Despite the fact that the digestive enzyme supplement market is growing at a rate faster than the entire supplement industry as a whole most people know very little about how digestive enzymes work and their impact on weight loss.
In the following article we are going to take a closer look at digestive enzymes, with a focus on their ability to help people lose weight.
To do this we will take a closer look at the following topics:
- The role of enzymes in the human body
- The role of digestive enzymes
- Are digestive enzyme supplements useful for weight loss
- Do enzyme inhibitors help with weight loss?
- The differences between digestive enzymes and probiotics
- Potential side effects
- Who should take them
- How to take them
- The best digestive enzyme supplements to take for weight loss
- Where to buy digestive enzymes
If you are considering taking a digestive enzyme to assist with weight loss the following information will be of interest to you.
What are Enzymes?
Before we dive into what digestive enzymes are, and their impact on weight loss it’s best to have a basic understanding of what enzymes are and the role they play in digestive health.
Firstly, enzymes are not living organisms. They are organic materials made by living things but as they cannot replicate themselves are not classified as ‘living’.
While enzymes are available in supplement form, they are extracted from raw foods. They are not present in foods once cooked. While all enzymes have specific heat tolerances, as a general rule once the temperature exceeds 140 degrees, enzymes become inactive.
Enzymes are of course, also produced naturally by the human body and located within our cells.
You may have heard the names of some enzymes before but didn’t realize what they actually were. For example, digestive enzymes are often suffixed by the letters ‘ase’ e.g. protease, amylase, and lipase.
In the case of naturally occurring enzymes, they happen to be the largest group of proteins found in the human body. It’s important to keep in mind however that enzymes aren’t always proteins, but in the majority of cases they are.
Enzymes play a vitally important role in how our body’s function, they do this by increasing the rate of all chemical reactions that occur within the human body. While it’s true that these chemical reactions could occur without the help of enzymes, they would occur too slowly to support life.
Chemical Reactions in the Body
Our body’s run on chemical reactions. Chemical reactions occur when two molecules interact. Enzymes facilitate this process by binding with compatible molecules which in turn results in a chemical reaction.
You can think of enzymes as docking stations for molecules. Enzymes facilitate chemical reactions through a region known as the active site. The active site allows enzymes to bind to compatible molecules, known as substrates. The binding process facilitates the fundamental interaction required for the chemical change to occur.
The following animation demonstrates how this takes place using the binding methods known as the ‘lock and key model.’
- In the first image, the compatible substrate is shown near the active site of the enzyme. As you can see structurally, they are compatible.
- The second image shows the compatible substrate binding with the enzyme, allowing the chemical reaction to take place.
- The third image shows the now modified substrate. In this particular example the chemical reaction results in the substrate being broken down, resulting in the creation of two molecules, known as ‘the product’.
Another model of binding, known as the induced fit model, results in the substrate and enzyme undergoing structural changes when in close proximity to each other to allow for the binding process to take place.
In the diagram above, the chemical reaction taking place is the breaking down of the substrate. This is just one example of a chemical reaction. Other examples include, two separate substrates being combined. In all cases, the chemical reaction results in chemical bonds being broken or created.
For the enzyme itself, these reactions are temporary. After the chemical reaction is complete, the enzyme will return to its original state, while the substrate has undergone modification.
A practical example of the importance of enzymes is demonstrated by the condition known as lactose intolerance.
In the case of a person who is lactose intolerant, their bodies are unable to produce ‘Lactase’ the enzyme responsible for separating the substrate, ‘Lactose’ (milk sugars) into glucose and galactose molecules resulting in a greatly reduced ability to digest milk sugars.
This is just one example, in reality there are millions of chemical reactions occurring in your body. These chemical reactions are collectively known as your metabolism.
What are Digestive Enzymes?
Digestive enzymes, unsurprisingly are the enzymes responsible for breaking down the food that we consume. While there are many digestive enzymes, they can be categorized into four primary classes:
Protease: The digestive enzyme responsible for breaking down proteins into amino acids.
Amylase: The digestive enzyme responsible for breaking down carbohydrates into blood sugars.
Lipase: The digestive enzyme responsible for breaking down fats into fatty acids and cholesterol.
Nuclease: The digestive enzyme responsible for splitting nucleotides in nucleic acids into smaller units. Nucleotides are the building blocks of DNA.
Once broken down these nutrients are then able to be absorbed by the human body and used for a range of purposes, including providing energy and rebuilding of the body, including the production of new enzymes.
Unsurprisingly, naturally occurring digestive enzymes are found in the primary areas of digestion in the human body, with the majority of absorption taking place in the small intestine.
The mouth, stomach, pancreas and small intestine.
Digestive Enzymes of the Mouth
Chemical digestion of food begins in the mouth. Salivary glands found beneath and at the back of our tongues excrete approximately 1.5L of saliva per day. Contained within this saliva are digestive enzymes that break down Carbohydrates and Fats.
Because we swallow our food quickly, only limited chemical digestion is able to occur (mechanical digestion occurs in the form of chewing) but as our food is mixed with saliva the enzymes continue to aid in digestion.
The Digestive Enzymes of the Stomach
Our stomachs play a significant role in digesting our food. The digestive enzymes of the stomach are known as Gastric Enzymes and include the enzyme pepsin.
Pepsin: Pepsin is converted from pepsinogen thanks largely to hydrochloric acid produced by the cells of the stomach. Once converted to Pepsin, it becomes the chief gastric enzyme and breaks down proteins into amino acids. While fats and carbohydrate chemical digestion begins in the mouth, chemical protein digestion begins in the stomach.
Hydrochloric Acid’s main purpose in digestion is to remove any bacteria remaining in our food as it enters the stomach.
The Digestive Enzymes of the Pancreas
Sitting behind the stomach and attached to the Duodenum (the first section of the small intestine) is the pancreas. The pancreas is the primary digestive gland of the human body and its main task is to produce digestive enzymes.
The other function of the Pancreas is to create hormones that regulate metabolism.
The Digestive Enzymes of the Small Intestine
Most absorption of the nutrients extracted from our food occurs in the small intestine after being broken down firstly by the mouth and secondly by the stomach, where the majority of digestion takes place.
Most digestive enzymes found in the small intestine are secreted by the Pancreas, entering the small intestine via the pancreatic duct.
Complete list of digestive Enzymes
There are more than 20 digestive enzymes found in the human body.
|Lingual lipase||Mouth (The tongue)||Lipase||Fatty acids|
|Salivary amylase||Mouth (Salivary glands)||Amylase||Sugars|
|Gastric lipase||Stomach||Lipase||Fatty Acids|
|Pancreatic lipase||Pancreas||Lipase||Fatty Acids|
|Ribonuclease||Pancreas||RNA (Ribonucleic acid)||Nucleotides|
|Aminopeptidase||Small Intestine||Protease||Amino Acids & Peptides|
|Dipeptidase||Small Intestine||Protease||Amino Acids|
|Lactase||Small Intestine||Amylase||Glucose and Galactose|
|Nucleosidases & phosphatases||Small Intestine||Nucleotide||Phosphates|
|Sucrase||Small Intestine||Amylase||Glucose and Fructose|
Digestive Enzymes and Weight Loss
Now that we understand how enzymes work and their role in digestion we can focus on the question at hand, regarding digestive enzymes and weight loss.
There’s little doubt that digestive enzymes will help you eradicate waste from your system resulting in temporary weight loss. Weight loss over the long-term as a result of taking a digestive enzyme however is a little more complicated.
While there is conflicting information on the benefits of digestive enzymes and weight loss (with some claiming they assist with weight loss, while others maintaining they can in fact hinder your progress) the truth is, both arguments can be correct depending on your approach to nutrition.
The simple fact is however, digestive enzymes are not a magic bullet for weight loss. However, it is also true that incomplete digestion can be a major cause of weight gain.
As digestive enzymes assist with the breaking down of nutrients, they help you absorb more nutrients from your food. Depending on the foods you consume this can either assist with weight loss or help you put on weight faster.
If your diet is poor, digestive enzymes won’t help with weight loss. If on the other hand you eat plenty of nutritious whole foods and limit your intake of unhealthy foods e.g. sugary carbohydrates, you can expect to benefit even more from the nutrients in your food.
In the majority of cases, someone who is overweight will experience low energy levels, will often feel bloated and complain of having a slow metabolism. If your digestive system is not operating optimally, digestive enzymes can assist with all three of these factors.
In any case, a holistic approach to weight loss is always the best approach and additional supplements such as digestive enzymes are merely tools than can assist, but should never be relied upon too heavily.
Remember, simply approaching weight loss with the mindset of taking in fewer calories may work for a short time but long-term is not an efficient method. It is far more beneficial to create the correct environment within your body to burn fat.
Digestive enzymes can certainly help in this regard, provided your body requires assistance with the digestion of the foods you consume.
