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How To Use Digestive Enzymes (Part 2): Your Guide To Feel Better, Look Amazing, And Smell Good

In my previous post I talked about digestive enzymes and why they’re ‘key’ for supporting healthy digestion and elimination (think freedom from gas, bloating, heartburn, constipation) as well as energy production and relief from cravings. Today, we dive into the world of how to use Digestive Enzymes and Supplementation.

Specifically, what enzymes to take, when to take them, which brands, how much, and how long to use ‘em.

Wondering if it would be wise for you to add digestive enzymes to your day to day routine?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I suffering from some sort of digestive problem? If you’re dealing with gas (this is the not ‘smelling good’ part <ahem> in case you or your nose need a reminder), bloating, heartburn, slow bowel transit (aka: constipation), then you might find digestive enzymes are both efficient and effective at providing you with relief.
  • How’s my energy? If your energy is lagging, it’s quite possible that adding digestive enzymes to your routine, will support your body in the breakdown and absorption of foods – giving you more energy.
  • Do I deal with cravings? Whether you’re eating fresh foods full of redeeming goodness and deal with the occasional cravings, or your food choices are questionable at best and every day is informed by what you’re craving… Digestive enzymes can support your body in getting what it actually needs from the food you’re eating, providing you with welcomed relief from cravings.

What to take:

Basically, you’ve got 2 choices. Plant Enzymes or Animal Based Enzymes.

Usually, the best place to begin is with a general spectrum Plant Enzyme. This will benefit those of you looking for a bit of digestive ‘insurance’, as well as those of you at the other end of the spectrum (ex: popping the little purple pill to squelch your stomach acid, or perhaps you’re always within arms reach of a bottle of chewable antacids).

Plant Enzymes:

Broad spectrum plant enzymes are a front runner when it comes to digestive support. They’re safe and consistently effective. This is where I most often have my clients begin.

These support healthy digestion and elimination by packing a punch when it comes to breaking down a whole slew of food structures.

This is a partial list of enzymes commonly found in plant based formulas:

  • Protease => breaks down protein
  • Amylase => breaks down carbohydrates
  • Lipase => breaks down fat
  • Cellulase => breaks down cellulose (plant fiber)
  • Lactase => breaks down milk sugar (lactose)
  • Papain => breaks down protein; derived from the latex of papayas
  • Bromelain => breaks down protein; derived from the stem of pineapples
  • Alpha Galactosidase => breaks down often hard to digest plant foods like beans, greens (especially cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower)

Plant Enzymes begin supporting digestion the minute they combine with food, and continue to support digestion as they move from your stomach into your small intestines. Extra bonus – they offer a nice adjunct to your body’s own naturally produced enzymes (which allows your body to focus additional enzyme production on body processes separate from digestion).

If you’re looking to support the digestion of a particular food, be sure you take a formula that has enzymes to ‘unlock’ that particular food.

Ex: You like eating vegetables, however you find that broccoli is your digestive nemesis, in particular you seem to ‘toot like a train’ after you eat it – whether it’s raw or cooked. Be sure to take a formula that includes amylase, cellulase, and alpha-galactosidase. These enzymes are key to support the breakdown of this food.

If cravings are your reason for taking plant enzymes, take a formula that supports your body in breaking down the ACTUAL nutrient (or nutrients) your body is asking for.

Ex: Let’s say you LOVE fatty foods. Butter. Cream. Potato chips. Fried foods. In this case, you’d want to take a product with extra Lipase to offer additional support for the breakdown of fats (this can be a key factor for those of you that might have had your gallbladder removed and like fatty foods but find you can’t eat them anymore).

Once your body is able to effectively digest the fat in your food (and supplements), you might very well find yourself free from the grips of your cravings. How cool is that?!

Important to note: Learning how to use enzymes can be an important step in alleviating cravings, especially if your craving has to do with protein or fat. That said, deconstructing cravings can be a helluva lot more complex. So, if cravings are what you’re REALLY dealing with, then hit me up so we can look at the big picture and get you some SERIOUS relief.

