Read This Before You Start Taking Digestive Enzyme Supplements

According to consumer and market insight company FONA International, a steady increase in the purchase of digestive supplements indicates that nearly half of the American population is striving for a healthier gut. Many people are willing to try belly-beneficial treatments such as prebiotics, probiotics, kombucha, and digestive enzymes. This is not surprising, as a 2013 survey estimates that an alarming 74 percent of Americans live with frequent unwanted digestive symptoms — like diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain (via Fox News).

Digestive enzymes, which assist the body in its natural digestion process, have become a popular option for those with stomach ailments (via Verywell Health). Touted as an effective and reliable remedy for gastrointestinal troubles like IBS, low stomach acid, gas, and bloating, digestive enzymes are easily available at your local pharmacy or grocery store.

Gastroenterologist Samantha Nazareth, M.D., F.A.C.G. tells SHAPE that prescription strength digestive enzymes might be prescribed by your doctor if you have a medical condition involving the pancreas, or have had a surgery that affects the way your body produces the enzymes. Dr. Nazareth also mentions that as we age, we may not produce the amount of enzymes we need for a healthy gut, which can lead to those uncomfortable symptoms like gas and bloating.

How digestive enzymes work

Digestive enzymes assist in the breakdown of the three macronutrients — carbohydrates, proteins, and fats — making them easier to absorb and distribute through the body (per Healthline). There are three main enzymes; amylase, which helps break down carbs, lipase, which assists with fats, and protease, which breaks down proteins into amino acids. There are other enzymes that target more specific nutrients. For example, lactase, which is the main ingredient in Lactaid, helps those who are lactose intolerant by breaking down the sugar in milk products. For digestive enzymes to work, they have to be taken right before you eat, when they are able to act like natural enzymes by helping to break the food down. 

Dr. Nazareth says that adding digestive enzymes to your daily routine is not likely to cause harm but, since the supplement industry is not regulated, caution should be used. She states, "It's not really up to someone on their own to figure out that their stomach issues are due to the fact that they don't have as many digestive enzymes. You don't want to miss something else out there." In other words, before you diagnose yourself as digestive enzyme deficient, check in with your doctor. Speaking to a professional is the best way to sort out any uncomfortable symptoms.