Do Lipase Inhibitors Assist with Weight Loss?
You may have heard claims that scientists have discovered the on/off switch for lipase enzymes and how this has the potential to be a major breakthrough for weight loss.
Orlistat, an over the counter medication is arguably the most well-known lipase inhibitor. Lipase inhibitors, as the name suggests block Lipase in the small intestine. They do this by binding to Lipase enzymes and limiting their activity.
As we have previously discussed Lipase is essential for breaking down fats into fatty acids. If we limit the activity of lipase enzymes in the body, then it stands to reason that we will absorb less dietary fat, as it is unable to be digested and will instead be expelled as waste.
Studies have shown that Lipid inhibitors can aid with weight loss but not in a significant way. The other thing to consider is once you stop taking a lipase inhibitor, weight is regained quickly.
To summarize, lipid inhibitors can help people lose weight but in the majority of cases are not as effective as diet and exercise.
What’s the difference between probiotics and digestive enzymes?
As we have previously mentioned, digestive enzymes are not living organisms and their main purpose is to help break down foods allowing more efficient absorption.
Probiotics on the other hand are live bacteria that line the digestive tract and aid absorption along with a host of other digestive system benefits including:
- Improving digestive system efficiency
- Destroying bacteria that creates bad breath
- Increased energy due to the production of B12
- Helps develop the immune system
However, as Probiotics are living organisms they can be destroyed by toxins, prescription antibiotics and even stress.
Are there side effects?
Are digestive enzymes dangerous?
Enzymes are considered non-toxic and generally safe for human consumption as they are present in many of the foods we consume.
However, there is growing evidence to support the fact that the more we rely on digestive enzyme supplements, the less our bodies will produce them naturally. While this is considered reversible, In essence, it is possible for your body to develop a dependency.
While it is known that once we reach the age of 40 and above our production of digestive enzymes decreases (due to organ deterioration) it can also be argued that as we age congestion of the bile ducts that excrete bile containing digestive enzymes increases resulting in a less efficient delivery of enzymes to the small intestine.
Are digestive enzymes safe for diabetics?
Diabetes is a condition which results in the body being unable to produce or respond adequately to the hormone insulin. This results in the body being unable to metabolize blood sugar. Diabetes can also impact protein and fat breakdown.
As a result the three primary enzymes (Protease, Lipase and Amylase) can all play a role in managing diabetes as they will aid with digestion and ultimately absorption.
However, it’s also important to understand that particularly in the case of Amylase (the enzyme responsible for breaking down sugars) this can result in a blood sugar spike, particularly if you are already taking medication for Diabetes.
Please, keep in mind Diabetes is a serious condition and any change in diet or an addition of a supplement should always begin with consultation with your doctor who understands your medical history.
Are digestive enzymes safe for pregnancy?
As digestive enzyme supplements are extracted from raw foods, enzyme supplements are thought to be no more dangerous than consuming the food the enzyme is extracted from in its raw form.
While it’s important to consult with your doctor if pregnant, before taking supplements enzymes supplements are not considered dangerous for pregnant women, although there are conflicting reports on how effective they are for treating side effects of pregnancy including bloating and heart -burn.
Who Should Take digestive Enzymes
Typically, digestive enzymes are recommended for those experiencing any of the following conditions that indicate digestive issues:
- Undigested food in your stools (particularly fatty substances)
- Experiencing frequent bloating or gas
- Constipation and indigestion
- Constantly feeling full despite eating very little
- – Suffering from Leaky Gut Syndrome
If you are unsure, the safest way to test the health of your digestive system is to request a stool sample from your doctor.
How to take digestive enzymes
In the majority of cases, it is best to take a digestive enzyme supplement before consuming a meal. While it’s not critical to take them before a meal, it is considered beneficial. If this is not possible, then it’s recommended to take them 30 minutes before or after eating.
Dosage should be based strictly on the recommendations for your age and weight on the label.
If after a few weeks you are not seeing any positive benefits, I’d suggest consulting with your pharmacist and trying an alternative brand.
The best digestive enzyme supplements to take for weight loss
As previously discussed, you won’t find a digestive enzyme supplement specifically designed for weight loss. Maintaining a healthy weight is a by product of good digestive health, a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Digestive enzymes can certainly be of benefit if you are experiencing poor digestion symptoms but unless you take a holistic approach to weight loss you shouldn’t expect to see anything more than short term weight loss if relying on a digestive enzyme supplement.