to play

In fact, there are way too many to describe

But they do fall into these categories; lipases, amylases, and proteases.

Lipases break down the fat, amylases deal with the carbohydrates, and proteases work on the proteins.

We all know about bloating after eating some meals

Sometimes it even feels as if we need to lie down because the feeling has left us feeling exhausted.

That’s no doubt due to poor digestion [2].

Unfortunately, we have to acknowledge today that the complex food we eat; well, a lot of it is indigestible, and a whole lot of it is actually very bad for us.

Our digestive enzymes try to deal with the amounts of food we eat

The digestive enzymes might only be able to break down and extract around 50% of the nutritional value of what we have eaten. Add in the processed and refined foods that you eat as well.

You can imagine that your gut is going to have a hard time trying to retrieve all that food in the gut and distribute it to your body.

You know that saying, “You can’t spin straw into gold?”

Well, the digestive organs and enzymes are the same.

Digestive Enzymes: How Effective Are They? How Long Will It Take For The Enzymes To Work?

digestive enzymes

Our digestive organs and enzymes work overtime

They work even harder when we eat more than we should. This takes a toll on the digestive system.

The immune system is bound to take a knock at some time.

In the body, it’s the gut that has the main contact point with the rest of the body

Basically, everything you eat and swallow, be it good or bad, arrives in the gut first.

Did you know that 70% of your immune system is in your gut [3]?

Your gut works like this:

  • When your digestive system works properly, it acts as a barrier to bad stuff like viruses, bacteria, and pathogens. The naturally occurring acid that gets secreted in your stomach kills most pathogens. But a lot of the complex foods that we eat produce gastric symptoms.
  • Instead of people taking a digestive enzyme, they often resort to drugs that neutralize or reduce this acid. These bad unnatural drug methods negatively impact the body’s ability to digest protein.
  • Protein is an essential component of our immune cells. But then the drugs allow pathogens to pass into our small intestine, guess what happens? They are absorbed into the bloodstream.
  • You might not have known this, but the small intestine holds a big portion of our immune system. The outside layer of our small intestine contains mucus. This mucus is produced by special cells that line the digestive tract; the barrier to prevent pathogens from getting into your bloodstream.
  • When you make poor food choices and food is improperly digested, this can lead to a decrease in that mucus lining. You are then vulnerable to picking up an infection.
  • The mucus lining also houses antiviral and antibacterial substances that live in the intestinal walls. This means when the lining of the intestines is compromised, your immunity naturally also becomes compromised. You are at risk of becoming ill.
  • As you can see, there is a critical connection between the gut and immunity. The health of the gut is imperative, and the simplest approach to maintaining a healthy gut is with the use of digestive enzyme supplementation.

Good health depends on a healthy immune and digestive system

Taking digestive enzyme supplementation lowers stress on the digestive system when you eat bad, processed, and packaged type foods.

What other compelling reasons are there to take digestive enzyme supplementation?

1) Age is one

As you age, the supply of enzymes becomes less. In fact, like with all your organs; they diminish with time and age.

By the time you hit 50, your digestive enzymes might only be making half of what they were when you were younger.

This lowers your immune fighting capacity and actually hastens the aging process [4].


2) Enzyme deficiencies are another

Enzyme deficiencies happen when you are under stress, or as a result of genetics – or when you eat unhealthy foods, develop poor lifestyle habits, and are exposed to environmental toxins.

If you are deficient in enzymes, you can expect to experience constipation, gas, skin rashes, diarrhea, gastric upset, bloating, and lower immune function.

3) Genetics is another

Some enzyme insufficiencies are genetic; which is a result of an abnormal gene.

This abnormal gene might have been inherited from a parent or maybe a mutation occurred without there being a known cause.

There are some disorders that can lead to pancreatic enzyme insufficiency

These can be:

  • Chronic pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Gastrointestinal surgeries
  • Anything that disrupts the pancreas

How will you know if you are enzyme deficient though?

Signs that you might lack digestive enzymes:

  • Acid reflux
  • Dyspepsia
  • Cravings for certain foods
  • Thyroid problems
  • Thinning or falling out hair
  • Indigestion, heartburn, or burping 
  • Dry and lackluster skin
  • Trouble concentrating or brain fog
  • Battling to sleep well
  • Morning fatigue
  • Arthritis or joint pain
  • Being too tired to exercise with muscle weakness
  • Mood swings, with irritability and depression
  • Headaches or migraines

Aren’t digestive enzymes just the same as taking probiotics?

