Your patients already no doubt know about the benefits of probiotic supplements or food (such as yogurt with active cultures) as a way to maintain overall digestive health.
The advantage to probiotics, of course, is that adding them to your patients’ regular diet and supplement regimen will help keep their digestive system in balance, even if they don’t have any health issues. In essence, you can think of probiotics as preventive medicine for your patients’ digestive systems.
However, your patients with serious issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), require more than just probiotics in order to get their digestive systems working properly. Although the exact cause for IBS has not yet been pinpointed, it is thought to be related to an inability to properly digest food.1
Digestive enzymes can help move food properly through the large intestine to prevent the gas, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea that are often common symptoms that can come with IBS. How do digestives enzymes differ from probiotics, and what does the research say about the ability of these enzymes to ease symptoms for your patients with IBS?
What is the difference between probiotics and digestive enzymes?
Perhaps the biggest difference between probiotics and digestive enzymes is that the former are live cultures of either bacteria or yeast. On the other hand, digestive enzymes are proteins consisting of long chains of amino acids that are produced in the stomach and pancreas, and secreted into the digestive tract.2
Furthermore, probiotics and digestive enzymes have two different functions. Digestive enzymes specifically help the body break down large nutritional molecules, such as proteins and fats, into smaller molecules that the digestive system can more easily absorb.2 While probiotics do serve a number of necessary functions, such as helping the body absorb vitamins and minerals, and preventing lactose intolerance, they can’t break down the actual food molecules from what your patients eat.
What does the research say?
Two separate articles published in 2011 compared the effect of specific brands of digestive enzymes to placebo for relieving symptoms of IBS.3,4 The first article, published in the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, looked at the effect of a mixture of beta-glucan, inositol and digestive enzymes on improving gastro-intestinal symptoms in patients with IBS.3
A total of 50 patients were separated into two groups to either receive the digestive enzyme mixture or to serve as the control group without therapy. The digestive enzyme mixture significantly improved bloating, flatulence and abdominal pain.3
The second article, published in Frontline Gastroenterlogy, took a somewhat different approach by having subjects select between either a digestive enzyme product or a placebo product to relieve diarrhea symptoms associated with IBS. This was done by blinding the subjects to both products and then having them select which they preferred for reducing their symptoms after a set time period for using each product.4 A total of 61 percent of the subjects selected the digestive enzyme product as being preferable for relieving symptoms.
Furthermore, it was found to show improvement for symptoms of cramping, bloating, defecation urge, and pain. It also decreased the amount of stooling, while increasing stool firmness.4
While probiotics are an excellent way to provide nutritional support for all of your patients, those with IBS will need further supplementation. Digestive enzymes may provide just that extra level of support these patients need.
- Irritable bowel syndrome. Mayo Clinic. Accessed 9/24/2017.
- The differences between probiotics & digestive enzymes. Accessed 9/24/2017.
- Ciacci C, Franceschi F, Purchiaroni F, et al. (2011). Effect of beta-glucan, inositol and digestive enzymes in GI symptoms of patients with IBS. European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, 15(6), 637-643.
- Money ME, Walkowiak J, Virgilio C, et al. (2011). Pilot study: A randomised, double blind, placebo controlled trial of pancrealipase for the treatment of postprandial irritable bowel syndrome-diarrhoea. Frontline Gastroenterology, 2, 48-56.