Is it Safe to Take Digestive Enzyme Supplements?

by Kirstin Hendrickson

About Kirstin Hendrickson

Kirstin Hendrickson is a writer, teacher, coach, athlete and author of the textbook "Chemistry In The World." She's been teaching and writing about health, wellness and nutrition for more than 10 years. She has a Bachelor of Science in zoology, a Bachelor of Science in psychology, a Master of Science in chemistry and a doctoral degree in bioorganic chemistry.

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Digestive enzyme supplements have become quite popular in recent years. You may have heard that they'll help increase your energy levels, prevent diseases or treat symptoms, and even help you lose weight. While these claims aren't backed up by solid science, you can at least rest assured that taking the supplements won't hurt you.

Digestive Enzymes

There are many different misconceptions surrounding digestive enzymes and what they do. In reality, they're very simple molecules; they break down the large nutrient molecules in the foods you eat into smaller nutrient molecules that you can absorb into the bloodstream. This process would happen on its own without the enzymes, but would be very slow -- too slow to allow you to extract all the nutrition from your food -- explains Dr. Lauralee Sherwood in her book "Human Physiology."

Enzyme Supplements

While you need digestive enzymes to help you extract nutrients from your food, you generally don't need to get them from supplements. In fact, supplementing doesn't do you any good in most cases, because digestive enzyme deficiencies are very rare, and because your body has no use for most enzymes other than the ones your own cells make. As a result, there's no reason for most people to take digestive enzyme supplements. The major exception is that if you're lactose intolerant, you will benefit from supplements that contain the enzyme lactase, because they can break down the lactose in dairy products, preventing unpleasant side effects.

Safety

If you're interested in taking supplemental digestive enzymes, however, it's generally safe to do so. Digestive enzymes, like all enzymes, are simply made of protein. Just like the protein in the meat and other foods you eat, your stomach and small intestine will break down the protein in digestive enzyme supplements. This renders the supplemental enzymes completely inert, making them quite harmless to you -- and also utterly useless.

Considerations

One thing you should be aware of when you take supplements of any sort -- digestive enzymes included -- is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates supplements differently than they do food and pharmaceuticals, per the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. Companies that produce supplements aren't under as strict a level of monitoring as pharmaceutical companies are, and it's not unheard of for supplements to be contaminated or contain non-enzyme ingredients that haven't been proven safe. You should always proceed cautiously with regard to dietary supplements, even though the major ingredients -- if pure and isolated -- might be perfectly harmless.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.