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Supplements: Digestive Enzymes

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Sep 28, 2016 10:00:00 AM

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Supplements: Digestive Enzymes

This is a write up discussing digestion and the role that digestive enzymes play in it. We will shortly cover that supplementation of enzymes can be helpful in cases of sickness and surgery, while the uses in sports might be far fetched. Please leave a comment or a link to enhance the content or view it from an angle that I have overlooked.

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What are digestive enzymes ?

Digestive enzymes help you to break down the food you take in. The process starts in your mouth, continues in your stomach and end in your intestines. There are several places where the enzymes are produced in the body the

  • Salivary glands
  • Secretory cells in the stomach
  • Secretory cells in the pancreas
  • Secretory glands in the small intestine

Different forms of enzymes are secreted from these sources. Proteases and peptidases split proteins into peptides and amino acids. Lipases split fat into three fatty acids and a glycerol molecule. Amylases split carbohydrates like sugars and starch into simple sugars like glucose. Nucleases split nucleic acids into nucleotides. Here is a list of some of the enzymes you can find in your system:

Digestive enzymes in the mouth:

  • Lingual lipase
  • Salivary amylase
  • Lysozyme
  • Haptocorrin

Gastric enzymes (enzymes secreted in the stomach)

  • Pepsin (breaks down protein into peptide fragments and amino acids), produced by gastric chief cells
  • Hydrochloride acid (stomach acid pepsinogen --> pepsin, kill bacteria and viruses), produced by parietal cells
  • Intrinsic factor (helps digesting Vitamin B12), produced by parietal cells
  • Mucin ( protects from self-digestion by stomach acid), produced by mucous neck cells
  • Gastrin (hormone, stimulates Hydrochloric acid and intrinsic factor production), produced by g cells
  • Gastric lipase

Digestive enzymes in the pancreatic juice:

  • Trypsinogen
  • Chymotrypsinogen
  • Carboxypeptidase
  • Elastases
  • Pancreatic lipase
  • Sterol esterase
  • Phospholipase
  • Nucleases
  • Pancreatic amylase

Digestive enzymes produced in the small intestine:

  • Secretin controls the secretion of the small intestine
  • Cholecystokinin, proteins, and fats
  • Gastric inhibitory peptide
  • Motilin
  • Somatostatin

Brush border enzymes:

  • Erepsin
  • Maltase converts lactose to glucose
  • Lactase
  • Sucrase converts sucrose to disaccharides and monosaccharides

The process which takes place can be described in short as followed:

  1.  The digestive process starts with the release of salivary amylase in the mouth to assist in breaking down food in its molecules
  2.  This process continues in the stomach under the help of hydrochloric acid and pepsin together with other enzymes in which gastric amylase takes over from salivary amylase
  3. After 60 to 90 minutes in the stomach, digestion continues in the duodenum where the hormone secretin is released
  4. Secretin signals the pancreas to release further digestive fluids fo which the most relevant contents are lipase, trypsin, amylase, and the nuclease.
  5. Bicarbonate released from the pancreas switches the chyme from acid to alkaline so that beneficial bacteria can survive again and assist further in digestion

This is a quick overview of the digestive functions in our body and which role digestive enzymes play in it. 

Why should you use digestive enzymes ?

There are several reasons for using digestive enzymes. Some of them can be that the naturally occurring digestive to not function anymore as you want because of:

  • Diseases may prevent proper digestive enzyme production
  • Pancreatic problems, including cystic fibrosis, pancreatic cancer, and acute or chronic pancreatitis.
  • Brush border dysfunction, the most severe is long-standing Celiac disease, where the brush border is flattened or destroyed. Other diseases like Crohn’s can also cause severe problems.
  • Aging has been associated with decreased digestive function
  • Low stomach acid
  • Chronic stress

The symptoms you might have due to insufficient digestive enzymes are:

  • Gas and bloating after meals
  • The sensation that you have food sitting in your stomach (a rock in your gut)
  • Feeling full after eating a few bites of food
  • Undigested food in your stool*
  • Floating stools (an occasional floating piece is fine, but if all your poop consistently floats, that might be a sign something is wrong)
  • An “oil slick” in the toilet bowl (undigested fat)

Further reasons which might be more related to the world of sports can be:

  • Need to take in more food in shorter time (Strongman athletes)
  • Wish to absorb more nutrients per bite
  • Get certain Nutrients to the muscle as quickly as possible after a workout

Whatever the reasons are, please always consult a doctor before taking digestive enzymes. If you are generally healthy there is usually no need to take supplements at all.

How to use digestive enzymes that are available ?

There is a good description on how and which digestive enzymes to take at Enzymestuff here is an excerpt for you:

  • gradually start a broad-spectrum enzyme product at meals until you get to 1 capsule at each meal
  • gradually add in a strong protease enzyme product at meals until you get to 1 capsule at each meal
  • gradually add in a probiotic between meals (or at the end of meals) until you get to the recommended dosage. If you are already taking a probiotic, skip this part.
  • gradually add in a yeast-targeting enzyme product between meals until you reach a comfortable level or 1 capsule 3 times a day.
  • gradually add in a yeast killer between meals with the yeast-targeting enzyme product until you reach the desired level

Enzymestuff mainly discusses the use of digestive enzymes after you had minor or major problems with digestion. Applications for enhancement of sports performance are not being discussed. Recommended entry level products are V-Gest and Lacto. Read the full post if you are interested in supplementing digestive enzymes for health purposes and discuss it with your doctor. I personally think it is a very detailed and interesting read.


The most I could find on digestive enzymes were discussions on medical uses after complications in the digestive system to rebuild it quicker to a former status. This makes sense to help the body digest food when the necessary enzymes and environment has been destroyed due to sickness and surgery. For me personally, I would be very skeptical when it comes to applying digestive enzymes to sports. The idea of artificially bumping up your digestion rate to take even more supplements in quicker does not seem like a sustainable and healthy approach to performance enhancement. 


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Topics: Supplements