Digestive Enzymes vs. Probiotics: What You Need to Know

Did you know that your gut holds nearly 70% of all of your immune system cells?

Your digestive health is directly related to your entire mind and body well-being. So it’s no surprise that your diet, and by extension, your digestion is so closely linked to your overall health.

Two critical elements of your digestive system are digestive enzymes and probiotics. To know how digestive enzymes and probiotics affect you, you first need to understand what digestion is and how it changes as you get older.

What is Digestion and How Does it Change As You Age?

In simple terms, digestion is the way that your body turns food into energy.

It's your body's way of transforming everything you intake into energy you use to perform daily activities.

When you're young and healthy, your digestive system is fast and efficient. All the food and drinks you consume are quickly turned into energy and your digestive system gets rid of everything it can’t use by way of excretion.

 

As you get older, though, your digestion slows down and becomes much less efficient at changing the food you eat into energy. 

By the age of 65 (or earlier), your body's digestive tract will have slowed down substantially, which may lead to:

 

If you want to avoid chronic illnesses and keep your digestive system healthy, you need to have a well-balanced diet, an exercise routine, healthy sleep habits, and an adequate water intake. You may also consider using probiotics.

 

What Are Digestive Enzymes?

Digestive enzymes vs Probiotics: Enzymes text on chalkboard

Digestive enzymes are the proteins that your body uses to make digestion faster and more efficient.

Different enzymes work to break down different types of food. One way to think about digestive enzymes is to visualize a key and a lock. Your digestive enzymes are like keys that open your foods and break them down into pieces that your body can use for energy.

Critical digestive enzymes include:

  • Lipase: Breaks down fatty foods into fatty acids for your body to store for energy
  • Protease: Speeds up the process of breaking proteins into amino acids
  • Amylase: Turns carbs into simple sugars for your body's immediate use.

Without these enzymes, digesting food could take hundreds of years! Ensuring that you have the right number of digestive enzymes is crucial to a healthy gut biome.

What Are Probiotics?

Digestive Enzymes vs Probiotics: Woman explaining probiotics

Probiotics are live organisms, usually yeast and bacteria, that live in your gut and aid in the digestive process.

Bacteria in your body? Yuck! Doesn't that make you sick?

Probiotics are healthy bacteria that can improve regulation in your digestive system. However, there hasn't been a ton of formal scientific research done on probiotic supplements; many users report feeling better after taking them.

 

Here are a few things probiotics might help with:

  • Lower Headache severity
  • Decrease Diarrhea
  • Increase immune system strength

Your body already has probiotics in its system right now. You get probiotics from certain foods like yogurt, kimchi, and pickles.

How Do Enzymes and Probiotics Work Together

Probiotics and digestive enzymes function independently but exist interdependently.

Digestive enzymes break down the foods you eat so that your body can turn that food into energy quickly. On the other hand, probiotics play a more wide-ranging role in the body by stabilizing the digestive system and balancing gut biomes.

A critical difference between the two is that your body can't produce probiotics internally since they are their organisms (yeast or bacteria).

Digestive enzymes are more task-specific in that each has a specific design pattern that fits a particular group of food (carbs, protein, fats).

How Do I Know If I'm Low On Digestive Enzymes?

There are a few different ways to know that you're low on digestive enzymes.

 

You may be low on digestive enzymes if you experience any or all of the following:

  • Stomach cramps after eating
  • Excessive bloating after meals
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Heartburn
  • Headaches or migraines

You may also experience these symptoms as a result of a different medical cause. Please consult a medical expert for a proper diagnosis.

How Do I Know If I'm Low On Probiotics?

It's difficult to know if you're low on gut probiotics exclusively since they help balance several different bodily functions.

 

Here are a few possible signs that you may be low on probiotics:

  • Experiencing mood disorder
  • Persistent gassiness, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or other gut-related issues.
  • Skin or rash issues
  • Drastic weight gain or weight loss
  • Sleep issues

Low probiotics aren't necessarily the cause of any of these symptoms, but they can positively contribute to your body's lack of defense to these symptoms.

Like your immune system, probiotics function as parts of your whole body and serve various functions.

How Can I Get Digestive Enzymes From My Diet?

Your body naturally makes digestive enzymes, but you can supplement your natural digestive enzymes with enzymes you get from certain foods.

Some digestive enzyme-rich foods include:

  • Bananas
  • Ginger
  • Kimchi
  • Honey
  • Avocados
  • Pineapples

Try working these foods into your diet for better digestion and gut health.

How Can I Get Probiotics From My Diet?

Your body does not naturally generate probiotics, so incorporating them into your diet is an essential aspect of a healthy digestive system.

Some probiotic-rich foods include:

  • Kombucha
  • Pickles
  • Kimchi (again!)
  • Cottage cheese

Try spicing up your meals with a side of kimchi or pickled ginger at your next meal.

 Digestive Enzymes vs Probiotics: Picture of kimchi

Are Supplements Right For Me?

If you're unsure whether you're getting enough digestive enzymes and probiotics through your diet, you may consider using supplements.

Supplements are a convenient and accessible way to get your daily vitamins, digestive enzymes, and probiotics.

Here are some things to consider for yourself before consuming supplements:

  • What digestive problems am I currently facing (indigestion, constipation, cramping, etc.)?
  • Do I know what is causing/contributing to these problems (lactose intolerance, gluten sensitivity, etc.)?
  • Am I comfortable researching the best supplements?

Digestive enzymes, probiotics, and nutrients, in general, are best absorbed through the consumption of real foods, but supplements can undoubtedly ease the process, especially if you have specific diet limitations.

Bottom Line

Digestive enzymes and probiotics, although different, are both essential for good digestion and overall health. Without them, you would take years to digest a single meal.