Probiotics and enzymes often get lumped together into the same category. After all, they both promote health by targeting the gut. Actually, probiotics and digestive enzymes are two very different substances in our body,
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are living “friendly” microorganisms that provide numerous health benefits. They’re usually bacteria, but certain types of yeasts can also function as probiotics. Fermented food, such as yogurt, some cheeses and some pickled vegetables contain probiotics. You can also get probiotics from supplements.
Probiotics should not be confused with prebiotics, which are dietary fibers that help feed the friendly bacteria already in your gut .
The most common groups include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Each group comprises different species. Different probiotics address different health conditions. Therefore, choosing the right type of probiotic is essential.
Some supplements, known as broad-spectrum probiotics or multi-probiotics, combine different species in the same product.
Probiotics work by changing the composition of your gut bacteria or the metabolic activity of existing bacteria. The good bacteria crowd out the bad in your intestine. Probiotics may help your digestion and enable your body to extract nutrients from your food. Good bacteria may also produce enzymes or proteins that inhibit, or even kill, harmful bacteria. Specific strains of probiotics also stimulate your immune system. Sometimes doctors may advise you to use probiotics when taking antibiotics to combat a specific infection. This is because antibiotics kill off some useful bacteria along with the bad, which may cause diarrhea. Probiotics help maintain or restore a healthy balance in your gut.
In addition to their impact on weight loss and digestion, probiotics may also improve heart health, immune function and symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Probiotics are generally well tolerated and considered safe for most people. However, in the first few days, you may experience side effects related to digestion, such as gas and mild abdominal discomfort. After you adjust, your digestion should begin improving.
What are enzymes?
Enzymes are proteins (chains of amino acids) that drive chemical reactions in the body. Digestive enzymes, produced in the pancreas, help break down food into simpler compounds, making them more available for the body to process and absorb. The major enzyme groups you might have heard of include proteases and peptidases that break down proteins, lipases that break down fats, and amylases that break down starches and sugars.
Certain foods, like raw fruits and vegetables, contain plant enzymes that assist with their own digestion. Raw dairy contains enzymes that help break down milk sugars, which are often difficult to digest. Enzymes are very sensitive to their environment, and heat can destroy the enzymes present in the food we eat. Temperatures as low as Fahrenheit 100° can start to impact enzymes. So when you consume cooked, pasteurized, and processed foods, you are missing out on the naturally occurring enzymes that would help you to digest and break those foods down.
When should I take probiotics and digestive enzymes?
Enzymes and probiotics perform similar functions in the body, but there may be instances where you will benefit more from one or the other. For example, if you’ve recently finished a round of antibiotics, probiotics will serve you better than digestive enzymes. On the other hand, if you’re lactose intolerant, you will probably see more improvement from adding a digestive enzyme supplement containing lactase, as this would help your body to break down the sugars in milk.
While they each have their own benefits, you don’t necessarily have to choose between them. Both digestive enzymes and probiotics support healthy digestive and immune systems, and there are many foods that contain both, including yogurt and fermented vegetables. We recommend trying to get as many enzymes and probiotics from natural food sources as possible, though, of course, this isn’t always easy to do in today’s world.
Due to our modern lifestyles, even the healthiest eater may not be able to consume enough probiotics and enzymes through diet alone. Many factors—such as stress, processed foods, medications, and antibiotics in food and as medicine—can deplete the good bacteria in our body and cause our enzyme production to take a dive. This is why health experts recommend supplementing with digestive enzymes and a high-quality probiotic.
Signs you may need probiotics or enzymes
If you experience these signs, talk to your doctor for your probiotics needs:
- Gas, bloating, heartburn
- Constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Yeast infections
- Fungal infections
- Skin disorders and allergies
- Autoimmune conditions
The following signs indicate that enzymes may benefit you:
- Gas, feeling heavy, bloated, sluggish after meals
- Bacterial overgrowth in small intestine
- Trouble digesting fatty foods
- Skin rashes, acne, and eczema
- Brain fog, headaches, and mood swings
Did you know?
Although yogurt is made with bacterial cultures, not all yogurts contain viable probiotics by the time they make it to store shelves. Some yogurts are heat-treated after fermentation, which can kill the live cultures that were used to make them. You’ll need to read the label of your yogurt to make sure it contains live, active cultures.
Probiotic supplements deliver carefully measured daily servings of probiotics in much higher concentrations, and without the extra calories from eating yogurt.
Some of them do, but it isn’t as common as it used to be. The need for refrigeration will vary from product to product, so it’s important to read the label. If the label doesn’t say anything about refrigeration, you can assume that it is shelf-stable and refrigeration isn’t needed.
Common species of probiotics
Bifidobacteria are y-shaped healthy bacteria found in your intestines that help digest fiber, prevent infections and produce important healthy chemicals. They limit the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestine, help in breaking down lactose into nutrients the body can use.
This species of bacteria produces lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose, or milk sugar. These bacteria also produce lactic acid. Lactic acid helps control the population of bad bacteria. It also serves as muscle fuel and increases the body’s absorption of minerals.
Common strains of probiotics
This strain is helpful in aiding digestion and fighting food-borne bacteria. It helps boost your immune system.
This strain lives in your digestive tract and in the vagina. In both places, it fights off infection-causing bacteria, or yeast. It helps your body absorb nutrients by fermenting sugars. It also breaks down plant fiber to make it digestible.
Lactis is from raw milk. It also serves as a starter for buttermilk and cottage cheese.
This strain lives in your gastrointestinal tract. It helps break down carbohydrates and also can be an antioxidant.
In the small intestine and in the vagina, you can find L. acidophilus. It helps digestion and may help fight off vaginal bacteria. You can usually find it in yogurt and fermented soy products.
This strain is found in the intestine and mouth. One study showed that it decreased the oral bacteria that cause tooth decay. It’s also thought to help the digestive system.
Types of enzymes
Amylase is an enzyme, found chiefly in saliva and pancreatic fluid, that converts starch and glycogen into simple sugars.
A lipase is any enzyme that catalyzes the hydrolysis of fats. Lipases are a subclass of the esterases. Lipases perform essential roles in digestion, transport and processing of dietary lipids in most, if not all, living organisms.
Protease, or peptidase, breaks the long chainlike molecules of proteins into shorter fragments (peptides) and eventually into their components, amino acids.
Our pick of the best probiotics supplements:
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Our pick of the best probiotics supplements: