Read this post to discover the best digestive enzyme supplements for healing your leaky gut. But first, let’s try to understand what digestive enzymes are and why, exactly, they’re beneficial for your health.
Last Updated: July 10, 2019
When it comes to ensuring general health and function, most people consider the most obvious of the body’s systems first.
You know the ones I am talking about! The cardiovascular system and the immune system would be prime examples.
Many people think of the digestive system as a mere afterthought. But that is a serious shame because it is not only one of the most important of the body’s systems but also one of the ones that is easiest to influence.
- What is the Digestive System?
- What Does the Digestive System Do?
- How Does Digestion Work?
- What are Digestive Enzymes?
- What are the Benefits of Consuming Digestive Enzymes?
- Why Use Digestive Enzymes to Fix Leaky Gut?
- How Should You Take Digestive Enzymes?
- What are Food Sources of Natural Digestive Enzymes?
- What’s the Best Digestive Enzyme Dosage to Fix Leaky Gut?
- Top 5 Best Digestive Enzyme Supplements to Fix Leaky Gut
- Take Away Message
What is the Digestive System?
Your digestive system is made up of six “hollow organs” and three “solid organs”. Let’s check out the organs in each of these groups of organs in more detail!
The Hollow Digestive Organs
The six hollow organs of your digestive system are the organs that make up your gastrointestinal tract (or “GI tract”) itself. These organs are joined together to form an incredibly long, twisting tube, that runs all the way from your mouth to your anus.
A pretty image, I know…
The organs of your GI tract are your:
- small intestine
- large intestine
Your mouth, esophagus, stomach, and anus are all pretty straightforward. But your long winding intestines a bit more complex!
Both your small and large intestine have multiple, distinct parts that have very different structures and functions.
Your small intestine is comprised of three distinct parts:
- the duodenum (the first, or top, part) receives partially digested food (known as chyme) from the stomach. After it has received this chyme, the duodenum helps digest it using digestive enzymes.
- the jejunum (the second, or middle, part) receives the chemically digested chyme from the duodenum. You absorb most of your nutrients through your jejunum.
- the ileum (the third, or bottom, part) receives the almost completely digested chyme from the jejunum and absorbs any remaining nutrients it can before emptying into the large intestine.
Your large intestine is comprised of four parts:
- the appendix is a finger-shaped pouch attached to your cecum. Weirdly, the function of the appendix is still unknown. Some people believe that it acts as a storehouse for good bacteria, helping replenish the digestive system’s microbial balance after illnesses. Others think that it is simply a useless organ that we have evolved to no longer need.
- the cecum (the first part of the large intestine) sits at the beginning of the large intestine. It provides a space where the gut can mix healthy gut bacteria with partially digested food, starting to form feces.
- the colon (the second part of the large intestine) absorbs water, salt, and some nutrients from forming stool. Once the water, salt, and nutrients are removed, the smooth muscles of the colon squeeze the remaining fecal matter along towards the rectum.
- the rectum (the end of the large intestine) connects the colon to the anus. It stores fecal matter until the body is ready to eliminate it.
The Solid Digestive Organs
The “solid organs” of your digestive system are your liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. These key organs secrete chemicals and digestive enzymes that mix with chyme in the duodenum to aid digestion.
- the liver is the largest organ in your body. Found in the upper right-hand corner of your abdomen, your liver works with the gallbladder to produce bile. Bile is important for the digestion of fats.
- the pancreas is a small organ (6-8 inches long) that sits horizontally across your abdomen. It attaches to your small intestine and secretes digestive enzymes.
- the gallbladder is a small pouch-like organ that sits just under your liver. Your gallbladder releases bile into your small intestine to aid in the digestion of fats.
What Does the Digestive System Do?
Now, as you might have guessed from the name, the role of the digestive system is to digest the food you eat. It breaks down the food that enters your mouth into compounds that can be absorbed and used by your body.
This includes breaking down:
- fats into fatty acids
- carbohydrates into simple sugars
- proteins into amino acids
- releasing essential vitamins and minerals from fiber complexes
While these functions might, at first, seem minor (compared to something like the functions of your heart or brain), they are actually absolutely fundamental to your health.
Fatty acids, sugars, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals are the building blocks of your entire body. They are used to:
- make your cells
- build your bones
- power your brain
- keep your heart pumping
Without enough nutrients from your food, you experience serious symptoms such as:
- poor immune system function and infections
- weak bones
- poor eyesight
- fatigue and weakness
- poor nervous system function
So, yeah! Having a healthy digestive system is really important!
How Does Digestion Work?
In addition to being more important than you might think, digestion is also a lot more complex than it seems.
First, you have to mechanically break down the food you eat by chewing it into smaller, easier to handle, pieces. You then swallow these smaller bits, sending them through your esophagus to your stomach below.
Once your food enters your stomach, it is stored for a period of time, soaking in a bath of stomach acid. After a period of time, the stomach begins to contract. These contractions mix up the food, liquid, and digestive juices in the stomach, breaking down the bits of food into even smaller pieces and kicking the digestive process into “second gear”.
After the food has been mixed into a slushy substance, it is transferred into the small intestine. Once there, it is gradually mixed, squeezed and pushed forward through the intestine to allow further digestion.
As the food moves through the small intestine, the now digested nutrients are absorbed through the intestinal walls into your body.
Of course, not all the food you eat is digested and absorbed. There is always some waste leftover. These waste products, including the undigested parts of the food (such as fiber) and old digestive cells, move into the large intestines.
Over the course of a couple of days, this waste travels through the large intestine, any extra fluid is removed, and then it is excreted as fecal matter.
Interestingly, this process of absorbing and digesting food isn’t only carried out by the physical actions of the digestive system.
In fact, it couldn’t happen at all without enzymatic help from digestive enzymes.
What are Digestive Enzymes?
Digestive enzymes are a type of complex protein made by your body and released into your GI tract to help with your digestive processes.
Digestive enzymes are responsible for chemically breaking down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates by severing the chemical bonds between their atoms.
In doing so, they turn the molecules from the food you eat into much smaller molecules that can be easily absorbed into your body.
Put simply, without digestive enzymes, your body wouldn’t absorb enough of any of the nutrients it needs to function optimally — which is, as I just discussed, the cornerstone of good health!
Types of Digestive Enzymes
There are three key types of digestive enzymes:
- proteases: which break down protein into small peptides and amino acids.
- lipases: which break down fat into fatty acids and glycerol molecules.
- amylases: which break down carbs, like starch, into simple sugars.
Digestive enzymes from all three of these classes are made almost entirely by your pancreas (though some are made in the stomach, mouth, and intestine) and released into your intestine when you eat.
What Happens If You Don’t Have Enough Digestive Enzymes?
If you don’t have enough digestive enzymes, your ability to digest and absorb nutrients is going to be severely limited. This, as I mentioned above, can lead to a number of serious medical issues.
Interestingly, though, it’s not only nutrients not getting into your body that can cause problems. Nutrients staying in your GI tract that aren’t supposed to be there also cause problems!
At first, you usually see “belly problems”. The extra food and large molecules left over in the gut irritate the walls of your intestines, causing:
Over time, though, this irritation can lead to more serious symptoms.
This is a serious problem because holes in your gut allow large food molecules (and any other harmful or toxic molecules floating about) to get out of your GI tract and into your bloodstream.
Now your whole body is struggling not only with too few healthy nutrients but also with the toxic effects of dangerous molecules making it through your leaky gut.
Clearly, if you don’t have digestive enzymes, your health — both digestive and whole body — is at serious risk!
Learn More: Leaky Gut Symptoms: Signs of Leaky Gut Syndrome
What are the Benefits of Consuming Digestive Enzymes?
Although your body makes its own digestive enzymes, you can also get them into your digestive tract by swallowing them as a supplement or as part of whole foods!
Why is this a good idea?
Well, digestive enzymes you swallow work just like those your body makes itself! So, all the health benefits you get from your body’s own digestive enzymes you can also get from the digestive enzymes you take!
This means that by consuming digestive enzymes, you can:
- enhance your digestion
- balance out digestive enzyme deficiencies
- improve nutrient absorption
- protect your intestinal walls from large, damaging molecules
- prevent and help reverse nutrient deficiencies
- prevent and help reduce bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and other digestive problems
Why Use Digestive Enzymes to Fix Leaky Gut?
We sort of covered this above, already, but digestive enzymes are great for healing a leaky gut. They break down the large molecules of food that are making your gut leaky in the first place. This gives the gut wall a chance to rest and begin healing!
To make things even better, digestive enzymes also improve digestion and nutrient absorption. This means that your body has more building blocks available to help repair any gut damage that already exists!
Through these two mechanisms, digestive enzymes create the perfect environment for your body to really heal!
Pretty cool, huh?
How Should You Take Digestive Enzymes?
As I have already alluded to, you can obtain extra digestive enzymes through either the food you eat or in the form of supplements.
While both of these have pros and cons, they are also both extremely effective means of providing your body with digestive enzymes.
Digestive Enzymes from Food
Many people believe that increasing your digestive enzyme consumption through natural food is the way to go. This is because whole foods not only provide you with potent enzymes but also contain an abundance of other health-boosting compounds.
Whole foods do have some drawbacks, though.
Firstly, as far as digestive enzyme content goes, natural food sources are more expensive gram for gram than their supplement counterparts.
Additionally, they contain fewer enzymes per serving, meaning that they may not be quite as effective.
Digestive Enzyme Supplements
In contrast to foods, supplements offer an extremely concentrated source of digestive enzymes. They are also widely available and convenient to take.
They do not, however, provide the body with any additional health-boosting nutrients.
So, there’s definitely a bit of a trade-off: concentration and effectiveness vs. whole-food nutrients.
Foods vs. Supplements
Whether you lean towards whole-foods or supplements is ultimately up to you (and your doctor, of course).
With this in mind, in the rest of the article, I will outline both the best food sources and digestive enzyme supplement brands so you have all the information you need to make an informed decision.
What are Food Sources of Natural Digestive Enzymes?
Most foods contain at least low levels of digestive enzymes. But these are the foods that pack a serious digestive enzyme punch:
Pineapple is full to the brim of the protease bromelain. As it is a protease, bromelain helps the digestive system break down complex proteins into amino acids, which can then be easily absorbed into the body.
Despite eating it on a fairly regular basis, many people don’t realize that honey is one of the most beneficial foods you can eat for your digestive system. This is because it is absolutely loaded digestive enzymes.
- diastases: which break down starchy carbohydrates into maltose, a simple sugar your body can easily absorb.
- amylases: which also break down starchy carbohydrates, but into both maltose and glucose, another type of simple sugar.
- invertases: which break down sucrose, a type of complex sugar, into the smaller, simple sugars, glucose and fructose.
- proteases: which break down proteins into amino acids.
Bananas contain two key groups of digestive enzymes – amylases and glucosidases. Both of these potent enzymes break down complex carbohydrates (such as starch) into smaller and more readily absorbed sugars.
Ginger is considered one of the healthiest spices on the planet. Shown to reduce inflammation and enhance nearly all aspects of health, it truly is a wonder-root!
Some of ginger’s many health benefits come from its digestive enzyme, zingibain. Zingibain is a protease that meaning that helps break down proteins.
As an added digestive bonus, ginger has also been shown to help the gut keep food moving smoothly, facilitating the digestive process as a whole.
This unique fruit is easily recognized by its furry brown skin, bright green flesh, and delicious flavor. Fortunately for you, it is also a great source of digestive enzymes.
Papaya (also called “pawpaw”) is a type of tropical fruit that contains a key digestive enzyme known as papain. Papain has been shown to aid in the breakdown and digestion of complex proteins.
In addition to simply being one of the tastiest tropical fruits to grace an earthly tree, mangoes contain digestive enzymes known as amylases. This amazing group of enzymes helps break down complex carbohydrates (such as starch) into smaller sugar molecules (such as glucose and maltose).
Kimchi is a spicy dish made from fermented vegetables. It has become increasingly popular in the health community as a powerful probiotic food. Interestingly, it is actually the fact that kimchi contains probiotics that make it a source of digestive enzymes, too — one simple food and you get digestive enzymes and probiotics together!
See, the fermentation process used to create kimchi (and other probiotic foods) adds an abundance of healthy bacteria to the vegetables of the dish. Once in the gut, these bacteria actually produce their own proteases, lipases, and amylases.
Via these stowaway bacteria, then, kimchi can aid in the digestion of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
What’s the Best Digestive Enzyme Dosage to Fix Leaky Gut?
Though the foods listed above offer us an excellent method of increasing digestive intake naturally, I appreciate that they’re not necessarily the most convenient options for everyone.
(Not all of us have papaya and mango trees in our backyards, after all!) For some people, supplements will offer a much more practical way to increase digestive enzyme intake.
However, before I get into the specific supplements that I recommend, I wanted to talk a bit about dosages.
Unfortunately, there is no one clear, standardized dosage recommendation for digestive enzymes. This is because studies have clearly shown that the amount of enzyme people need to take to see improvements in their digestion and health is highly personal. It depends on a person’s:
- health status
Without any clear dosage recommendations in the scientific literature, many resources advise people to simply experiment to find what works best for them — no guidelines at all!
I thought, however, it would be best to give you some basic dosage ranges so you have a broad idea what dosages are at least considered safe! Then you can figure out which dosages are effective for you within this range.
Research suggests that safe dosages for each of the key digestive enzymes are:
- proteases: 17,000 – 114,000 USP* per serving
- lipases: 3,000 – 36,000 USP per serving
- amylases: 15,000 – 136,000 USP per serving
(*USP stands for “ubiquitin-specific proteins” and is simply a standardized measure of enzyme quantity.)
Now, obviously, these ranges are extremely broad. I strongly recommend you start on the lower end and slowly increase your dosage until you see improvements in your digestion and health that you are happy with.
For example, if you start by taking 3,000 USP of lipase per serving and you see no improvement after 1-2 weeks, then it might be worth increasing your dosage by another 3,000 USP. This process could then be repeated until you experience improvement in your symptoms.
Make sure to choose a supplement that allows you to take the dosage you want per serving and whose recommended daily servings fall within the safe range. This ensures that, as long as you are not exceeding the dosage on the package, you are taking a safe amount of enzyme.
Keep in mind that it is always a good idea to consult your doctor, pharmacist, or nutritionist before adding any supplement to your routine!
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Top 5 Best Digestive Enzyme Supplements to Fix Leaky Gut
Below, I have compiled reviews of my top 5 favorite digestive enzymes! Each of these enzymes comes from a reputable supplement brand, provides a safe dose of its digestive enzyme and has high customer satisfaction.
Last but not least on my list, I have Integrative Therapeutics Lipase Concentrate-HP. This supplement provides you with a potent dose (12,600 USP) of lipase.
As you know, lipase enhances the digestion of fats. With this in mind, this is the perfect supplement for those who find themselves experiencing digestive discomfort after eating high-fat meals.
This Lipase Concentrate from Integrative Therapeutics has the highest customer rating of 4.6 stars. With this, a whopping 85% of customers who reviewed this product rated it 5-stars.
Customers praised the effectiveness, size, and cost of this lipase supplement. Many consumers reported seeing a vast improvement in digestive health and gastrointestinal symptoms. Overall, customers experiencing digestive issues highly recommend this product.
Of those consumers that reviewed his product negatively, the vast majority did so because they were unaware that the product contains soy because this is not clearly advertised on the packaging. So, be aware that if you are sensitive or allergic to soy, this supplement is not a good choice for you.
Digestive Enzyme Type
Enhances fat digestion, weight loss, and reduces digestive discomfort.
Next up I have Lactaid Original Strength Lactase Enzyme Caplets. As far as digestive enzymes go, this is by far the most popular on the market. It is built around the digestive enzyme lactase.
Lactase has been shown to enhance the digestion of complex carbohydrates. This means that Lactaid offers an excellent method of increasing carbohydrate breakdown and absorption.
Interestingly, one of the carbohydrates lactase breaks down particularly well is the complex sugar, lactose.
Since lactose is found primarily in milk, Lactaid is effective at improving your digestion of dairy products. This makes it a great option for those who find themselves sensitive to carbohydrates or dairy.
Customers rate this product as a 4 out of 5 stars. And with nearly 500 reviews feeding into this rating, you can be assured of its quality.
The vast majority of consumers reviewing this product have stated that it works effectively, although many have described the taste as “chalky”. This may be something to consider if taste is important to you.
Digestive Enzyme Type
Lactase 9000 USP
Reduces digestive discomfort, improves digestion, and improves irritable bowel syndrome.
KAL Bromelain Chewable Tablets round out my top 3 digestive enzyme supplements and they offer you a unique method of supplementing with digestive enzymes: delicious, fruity-flavored chewable tablets.
These are hands down the best supplement on my list for those who hate swallowing capsules! (Or those who like tasty fruit chews, I guess!)
Interestingly, in addition to its protease activity, bromelain has also been shown to exhibit potent anti-inflammatory properties. This means that KAL Bromelain Chewable Tablets may be able to actively reduce irritation and inflammation in the gut, helping a leaky gut heal even faster than a supplement containing different proteases.
Similar to the other protease supplements I recommend, KAL Bromelain Chewable Tablets provide a safe and effective dose of 100 mg (~12,000 USP) of bromelain.
Although there is currently only one review of this relatively new product on Amazon, it is a full 5-stars! What’s more, it really does have everything you need to enhance digestion effectively (and tastily!).
Digestive Enzyme Type
Bromelain 100 mg (~12,000 USP)
Helps enhance protein digestion, reduces inflammation, and enhances cardiovascular health.
As the name suggests, this supplement provides a mix of two proteases, bromelain and papain. As such, it offers an extremely potent means of enhancing protein digestion and absorption, reducing gastrointestinal distress, and improving nutrient absorption.
A single capsule of Nature’s Life Bromelain & Papain provides a potent dose of 150 GDY (~40,000 USP) of bromelain and 37 GDU (~12,000 USP) of papain. This is quite a bit more than my other recommended protease supplements provide but still well beneath the safety limit.
Combine this higher dose with a whopping 250 capsules per container, this brand works out to be one of the most affordable supplements (per USP of protease) on the market!
Nature’s Life Bromelain & Papain supplement has an overall customer rating of 4 out of 5, suggesting extremely high customer satisfaction.
As you can imagine, most customer reviews were extremely positive, although some customers reported that they needed to take 2-3 capsules to see a positive effect (which is above the recommended serving size of one capsule).
Digestive Enzyme Type
Bromelain 150 GDY
Improves constipation and bloating, enhances protein digestion and cardiovascular health, and reduces inflammation.
Topping my list is Swanson’s Papain Papaya Enzyme. As I have already mentioned, papain is a protease, which means it helps your body break down proteins.
Papain can improve protein digestion and absorption and reduce the physical load placed on the gut by protein-rich foods. Everything you are looking for in a digestive enzyme to ease digestive problems and improve health!
Coming in capsule form, this supplement is extremely easy to take. It can be taken at any time of day, or before any meal, making it a really convenient addition to your daily routine.
Each serving of this supplement provides a potent dose of 100 mg (or 12,000 USP) of papain per serving, which is well below the upper safety limit for proteases.
Importantly, this supplement has been extremely well-received by consumers. On average, customers have rated this product 3.7 out of 5 stars, with the majority giving it a full 5-stars.
Customers are generally pleased with the product, with many reporting that performs exactly as advertised.
While this supplement has very few negative reviews, there was one that stood out. In this review, the consumer described the product tasting like “rotten eggs”, which is obviously less than ideal.
The fact that this complaint only came from a single reviewer suggests the product may have gone bad or that there was some other fluke with the specific bottle this customer bought.
Digestive Enzyme Type
Enhances protein digestion, improves constipation and bloating, and reduces inflammation.
Bonus Supplement: GASTROLYF Digestive Enzyme Supplement
Okay, so I know that I am cheating here! But I couldn’t help adding one more supplement that has recently hit my radar and blew me away!
As in, blew me away to the point we’ve teamed up with GASTROLF, giving this product an official coveted sponsorship status with Nutrishatives! How could we not, when this supplement has everything you could want in a gut-healing addition to your routine?
GASTROLYF Digestive Enzyme Supplement provides a potent dose of four key digestive enzymes: an amylase, protease, lipase, and cellulase. This means that it can aid in the digestion of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and starches.
As if this weren’t enough gut-health-boosting power, this supplement contains some potent gut-healing prebiotic and probiotic compounds, as well. Both prebiotics and probiotics can help bolster the health of your gut microbiota (those healthy bacteria in kimchi and sauerkraut I talked about above), giving your GI tract more digestive enzymes and gut healing nutrients to work with!
Then, to top it all off, each capsule has a dash of six natural, organically sourced gut-health promoting herbs and spices: sagrada, slippery elm, ginger, peppermint, dandelion, and chicory root. Anti-inflammatory, gut soothing and digestion promoting, these spices offer one more layer of natural, gut-healing power.
And the final, easily-digested cherry on top? It’s not just the ingredient list that’s stellar — customer satisfaction is as well. A whopping 84% of reviewers on Amazon rate it 5-stars and an additional 6% rate it 4-stars.
Seriously, with a powerhouse list of ingredients and no negative reviews, it would be hard not to recommend this product!
Digestive Enzyme Type
250 mg blend of Amylase, Protease, Lipase, and Cellulase
Amylase, Protease, Lipase, and Cellulase
Enhances fat digestion, weight loss, digestion, improves irritable bowel syndrome, digestive microbiota health, and reduces inflammation.
Take Away Message
Digestive enzymes are necessary for proper digestion and nutrient absorption so your body can function properly. Both foods rich in natural digestive enzymes and digestive enzyme supplements can be an effective way to get enough digestive enzymes into your GI tract, improve your digestive health, and help you heal a leaky gut.