Hemicellulase. Pectinase. Xylanase.
No, these are not Harry Potter spells - they're enzymes!
The names of digestive enzymes may be a mouthful, but there’s no doubt these tiny guys are the heroes of your GI tract. And when your body is running low on them, you’re going to notice.
Quick Recap: What are Digestive Enzymes?
Found all the way from your salivary glands to your small intestine, they’re the microscopic strands of proteins held together by amino acids that help your body get what it needs from food.
When those food molecules are broken down, they are effectively converted into something else that your body can readily use. For example, here are the big three:
- Amylase converts carbohydrates and starches into sugars for energy
- Lipase takes the fat and triglycerides you eat and converts them into essential fatty acids, used for an abundance of functions in the body
- Lactase targets lactose (a sugar found in dairy products) and converts it into other types of sugars
And the best part?
If you’re not producing enough naturally, supplements are a great way to keep things in check. So if you’re curious if supplements are the right choice for you, you’ll need the facts on when and how they work best.
Spoiler Alert: Taking enzyme supplements at the wrong time can mean they won’t work as effectively as they should.
Luckily, we have you covered on the right time to take them. Below we'll explain how and when to take digestive enzymes for maximum efficiency.
Can I Take Them on an Empty Stomach?
The short answer is no. Not if you want them to work properly.
Digestive enzymes are literally designed to break down food, That’s their only job, and each one caters to a different type of molecule. So, taking your enzyme supplements on an empty stomach means they won’t have anything to kick them into action, unfortunately.
No food means the enzymes have nothing to do. And that’s just boring.
Be supplement smart! The best time to take your enzymes is right before, or right as you start eating. When in doubt, check the label. Usually anywhere from 30 minutes to right before you eat is ideal.
And if you really want to maximize the efficiency of your supplements, take specific ones with their intended food. For example, take lactase when you’re eating or drinking dairy products, or amylase when eating carbohydrates (hello, pasta party.)
Can I Take Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes at the Same Time?
You sure can. Probiotics and digestive enzymes are different things and do different things, so it’s totally OK to take them together. In fact, it’s a great idea — they work awesome as a team.
Here’s how they’re complementary:
Probiotics are live microorganisms and are generally described as the “good” bacteria in our gut. They help maintain the right balance of what’s called flora in our bodies (basically the mix of good and bad bacteria.)
They’re a part of an entire network in our bodies called our microbiome, which is tied to digestion, the immune system, mood balance, essential nutrient creation. And it plays a role in allergic reactions as well as viral, bacterial, fungal and yeast infections.
Digestive enzymes, on the other hand, are long-chain proteins. They also work in your gut, but their job is to break down food so you can absorb the nutrients in what you eat.
Think of them as catalysts to help your body digest things properly. They stimulate chemical reactions, many of which are crucial to breaking down food your both otherwise couldn’t.
Different jobs, but both very important. So go ahead and take your probiotics and enzymes at the same time! Your body will thank you.
How Long Does It Take Them to Work?
The great thing about digestive enzymes is all they need to start working is food.
They’ll start to break down food molecules as soon as they come into contact with them. You should start to notice benefits within a few days!
And remember: Your enzymes are only as good as what you feed them. In order to get the most out of them, make sure your diet is filled with nutrient-rich foods to help them do their thing.
How Often Should I Take Them?
Every day! If you’re experiencing chronic digestive issues like cramping, bloating, or gas, it usually means that your body is out of sorts — something isn’t working the way it’s supposed to.
And often, problems in our guts manifest in unexpected ways like headaches, acne, and memory problems. When in doubt, look to your digestion.
Your body, once it heals itself, will continue to naturally produce enzymes. So, taking supplements is just helping things out a bit. It can take upwards of 6 months for your gut to regulate itself, so taking your supplements daily is recommended.
Basically, while they can be a smart addition to your meals, digestive enzymes aren’t meant to be a permanent part of your routine; once your body has recovered and your gut is able to produce a healthier number of enzymes naturally, you can start to take less.
Listen to your body (and talk to your doctor) to figure out what’s right for you.
And the next time you enjoy a meal, be thankful for those little protein strands — even if they are hard to pronounce.