Animal Based Enzymes:

Sourced from animal glands and organs (pigs and cows). In my experience, animal based enzymes are useful if someone is consuming a high amount of protein. Usually, there are other digestive adjuncts such as HCl (hydrochloride) in animal based enzyme formulas, which is intended to further support digestion by boosting acidity (contrary to what many people may think, boosting stomach acidity is often what is needed when ‘heart burn’ is an issue).

Here is a partial list of enzymes commonly found in animal based enzyme supplements:

  • Pancreatin: breaks down protein, carbohydrates and fats; produced in the pancreas
  • Pepsin: breaks down protein so it can be further digested by pancreatic enzymes; produced in the stomach
  • Trypsin: breaks down protein; found in the first part of the small intestine immediately beyond the stomach (duodenum).
  • Chymotrypsin: breaks down protein; produced in the pancreas and is activated in the small intestine.

Brain Pause Moment: *phew* I know that’s a lot of technical jargon. Truth is, you don’t need to ‘know’ any of the above. I’ve included it for those of you that are like me, in that you sometimes like to ‘geek out’ on this stuff. *high five!* Onward…

When to take:

You’ve got two options, you can take enzymes with meals, or away from meals. WHEN you take enzymes will alter how they work in your body.

If you take with meals, enzymes will support digestion.

  • Take 15 minutes before, up to the beginning of your meal
  • In the middle of your meal
  • Right after you eat.

I’ve learned how to use my digestive enzymes at the beginning or sometime during my meal based upon what I’m eating and what will best support my body. Here’s the thing – don’t fret about the timing. Get your enzymes ‘in’ with your food and see what you notice. Your body is wicked smart, and as long as you get these in around meal time, it will know what to do.

If you take your enzymes between meals, they will shift to support other body processes.

This is something people usually do to reduce body inflammation and increase the body’s natural healing processes. This might be useful if you’re an athlete looking for post workout support, or in some cases if you’re dealing with body inflammation as a whole.

Heads up: Enzyme formulas for this purpose can be pricey. For now, if this is what you’re wanting to use supplemental enzymes for, and you’d like some direction around what/when/how much to use, message me and let me know how I can support you.

Which brands are best?

Ok. Let’s talk brands. People can get REALLY attached to their favorite brands of supplements. Even I have some ‘fav’ products. Fact of the matter, there are a lot of cool companies with great products that you can trust. AND, there are MANY places to buy them.

  • Health care practitioners often have product lines they recommend that are high quality
  • Many Natural Foods stores have hefty supplement sections, often with educated and informed staff to help you choose what is best for you
  • Mainstream grocery stores will often have a decent selection of products to choose from
  • Online I’ve found VitaCost and All Star Health have competitive pricing, and usually free shipping

It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the VOLUME of options. So, in the name of ‘ease, relief, and clarity’…

Here are some of the digestive enzymes that I most often recommend to my clients:

Plant Enzymes

  • NOW Brand Plant Enzymes: In the world of cars, this supplement is like a Toyota Corolla, as it’s both economical (around $10 for the regular size bottle) and reliable. Usually, this is where I will start a client.
  • Enzymedica Digest Basic or Digest: Both of these products are more like a Toyota Camry. Smoother ride. Bigger ‘carrying capacity’. The difference between the two? The ‘Digest Basic’ formula is like a Camry with fabric seats, while the ‘Digest’ has leather seats and a moon roof.
  • Enzymedica Digest Gold: This product is more like a Lexus. Still a Toyota frame. But with a number of added bells and whistles. It costs more, and you definitely get a more luxurious product.

Is the Lexus a better car (is this third option a better supplement than the other two)? Maybe. And the ‘Corolla’ and ‘Camry’ will get you around town just fine. I like all of these products and encourage you to experiment (be it with these products or others) and see which ones your body most prefers.

