Most of your patients already know enough about digestive health.
They can most likely recognize yogurt with active cultures as a food source of probiotics to help promote “good” gut bacteria and keep their GI tract in proper balance.1 They also probably know that taking probiotics while on a course of antibiotics, or following an infection that affects the GI system, can help rebalance everything and help overcome diarrhea and bloating.
Although probiotics are great as part of an ongoing wellness routine to keep a patient’s GI tract in top shape, some may actually need something more to help them properly digest food. For these patients, digestive enzymes may be the answer.
While digestive enzymes are available in supplement form, it may actually be better for your patients to get them from whole food sources.
Understand the difference between probiotics and digestive enzymes, and know some good whole food sources for digestive enzymes.
What is the difference between probiotics and digestive enzymes?
The main difference between probiotics and digestive enzymes is that probiotics are actually live cultures of either bacteria or yeast that help the body perform a variety of functions, including absorbing minerals and vitamins.
In comparison, digestive enzymes are not live, but are proteins comprising long chains of amino acids produced in the stomach and pancreas.1
These digestive enzymes help the body break down large nutritional molecules, such as proteins, carbohydrates and fats into smaller molecules, making it easier for the body to absorb them.1
Whole food digestive enzymes
While digestive enzymes are available in supplement form, getting them from whole foods is also beneficial, particularly for patients who suffer from chronic digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease.
They are likely to gain from the additional vitamins and nutrients contained in whole foods.
Pineapple: This is probably the best known food that contains digestive enzymes. It contains a particular group of digestive enzymes known as bromelains, which are protease enzymes.2 They are able to break down proteins into their building blocks, such as amino acids.
This makes pineapple particularly suitable as a whole food option for your patients who have pancreatic insufficiency; this occurs when the pancreas is unable to make enough of its own digestive enzymes to break down proteins in food.2
Bananas: These contain amylase and glucosidase digestive enzymes, which are able to break down complex carbohydrates, such as starch, into sugars. The body can then more easily absorb these sugars. A 2011 study in the journal Anaerobe reported on the results of a two-month study of the effects of eating bananas on the growth of healthy gut bacteria in a group of 34 women.3
Those women who ate two bananas every day for the length of the study showed both a modest rise in healthy gut bacteria and significantly less bloating.
Sauerkraut: Unlike pineapple or bananas, sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) obtains its digestive enzymes from the fermentation process it undergoes. Interestingly, sauerkraut is also considered a probiotic, as it also contains healthy gut bacteria.4
Several studies have also shown that sauerkraut can treat a number of symptoms that often show up in irritable bowel syndrome, including bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation. The Korean version, kimchee (made with Chinese cabbage and Korean radishes), has the same properties as sauerkraut.
Your patients who require more digestive support than probiotics and are not willing to add whole food sources to their diet can be recommended a digestive enzyme supplement.
- Hendrickson, K “The differences between probiotics & digestive enzymes.” Livestrong. https://www.livestrong.com/article/294750-the-differences-between-probiotics-digestive-enzymes. Published Aug. 14, 2017. Accessed Sept. 25, 2018.
- Roxas M. The role of enzyme supplementation in digestive disorders. Alternative Medicine Review. 2008;13(4):307-314.
- Mitsou EK, Kougia E, Nomikos T, et al. Effect of banana consumption on faecal microbiota: A randomised, controlled trial. Anaerobe. 2011;17(6):384-387.
- Raak C, Ostermann T, Boehm K, Molsberger F. Regular consumption of sauerkraut and its effect on human health: A bibliometric analysis. Global Advances in Health and Medicine. 2014;3(6):12-18.