Often people confuse probiotics and enzymes, probably because both affect digestion – just in different ways.

Probiotics are live organisms that are part of the good bacteria in the gut.

They keep the digestive tract healthy, supporting the work of the enzymes.

Probiotics don’t have the ability like enzymes do to break down and digest food components.

If you don’t have good gut bacteria, you might find that you experience symptoms similar to that of being enzyme insufficient, like experiencing gas or bloating.

This would be from abnormal bacterial overgrowth or imbalance in your intestines.

Where do enzyme supplements come from? 

They come from fungi, plants, bacteria, etc. in the form of pills.

And you would need these pills if you have been diagnosed with enzyme insufficiency.

The pills will help your body process food and absorb the nutrients better.

One very common method that is FDA-regulated is PERT

PERT stands for Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy, and your doctor would prescribe it for you.

It includes the three types of enzymes we mentioned above; amylase, lipase, and protease. PERT will help break down carbs, fats, and proteins.

Often patients with frequent pancreatitis are prescribed enzymes.

You also get over-the-counter digestive enzymes

You get plenty of over-the-counter digestive enzyme supplements.

These help people with acid reflux, gas, bloating, and diarrhea.

People do need to realize that a lot of the over-the-counter digestive enzyme supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA.

That means the ingredients, dosage, and enzyme concentration aren’t guaranteed. If there are side effects, they would be unknown.

Can I get digestive enzymes from the food I eat?

Yes – you are far better off building for yourself a well-balanced diet that contains fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.

The healthy foods above will help support the work of your digestive enzymes naturally.

Try and cut out high-processed and fatty foods from your diet.

The best natural food sources

There are many raw plants, such as raw fruits and vegetables that contain enzymes that aid in digestion [5].

Look out for these fruits, veggies, and foods:

  • Pineapple
  • Papaya
  • Kiwi
  • Kefir and yogurt
  • Bananas
  • Mango
  • Fermented soy products
  • Sauerkraut and kimchi
  • Avocado
  • Bee pollen
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Raw honey

What about supplements?

Because sugars, starches, proteins, and fats all require specific types of enzymes, if you take a supplement, you will be sure to cover all the bases.

Some experts say that the best digestive enzymes come in supplement form; supplements that contain the full-spectrum blend intended for general digestive improvement.

So if you do choose to take a supplement, look out for one that includes a variety of enzymes, including some of the following ingredients:

  • Alpha-galactosidase (this is the enzyme that comes from Aspergillus niger. It helps with carbohydrate digestion.
  • Amylase is produced by the salivary glands
  • Cellulase
  • Glucoamylase
  • Invertase
  • Lactase
  • Lipase
  • Malt diastase
  • Protease (or acid proteases)
  • Peptidase
  • Beta-glucanase
  • Pectinase
  • Phytase

Natural solutions can also do the trick

One remedy that definitely improves digestion is to drink herbal teas that can help with enzyme functions.

One excellent tea is one made from a third teaspoon of the following herbs: coriander, cumin, and fennel.

You boil the teas, strain them, and drink them.

Eating papaya is also a very good idea because papaya has natural papain in and that will manage inflammation.

Traditional Chinese medicine is said to work as well

In traditional Chinese medicine, improving your “qi” is vital for health and energy [6].

Herbs, acupuncture, stress management, and movement all complement the use of plant-based enzymes that are obtained from eating whole foods.

But lightly cooked veggies and raw fruits are always top recommendations for digestive support.

Other outstanding ways to encourage gut health

  • Eat local/seasonal foods
  • Choose organic, unprocessed, non-GMO foods
  • Limit your intake of added sugars and liquids during meals. Chew cold foods thoroughly
  • Try and not eat at least 2-3 hours before bedtime
  • Practice tai chi, exercises, yoga, and stretching to increase appetite


Digestive enzyme supplements have gained heaps of popularity for their wonderful claims of treating common forms of gut irritation, heartburn, and other health issues.

But it’s something hard to figure out just how digestive enzymes work, and who really needs them in their diet.

Morgan Denhard, a registered dietitian at Johns Hopkins Medicine gives you the answers to many of your questions.

But one thing is for sure – the role of digestive enzymes (DE) is very important; primarily they act as catalysts in speeding up specific, life-preserving chemical reactions in the body.

They make the particles of food easier to absorb by breaking down the larger particles.

The body uses these to thrive and survive.

Digestive enzymes for health?