What's the Difference Between Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes?
By Molly Pelletier, Gut Health Nutritionist, MS Dietetics Candidate
“Gut health” has become widely popular in recent media due to budding research suggesting the importance of our microbiome health in preventing many chronic diseases.1 This increasing focus on gut health begs the question: “How do we best support a healthy microbiome?”
Probiotics and digestive enzymes are two different supplement categories that are often confused with one another, since they both can support optimal gut health and digestive function when used correctly. Probiotics and digestive enzymes impact the body differently and understanding this distinction can be helpful when looking to support optimal gut health. To aid in determining which supplement may be right for you, the following article outlines vital differences between probiotics and digestive enzymes.
What are probiotics and why do you need them?
First and foremost, the gut microbiome is essentially our collection of gut microbes that line our digestive tract. These microbes, existing in the trillions, directly impact our body, digestion, and overall health. New research suggests that our gut bacteria even influence our brain, cognition, and emotional behavior.2
Within these trillions of microbes, some are considered helpful while others may be harmful in large quantities. The “good” bacteria perform important functions or release compounds (ex: short chain fatty acids) that positively impact our health. These beneficial bacteria populations also help to keep the “bad” bacteria from populating to an amount that may cause uncomfortable symptoms or illness. Our gut bacteria populations directly impact the health of our microbiome, which heavily impacts the health of our immune system.3
A probiotic is a supplement that contains strains of healthy bacteria designed to populate the gut microbiome. If your gut microbiome has been assaulted by illness, stress, or a round of antibiotics, helpful bacteria that previously existed may have been destroyed. Taking a probiotic supplement can help reintroduce beneficial strains of bacteria to restore the health of your gut microbiome and prevent antibiotic side effects.4 Even if you have not undergone an assault on your microbiome, taking a probiotic supplement can introduce healthy bacterial strains, increasing the diversity of your gut microbiome. Increasing the diversity and amount of beneficial gut microbes can help elevate physical and mental health.5 Probiotics have also been shown to improve Irritable Bowel Symptoms (IBS) such as abdominal pain and bloating.6
What are Digestive Enzymes? And why do you need them?
Digestive enzymes are proteins that are naturally produced by the pancreas, stomach, small intestine, and salivary glands which help facilitate digestion. These enzymes are necessary to break down food into smaller components in order to be absorbed by the body. Different enzymes are needed to break down different types of food and may decrease with age. For example, the infamous lactase enzyme, which often decreases with age, breaks down the lactose sugar found in dairy products.7
Taking a digestive enzyme supplement can support digestion and overall health in a variety of scenarios. Lack or deficiency of enzyme production can cause indigestion and digestive distress. Research has demonstrated that digestive enzymes can provide statistically significant improvements in abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal complaints.8 Malabsorption of nutrients resulting in nutrient deficiency, despite nutritional therapy, may also be an indication of enzyme deficiency.9
Digestive Enzyme vs Probiotics? Which is best for you?
Taking a closer look at your health goals, in addition to any symptoms you may be experiencing, will provide insight on which supplement may be right for you. If you have Irritable Bowel symptoms such as pain, bloating, or constipation, probiotics may help alleviate the severity of your symptoms.6 However, when considering which probiotic supplement is right for you, it is essential to consider the bacterial strain. Some probiotics contain selected strains in order to elevate various areas of health. For example, a “women’s health” probiotic may contain bacteria strains which have been shown to support healthy vaginal flora.
If you are looking to support optimal digestion and gut health with a probiotic, it is important to choose a bacteria strain that has been clinically tested for its effectiveness. Bacillus Coagulans is a strain of bacteria that has been clinically proven as a safe and effective probiotic for improving abdominal pain and bloating in individuals with irritable bowel syndrome.10,11 There is also convincing research to suggest the resiliency and effectiveness of Bacillus Coagulans in treating uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms.12 Incorporating Nuzest’s Digestive Support Protein into your morning smoothie or oatmeal is an excellent way to reap the benefits of Bacillus Coagulans and support optimal gut health. Nuzest’s Digestive Support Protein contains no artificial sweeteners, gums, or other potential gut irritants, making it an excellent choice for sensitive stomachs.
If you experience digestive discomfort with certain foods such as dairy, enzymes can help facilitate easier digestion.13 Many individuals who cannot digest lactose, benefit from taking a lactase enzyme supplement. Digestive enzymes, and consequently digestive function, can also decrease with age.14 If you experience sensations of heaviness, bloating, sluggishness, and pain, ask your primary care physician about digestive enzymes as a supplement option. Nuzest has designed a Digestive Enzyme Blend that is designed to aid in digestion by helping to break down food and ease nutrient absorption. All Nuzest’s Digestive Enzymes are made with high-potency digestive enzymes, plus they are free of gluten and fillers. The frequency that you use Digestive Enzymes depends on how severe your digestive symptoms are. Taking 2-4 capsules each day, preferably with your largest meals, can help enhance digestion and nutrient absorption.12
Digestive enzyme supplements and probiotics can be helpful for those who experience uncomfortable symptoms such as IBS, constipation, abdominal bloating, indigestion, and acid reflux. Choosing high-quality gut supportive supplements such as Digestive Support Protein and the Digestive Enzymes may support digestive function and gut health. However, it should be noted that managing stress, getting adequate rest, and chewing food thoroughly are of the utmost importance when managing gut dysfunction. Optimizing digestion with healthy lifestyle habits and proper supplementation can promote nutrient absorption, further supporting overall health. For specific questions regarding probiotics or digestive enzymes, please speak to your Healthcare Practitioner.