How much to take:

A simple place to begin, is to follow what the bottle says. And, sometimes the labels can be rather vague. So, here are some things to consider:

  • Pay attention to your body. If one capsule or tablet isn’t doing it, take more. You’ll know things are working, because you’ll experience a decrease in gas, bloating, heartburn, etc.
  • Supplemental enzymes can make an immediate difference for many. And, I suggest you take them consistently for 3 days, at which point if you’re not noticing any shift, then increase your dose for another 3 days. If still no shift – you can increase dose again, or shift to a different product. The cool thing about enzymes – they work – or they don’t. No ambiguity here (remember the car and key analogy from my previous post?).
  • If you’re sensitive to supplements, then start with a low dose and increase from there. Although enzymes are necessary and super useful, your body might not be used to getting a mega dose in pill form. Too much of a good thing, is still too much. If this is you, then give your body up to a week to adapt, before you play with your dosages.
  • There are some people that have compromised digestion and may have an issue with digesting a capsule or a tablet. If you’re someone that falls into this category, you can open the digestive enzyme capsule and add the powder to a small amount of water or juice. Or buy a powdered formula to begin with.

How long to take:

Digestive enzymes are what I call a ‘foundational supplement’. They support your body in numerous ways, and I usually recommend enzymes be taken consistently – daily and with all meals for most, until you experience consistent results. Eventually, the idea is to reach a point where you can take digestive enzymes as needed.

That said, there are some that say, your body produces fewer enzymes as you age and that supplementing with digestive enzymes for a lifetime is essential if you are to feel your best. You might be surprised to know – I don’t altogether agree with this when it comes to digestive enzymes.

When looking at ‘how long to take’ enzymes, look to see which one of the following best describes you:

  1. Take ‘em always: For some of you, this will be an AMAZING ‘upgrade’ to what you’re currently using to handle your digestive issues (ex: acid blocking medications and antacids). If you’re happy with the results of adding a digestive enzyme to your routine, and you’re not interested at this time in shifting other things (food, lifestyle), then you’re likely to be someone that will benefit by taking enzymes over the long haul.
  2. Take ‘em as needed: This is likely you if you tend to eat well, or at least have an awareness around what eating well looks like *wink*. You realize that food and lifestyle choices support your body and digestive tract, and that supplemental enzymes are a safe and supportive adjunct to your routine. In particular, you’ve learned which brands and formulas work best for your body, and you know when you do and don’t need them.

So let’s take this from conceptual, to ‘on the court’, as I give you a glimpse into my personal routine:

  • I usually take 1-2 of the NOW brand Plant Enzymes at the beginning of my meals. And if ever you have cause to dine with me, I’ll likely offer you an enzyme or two as well (cuz that’s how I roll).
  • When I eat out, I will often take 1 tablet of Nature’s Plus Ultra-Zyme (not listed above) in addition to my Plant Enzymes. This is an animal based enzyme with a low dose of HCl (Hydro Chloride) which works well to boost my stomach acid production. I especially notice this makes a difference if my meal is high in protein and fat.
  • There are times, I don’t take any enzymes at all. I’m a firm believer that the body does well to have a break from pills and potions. And sometimes, it’s ok to simply – eat – my – food.
  • That said, if I’m under a deadline at work, or I’m eating more meals out than at home, then yep, supplemental enzymes are a definite ‘go-to’.

Wrapping things up:

Digestive enzymes can be super useful. Yet, with all of the different enzymes – different purposes – and different brands…it can be a lot to ‘figure out’. My suggestion for those of you that are interested in giving enzymes a whirl: jump in, start experimenting, and have some fun with them! And if you feel nervous about doing this or you’re not quite sure where to begin and you’d like some guidance, drop me a message.

To your Brilliance!


PS. Wanna get your groove on with enzymes lickety split? AWESOME! Get started here.

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Hi! I'm Annemarie

I DIG empowering people to discover their body and its brilliance, using smart, intriguing, and pioneering nutrition.

When I'm not busy swooning over the Colorado mountains, I'm working with clients, speaking at events, and kickin' it online sharing about deconstructing cravings, loving your body, and feeling fanTAStic.

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