We all want a healthy gut and all that comes with it — less belly bloat, a flatter tummy, efficient and regular bowel movements, and a strong immune system. If you’ve been working on taking care of your gut, then you’ve likely heard of probiotics. These live microorganisms benefit your overall health and can help restore gut balance, which means fewer undesirable digestive symptoms. However, if probiotics are not enough to keep your symptoms at bay, then digestive enzymes may be a great addition to your diet.
In fact, enzymes may be just as important as probiotics for your gut health. They perform different functions, but both help to strengthen the gut microbiome. In this article you will learn exactly what probiotics and digestive enzymes are, what they can do for your health, and how you can fit them into your daily routine.
What are Probiotics?
Let’s first dive into what probiotics are and what they do to help the gut. Probiotics are live microorganisms like bacteria or fungi that are known to exhibit health benefits to the host. Probiotics have been used to help treat a number of stomach and bowel conditions, as well as perform functions you might not suspect, like supporting liver health, and even helping with inflammatory skin conditions like eczema.
When you consume probiotics however, it’s important to also include prebiotics with them. Prebiotics help to feed the healthy microorganisms and help them flourish in your gut. Prebiotics include foods like artichokes, bananas, asparagus, berries, garlic, onions, chicory, green vegetables, and legumes, as well as oats, linseed, and barley.
Probiotics also help combat the inflammation in the body that can increase your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Research shows that eating foods full of additives and preservatives, like those found in processed food products, can cause an imbalance in the gut bacteria and lead to inflammation. Probiotics can help counter this.
Mental stress such as anxiety and depression can also contribute to such inflammation and imbalance. Researchers suggest that stress in the brain can cause an imbalance in the gut that can lead to inflammation in the body. Along with stress management techniques, probiotics may help to counteract some of this inflammation, which will hopefully lower the risk of chronic conditions. It may also have a positive impact on mental and emotional health, since the brain-gut connection works both ways.
How are Digestive Enzymes Different from Probiotics?
Digestive enzymes, although they may also benefit gut health, are not the same as probiotics. Whereas probiotics are healthy bacteria that flourish in the gut, digestive enzymes are proteins that help stimulate chemical breakdown of the nutrients you eat.
There are three major types of digestive enzymes that are each responsible for breaking down different nutrients in the food you eat. These digestive enzyme types are:
- Proteolytic enzymes that are used to break down proteins.
- Lipases that are used to digest fats.
- Amylases that are used to digest carbohydrates.
Doctors have used enzymes for years to help deal with medical conditions, such as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), lactose intolerance, or other malabsorption issues, which all may benefit greatly from digestive enzymes. Research shows that digestive enzymes show great promise as a therapeutic treatment for such conditions, especially when combined with a probiotic supplement.
For example, in early animal studies, pancreatic enzyme supplementation shows promise to induce the colonization of good bacteria that could help relieve symptoms of those with conditions like EPI. Also, research shows that those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may find relief from symptoms like stomach discomfort, gas, and bloating after taking digestive enzymes and consuming soluble fibers from foods like fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
Best sources of probiotics
You can consume probiotics from fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, or fermented beverages like kombucha or kefir. However, if none of these foods are regular parts of your eating routine, or to get a daily support, a probiotic supplement may be the best fit for you. In this case, it’s important to choose a probiotic that is potent with at least 1 billion colony forming units (CFU), diverse (containing multiple strains), and whose formula and strains are backed by evidence-based research.
One example of a high-quality probiotic is the Smarter Nutrition’s Gut Health. This vegetarian-friendly, naturally shelf-stable probiotic contains 10 billion colony forming units of three Bacillus bacteria strains along with heart healthy and inflammation-fighting flaxseed oil, alpha-lipoic acid, and MCT oil. And as mentioned earlier, a complete probiotic supplement must come with a prebiotic, so Smarter Gut Health also contains prebiotics to help the probiotics flourish in your gut without any further supplementation.
Where to Find Digestive Enzymes
As far as digestive enzymes go, you can find some foods that contain them. For example, pineapple contains a group of proteases called bromelain, while bananas contain amylases and glucosidases that break down starches. Other food-based digestive enzymes include:
- Papaya, which contains the proteases papain that break down protein
- Mangoes, which contain amylases that break down starch
- Raw honey, which contains diastases and amylases that break down starches, invertases that break down sucrose, and proteases that break down protein
- Avocados, which contain lipases that break down fats into smaller molecules that the body can absorb
- Kefir, which contains lipase, proteases, and lactase
- Ginger, which contains the protease zingibain
- Kiwifruit, which contains the protease actinidain
Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and miso also contain a variety of digestive enzymes. But keeping track of the foods you eat every day and making sure you consume enough enzymes from each can be time-consuming. So, if you want multiple digestive enzymes in a simple daily dose, then choose a supplement like Smarter Nutrition’s Smarter Enzymes.
This digestive enzyme supplement contains a high-grade blend of sixteen of the most effective digestive enzymes including lactase, lipase, amylase, three types of protease enzymes, and much more. Taking such a supplement can help your digestive system move proteins, starches, fat, and other food compounds through your body with minimal to no bloating, cramping, or constipation.
When caring for your gut, it can be confusing to decide which supplements to choose to help relieve your symptoms. However, by choosing a potent and diverse probiotic along with a high-quality digestive enzyme together you can create a winning team with all upsides. And for best results, be sure to pair these supplements with a mostly plant-based diet full of potent prebiotic foods and fermented probiotic foods for extra antioxidant and inflammation-fighting power. After all, optimal gut health requires a balanced approach of a healthy diet, proper supplementation, and managing stress. So, use probiotics, digestive enzymes, and a positive, plant-based diet approach to help your gut be at its best everyday.