Digestive enzymes are proteins in the body that help break food down. Some people with certain medical conditions might be unable to produce sufficient enzymes and require supplements.

Digestive enzymes are proteins in the body that are necessary to break down food into smaller, absorbable molecules. Different digestive enzymes exist in the body to break down different types of food. Some individuals may lack certain enzymes due to medical conditions. This may lead to symptoms that affect the gastrointestinal system.

Read on to learn more about the different types of digestive enzymes and how they work.

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Digestive enzymes are proteins that speed up the breakdown of food into smaller components. The body is then able to absorb these components which are necessary for certain chemical reactions in the body.

The pancreas is responsible for producing many enzymes important to digestion. The exocrine function of the pancreas involves producing digestive juices, containing these enzymes, and releasing them into the intestines to digest food.

Different types of digestive enzymes exist. These include:

  • Amylase: This enzyme breaks down carbohydrates into simple sugar molecules. Amylase breaks the glycosidic bonds in the carbohydrate molecules.
  • Lipase: This enzyme breaks down triglycerides into free fatty acids and glycerol and is therefore vital for fat metabolism. Lipase breaks down the ester bonds in triglycerides.
  • Protease: Proteases speed up the breakdown of proteins into amino acids. Trypsin and chymotrypsin are two types of proteases. These enzymes have essential roles in many cellular processes, including cell growth, hormone signaling, and the formation of bioactive peptides.

Pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT)

If a person is unable to produce sufficient amounts of digestive enzymes naturally, a doctor may recommend supplements. For example, a doctor may recommend PERT for individuals with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI).

PERT is the main treatment option for EPI. This treatment option involves a combination of the digestive enzymes lipase, amylase, and protease.

This combination treatment helps restore the normal digestive process in the body and also prevents malabsorption of nutrients from food. The dosage of PERT an individual may require will depend on the severity of the EPI they are experiencing.

In some cases, a person’s pancreas may not produce enough digestive enzymes to break down food. Damage to the pancreas cells that produce enzymes may lead to EPI. This condition may also occur due to:

  • insufficient stimulation of the pancreas
  • insufficient secretion of pancreatic enzymes
  • an obstruction in the pancreatic duct
  • insufficient mixing of pancreatic enzymes with food

EPI may also be secondary to other health conditions, including:

This condition may lead to further health problems, including malnutrition and other health complications. People with EPI may experience digestive symptoms such as:

  • passing wind
  • weight loss
  • abdominal pain
  • an increase in fat in the stool
  • diarrhea

People with low levels of digestive enzymes may require additional pancreatic enzymes through replacement therapy.

Certain foods contain digestive enzymes naturally. Some of these include:

Additionally, some foods and drinks do not require enzymes for people to digest them. This is because they only contain simple carbohydrates. These foods include:

  • fruits and fruit snacks
  • juice
  • soft drinks
  • sport drinks
  • rehydration formulas
  • tea and coffee
  • hard candies
  • gum
  • popsicles

Some individuals may experience side effects or adverse effects from PERT. For example, some of the common adverse effects of pancrelipase, a type of PERT, are:

  • oral irritation
  • headache
  • abdominal pain
  • nasal congestion
  • neck pain
  • lymphadenopathy

Other side effects of PERT may include nausea and vomiting.

A person should speak with a doctor if they are experiencing frequent digestive symptoms or EPI symptoms. A doctor will be able to diagnose EPI or any digestive problems through testing and a physical examination.

A person will only know for certain if they have a digestive issue through proper diagnosis by a doctor.

Digestive enzymes are proteins that help break down food into smaller molecules that the body can absorb. Different digestive enzymes exist to break down different types of food.

Some people may not produce enough digestive enzymes due to medical conditions, which can lead to digestive symptoms such as gas, weight loss, and abdominal pain. In these cases, doctors may recommend supplements or enzyme replacement therapy.

Certain foods, such as fruits, naturally contain digestive enzymes. And certain foods, such as fruit, are easier to digest and do not require these enzymes for digestion. If an individual is experiencing frequent digestive symptoms, they should speak with a doctor to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment.