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Digestive Enzymes Vs Probiotics: What The Science Says

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Digestive disorders are more prevalent than you think, affecting millions of Americans each year. According to the University College Hospital consultant, four out of ten people will be experiencing at least one digestive symptom [1].  

Most of the digestive problems we experience are linked to our diet choices, lifestyle habits, and stress levels.  

Every day, your digestive system labors tirelessly in breaking down food into nutrients that can be absorbed and utilized by cells in your body for energy, growth, and repair [2]. 

Sometimes, your digestive system may need some extra support to digest food, maintain the healthy balance of microorganisms in your gut, and keep harmful pathogens at bay. This is where probiotics and digestive enzymes may come into play.  

Digestive Enzymes Vs Probiotics  

How does science see the benefits of Digestive enzymes vs probiotics? That is what we are going to explore in this article.  

What Are Probiotics?  

Probiotics are live microorganisms, namely bacteria and yeast, that have demonstrated favorable effects on human health. They can be found in supplements or certain fermented foods[3].  

Consuming probiotic-containing products will introduce certain species of helpful bacteria to the gastrointestinal tract to maintain or re-establish microbial equilibrium in your gut and treat or prevent certain diseases[4].  

Different types of probiotic products will contain varying species of microorganisms. Hence, each product will confer dissimilar benefits on the host upon consumption [5]. The most commonly found bacterial genera in probiotics are Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, Bacillus, Escherichia, and Enterococcus [4].  

Probiotics may help support your digestive health. Multitudes of studies have suggested that probiotics may help manage specific conditions. These include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), antibiotic-associated diarrhea, traveler's diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), food allergies, lactose intolerance, periodontal disease, and atopic dermatitis[6].  

Learn more here about the top 5 health benefits of probiotics

What Are Digestive Enzymes?  

The food you consume daily contains three macronutrients that need to be broken down before your intestines can absorb them. They are fat, proteins, and carbohydrates. These macronutrients are broken down via mechanical digestion and chemical digestion [7].  

After food has been broken down via mechanical digestion, naturally-produced digestive enzymes will participate in chemical digestion. These enzymes will degrade food particles into minuscule compounds to be absorbed easily into your bloodstream and transported to various cells and tissues for utilization. The pancreas plays a prominent role in producing many of these digestive enzymes, also known as pancreatic enzymes, for the chemical digestion process [7].  

The lack of digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas is a condition known as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). This medical disorder may be associated with several conditions that affect your pancreas, such as chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, diabetes, or cystic fibrosis [8, 9, 10].  

If you are diagnosed with this condition, your doctor may suggest some supplements or medications containing digestive enzymes to support your digestive system. These medications or supplements may help eliminate the uncomfortable digestive symptoms you experience [8, 10].  

There are also natural sources of digestive enzymes, including papaya, avocado, banana, and pineapple [11, 12, 13, 14].  


Differences Between Probiotics And Digestive Enzymes?  

Sources 

Digestive enzymes are mainly produced in the body and are rarely supplemented by food or pills to mimic the naturally occurring enzymes in your gastrointestinal tract. On the other hand, probiotics are found or added to fermented food [3, 10]. Probiotics participate in producing digestive enzymes; the opposite is instead not correct.  

Function 

The two compounds differ in function and nature. Digestive enzymes are some form of proteins that help break down macronutrients in your body into forms that can be easily absorbed into your bloodstream. Meanwhile, probiotics are alive; they are microorganisms that assist in sustaining the healthy balance in your gut and support your immune system [6, 10]. 

Benefits 

Both work to prevent or treat similar digestive conditions. Digestive enzymes are used to treat food absorption and digestions which are linked to pancreas diseases. On the other hand, probiotics are recommended for various gut disorders, such as treating diarrhea, IBS, IBD, and even eczema [6, 10]. 

  • Probiotics

    Digestive Enzymes

  • Sources

    added to fermented food

    produced in the body

  • Function

    assist in sustaining the healthy balance in your gut

    help break down macronutrients

  • Benefits

    recommended for various gut disorders

    used to treat food absorption


Digestive Enzymes Vs Probiotics, Which Is Better?  

The better option for you will depend on your condition. In general, digestive enzyme replacement therapy may benefit you more if you have been diagnosed with pancreatic enzyme insufficiency. Conditions like the feeling of indigestion or frequent stools can be common reasons to use either probiotics or digestive enzymes as treatment. Nevertheless, probiotics are usually prescribed to specific conditions such as IBS or antibiotic-associated diarrhea.  

While it seems like probiotics have a broader range of impact on gut health and are safer to use, they won't be able to help in cases of pancreas failure. The advantage of using one over the other is majorly dependent on your diagnosis and the professional consultancy of your health care provider.


Risks Associated With The Consumption Of Probiotics And Digestive Enzymes  

Some side effects associated with the use of digestive enzymes are constipation, abdominal cramps or diarrhea, and nausea. The most common side effect is constipation.  

Probiotics are generally considered safe as they contain bacteria that reside naturally in your intestinal tract. Some consumers may experience mild side effects such as flatulence, diarrhea, stomach upset, or bloating after consuming probiotics.  

Suppose your immune system is weak, or you have a critical illness or had recent surgery. In that case, you are subject to a higher risk of infection due to the usage of probiotic supplements.  

Both digestive enzymes and probiotics may trigger allergic reactions for some people. Discontinue the use of the supplement or medication immediately if you notice any signs of hypersensitivity.  


Digestive Enzymes Vs Probiotics: Summing Up 

Probiotics and digestive enzymes essentially differ in their nature, function, and benefits.  

Though they treat medical conditions with overlapping symptoms such as stomach discomfort, bloating, or diarrhea, the root cause of those digestive symptoms much be identified to select the optimal treatment option.  

Always consult your healthcare provider before commencing on any medication or supplement. It is best to let them know your regular medications and if you have any medical conditions. This will enable them to direct your treatment towards maximum efficacy and safety.  

Continue exploring this exciting topic. Read here our article on the difference between Prebiotics and Probiotics and which you should be taking. 

References:

[1] https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/common-digestive-problems-and-how-to-treat-them/
[2] https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/digestive-system
[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31434172/
[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19584499/
[5] https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics-what-you-need-to-know
[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23894906/
[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK544242/
[8] https://pancreasfoundation.org/patient-information/ailments-pancreas/exocrine-pancreatic-insufficiency-epi/
[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5656454/
[10] https://www.pancan.org/facing-pancreatic-cancer/living-with-pancreatic-cancer/diet-and-nutrition/pancreatic-enzymes/
[11] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7865271/
[12] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19152478/
[13] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12358438/
[14] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23524622/

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