Some people report that digestive enzymes help with IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome. However, scientists need to carry out more research to understand how well they work, or whether digestive enzymes could have side effects.
The body makes its own digestive enzymes. Their job is to break down the food into nutrient pieces until they are small enough for the bloodstream to absorb them. Some people take additional enzymes in the form of dietary supplements.
Some people believe that supplementing the body’s supply of these enzymes will promote healthy digestion and relieve symptoms of IBS.
For many of the 1 in 5 Americans who have IBS, common medications do not always provide relief.
As a result, doctors
Sometimes, none of these treatments work. As a result, doctors may try other treatment options.
Specific digestive enzymes
There are different classes of enzymes that doctors group according to the chemical process they use. For example, doctors consider all digestive enzymes hydrolases because they use water molecules to break down food into its basic building blocks.
Although scientists need to carry out more research, they have reported promising results.
One older study found that when individuals who frequently suffered from diarrhea after meals took the enzyme pancrelipase (PEZ) before eating, they reported a reduction in their symptoms.
A 2011 study of 50 people with IBS tested the effects of the supplement Biointol — a combination of digestive enzymes, fiber, and sugar. The researchers compared these patients to a control group of 40 people with IBS who did not take the supplement.
The results showed that Biointol reduced symptoms for the group of 50, such as bloating, gas, and abdominal pain, compared with the control group.
After four weeks, the group taking the combination reported fewer symptoms, such as bloating and gas, than the group taking only Asacol.
Because many people with IBS have problems digesting specific foods, it is possible that taking digestive enzyme supplements known to help the body digest these foods will reduce symptoms.
PEZ, which can help the body digest fats, sugars, and proteins, has the commercial name Creon. It is a combination of lipase, protease, and amylase, which are enzymes that the pancreas produces. Doctors may prescribe PEZ for individuals who have a poorly functioning or damaged pancreas.
Many forms of digestive enzyme supplements are widely available over the counter (OTC), and professionals mostly consider them to be safe if a person takes them according to their doctor’s recommendation.
Some people may experience side effects. A person should always talk with a healthcare professional before taking a new supplement.
The body’s ability to manufacture enzymes
It is always best to take digestive enzymes, or any supplement, only after consultation with a doctor. It is possible a doctor may prescribe a prescription-strength enzyme.
Prescription-strength enzymes are very different from OTC supplements. It is also a good idea to talk with a doctor first. Digestive enzymes for IBS, or general health purposes, can contain blends of different enzymes, such as amylase, lipase, lactase, bromelain, and more.
Precautions when choosing a supplement
Before buying or taking any supplements, a person should check for any additional ingredients in each capsule, especially if food sensitivities are an issue. Unless a supplement says that it does not contain soy, dairy, or gluten, there is a chance that it does.
The price and quality of digestive enzymes can vary significantly. A person should review dosages and measurement units with a healthcare professional to make sure that the product is worth the price and will deliver the level of enzymes they need.
People should always take these supplements with food. When taking digestive enzymes for IBS, it is best to do so when first sitting down to eat or slightly before.
Potential side effects of using digestive enzymes for IBS symptoms can range from the rare and more serious to the more common and less serious.
The more common side effects include:
- loose stools or diarrhea
- stomach discomfort
- greasy stools
- a headache
- losing weight
More severe side effects include:
- Allergic reactions: These can include hives, difficulty breathing, and swelling around the face and require immediate emergency treatment.
- Severe stomach pain: Anyone experiencing serious stomach pains should consult a doctor as soon as possible.
The consensus is that there is not, as yet, any clear scientific evidence that taking digestive enzymes for IBS is effective.
However, after talking with a doctor, many people may benefit from their inclusion in part of a larger treatment plan for IBS.