I have had several people recently ask me, "aren't probiotics and digestive enzymes the same thing?" or "don't probiotics and digestive enzymes do the same job?". They also say "I'm taking a probiotic so I don't need digestive enzymes, right?" or vice versa. So today I want to help clarify what each are and how they differ.
Digestive enzymes and Probiotics often get lumped together into the same category because they both promote health by targeting the "GUT", and signs you need one or the other can sometimes be interchangeable. Probiotics and digestive enzymes are two very different substances in our body; however, it helps to understand the difference between the two if you are going to achieve optimal overall health.
Digestive enzymes function like solvents that break foods down into the components that allow them to be absorbed and used by the body. They work throughout the GI tract, but are especially plentiful in the stomach and uppermost sections.
Each type of enzymes have their own specific jobs, and go to work breaking down specific types of food as you can see in the graphic above. For instance;
- Amylase enzymes break down starches into sugar molecules
- Lipase enzymes break down fat
- Protease enzymes break down proteins into amino acids
- Lactase enzymes break down lactose into glucose or galactose
- and so on....
God created Raw foods with their very own digestive enzymes intact to digest itself. So we ingest enzymes when we eat raw foods.
Raw fruits and vegetables, contain plant enzymes that assist with their own digestion. That is why raw foods "rot" when bruised. The action of the food hitting the ground or our chewing it, releases the enzymes and sets them into the action of digestion. (One reason why chewing food well is so important.)
Raw dairy contains enzymes that help break down milk sugars, which are often difficult to digest.
Enzymes are very sensitive to their environment, and heat can denature and destroy the enzymes present in the food we eat. Temperatures as low as 100° can start to impact enzymes. So when you consume cooked, pasteurized, and processed foods, you are missing out on the naturally occurring enzymes that would help you to digest and break those foods down. The burden of producing these enzymes is now left entirely up to your body.
Signs you may benefit from Digestive Enzymes include:
- Feeling heavy, bloated, sluggish after meals
- Abdominal cramping after meals
- Persistent heartburn
- Bacterial overgrowth in small intestine
- Trouble digesting fatty foods
- Skin rashes, acne, and eczema
- Brain fog, headaches, and mood swings
Probiotic (beneficial) bacteria, which live predominantly in the lower GI tract, are living organisms that live symbiotically with us. Their benefits mostly come from the byproducts they produce. These substances (e.g., lactic acid) favorably balance the digestive environment, inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, and promote overall health.
These organisms live on the surface of our skin, in our mouths and noses, and inside our gastrointestinal system. These microorganisms may be permanently lost as the result of antibiotic use or poor diet.
These beneficial bacteria (probiotics) play a role in supporting a number of our necessary bodily processes, including digestion, gut health, and immune health. The good bacteria (probiotics) compete for space and resources with "bad" bacteria that can cause us illness. The probiotics even contribute to our natural energy levels - up to 10% of your daily energy needs can be derived from the byproducts of the good bacteria that live in your gut.
Our natural levels of good bacteria can be disrupted/depleted when we take a round of antibiotics, prescription corticosteroids, birth control pills, NSAIDS such as aspirin, heavily chlorinated water, stress, refined sugars, and refined grains.
Signs you may benefit from Probiotics include:
- Gas, bloating, heartburn
- Constipation, diarrhea, IBS and IBD
- Yeast infections
- Fungal infections (like athlete's foot)
- Skin disorders and allergies
- Constant illness
As you can see, the signs of enzyme deficiency and probiotic deficiency can be very similar. Your medical or health professional can guide you into selecting the proper supplements for your specific needs and health profile. Many doctors and researchers alike will recommend taking probiotics following a round of antibiotics in order to replenish the healthy bacteria that were killed off along with the bad bacterial infection.
How do I add Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics to my diet?
Your diet can be a source of both digestive enzymes and probiotics. Consuming more raw fruits and vegetables, and less cooked, processed, pasteurized, and packaged foods will introduce more digestive enzymes into your system. Instead of a glass of pasteurized orange juice, select a raw orange instead.
Natural sources of probiotics include fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough bread and lacto-fermented foods.
Deborah at New Life Spa can help by teaching you how to make your own lacto-fermented foods and milk Kefir for pennies compared to store bought.
If you want the best of both world try foods such as raw, lacto-fermented vegetables or Milk Kefir. These foods not only provide you with a rich source of probiotic-containing foods that are full of digestive enzymes for a healthy, happy digestive system, but can bring healing to you whole intestinal system and therefore your body.
In a Nutshell:
ENZYMES BREAKDOWN/DIGEST PROBIOTICS (beneficial bacteria)
THE FOODS WE EAT FIGHT BAD BACTERIA (that cause disease and illness)
Here's to your New Life & Wellness!
Deborah Stauss, ND