Table of contents
- What are digestive enzymes?
- Where are they produced, and why are they needed?
- What role do digestive enzymes play for those with celiac disease and Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS)?
- Can digestive enzymes be taken to offset the effects of gluten in your body?
Digestive Enzymes are found naturally in your body and help to break down the food you eat so that nutrients can be absorbed and used by your body.
A variety of different types of enzymes are needed to support the digestion of all of the different foods you eat. These different enzymes are produced by your body in different parts of your digestive tract, from your mouth to your gut. The main categories of digestive enzymes include:
- Amylase (made in the mouth and pancreas – breaks down complex carbohydrates)
- Lipase (made in the stomach and pancreas – breaks down fats)
- Protease (made in the stomach, pancreas, and small intestines – breaks down proteins)
- Pepsin (made in the stomach – breaks down proteins)
- Lactase (made in the small intestine, breaks down lactose – found in dairy products)
Some people, particularly those with compromised digestion, do not make sufficient digestive enzymes to properly digest their food. This may result in symptoms like gas, bloating, and feelings of fullness after eating. In these cases, supplemental enzymes can be supportive to help ease digestion and mitigate the symptoms of digestive certain types of food.
Why Do Those with celiac disease and non celiac gluten sensitivity need enzymes?
Those with celiac and NCGS have damage to their digestive tracts causing enzyme deficiencies and malabsorption. This can lead to a deficiency in the ability to produce digestive enzymes. For example, lactase, the enzyme that is needed to break down lactose, the sugar found in milk and other dairy products, is commonly deficient in those with gluten issues. This is one of the reasons why so many people following a gluten free diet also follow a dairy free diet.
Why does this matter? Digestive enzymes aren’t just to help alleviate digestive discomfort. A lack of digestive enzymes impacts nutrient absorption. Research shows that years of gluten induced damage can put someone with celiac disease or non celiac gluten sensitivity at risk for maldigestion and malabsorption. Of course, impaired nutrient absorption can lead to a wide range of other health concerns and diseases. And unfortunately, many people who develop health problems because of these nutritional deficits are medicated, because doctors do not routinely screen for nutritional problems. Some of these medications can also damage the GI tract leading to a cycle of worsening digestion over time.
Digestive enzymes can also support those with celiac disease and non celiac gluten sensitivity who have accidental gluten exposure. Even those who are meticulously careful likely ingest some accidental gluten due to cross contamination. In fact, research has shown that up to two-thirds of people who follow a gluten free diet are still exposed to gluten on a regular basis.
Do Digestive Enzymes Help With Gluten Intolerance?
Research studies have shown that using enzymes is beneficial to those with celiac disease and non celiac gluten sensitivity. In fact, one study noted significant improvements in both headaches and the feeling of incomplete evacuation caused by gluten ingestion. Bloating was also improved in the study participants. Digestive enzymes can help aid in the mitigation of symptoms caused by accidental gluten ingestion, as well as the digestion of other foods that may be difficult to digest, like dairy, legumes, other grains, and more.
However, digestive enzyme supplements are not intended to be taken to mitigate intentional gluten exposure. The only real treatment for celiac disease is a gluten free diet, and it is important to follow a strict gluten free diet even while taking digestive enzymes.
In addition, it is important to trust the manufacturer of your digestive enzyme supplement. Make sure your digestive supplement doesn’t contain hidden forms of gluten. Some trusted digestive enzyme supplements include Ultra Digest for broad digestion support, Gluten Shield for digestion support alongside targeted support for gluten digestion (thanks to the enzyme DPP-IV), and Dairy Shield, a targeted supplement to help break down gluten, lactose, and dairy proteins.
In addition to the enzymes listed above, additional digestive support can also be helpful. Specifically, support for stomach acid production like Ultra Acid is useful to combat the natural decline in stomach secretions that happens with normal aging. Ultra Acid provides stimulus for the excretion of pancreatic digestive juices in the small intestine, which is fundamental to healthy protein digestion, nutrient availability, and the maintenance of normal gastric flora. For support with fat digestion, Lipogest can help promote bile flow and aid the liver in its elimination of fatty substances.
Of course, before starting any new vitamin or supplement routine, it is always best to seek the advice of a trusted practitioner.
Will taking digestive enzymes cause an enzyme deficiency in the body?
The simple answer is no. There are no scientific studies to date that have shown that using digestive enzyme supplements lead to or cause your body to stop producing its own enzymes. Remember that many foods contain a robust array of digestive enzymes as well.
Foods That Contain Digestive Enzymes
In addition to supplementation, many foods contain natural enzymes that can help to aid in digestion. These foods include the following:
- Apricots: contain invertase to help break down sugar
- Avocados: contain lipase to help break down fats
- Bananas: contain two digestive enzymes—amylases and glucosidases – which both help to break down carbohydrates
- Ginger: contains zingibain, a protease that helps to break down protein
- Raw honey: contains amylase, protease, diastase, and invertase that help break down both carbohydrates and protein
- Kiwi: contains actinidain to help digest proteins
- Mangoes: contains amylase to help digest carbohydrates
- Miso: contains lactase, lipase, amylase, and protease, plus beneficial probiotics to help support the digestion of a number of different types of food
- Papaya: contains protease to help break down protein
- Pineapple: contains bromelain, a protease, to help break down protein
- Fermented foods (e.g., sauerkraut, kefir, etc.): contain a number of different enzymes to support overall digestion as well as gut health
The Bottom Line
There is no replacement for a strict gluten free diet, but Digestive enzyme supplements can aid digestion for those with celiac disease, non gluten sensitivity, or many other digestive concerns.
Take our gluten sensitivity test if you think you might benefit from digestive enzyme supplements.