November, 2022 - Science Nutrition Lab

Digestive Enzyme Deficiency: Symptoms & Solutions

Your gut needs digestive enzymes to break down the foods you eat. If you have digestive enzyme insufficiency, then you may experience a range of digestive health issues.

Digestive enzyme supplements have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years.

Digestive enzyme supplement companies advertise their products as a way to target gut irritation, heartburn, bloating, and other digestive health issues.

Today, we’re explaining everything you need to know about digestive enzyme deficiency, including symptoms of digestive enzyme insufficiency problems and science-backed solutions.

How Digestive Enzymes Work

Digestive enzymes are proteins that break down food in your gut. Your body produces these proteins in response to the foods you eat. They play a critical role in digestion.

If you have inadequate levels of digestive enzymes, then your body could struggle to break down food, extract the nutritional value of the food you eat, and maximize the energy of the food you consume.

Here are the basics of digestive enzymes and how they work, as explained by Johns Hopkins:

  • Your body creates digestive enzymes naturally. Digestive enzymes are proteins that break down food and help with the digestive process.
  • Your body starts to produce digestive enzymes immediately after you start eating food. Digestion begins in the mouth.
  • Your saliva starts to break down food immediately, easing the strain on the rest of your digestive system.
  • As food travels through your mouth and into your digestive tract, your body releases enzymes at various points throughout the process.
  • Your pancreas produces the most important digestive enzymes, including the enzymes that break down carbs, proteins, and fats.
  • Your small intestine, mouth, and stomach also produce other digestive enzymes.

Symptoms of Digestive Enzyme Deficiency

For various reasons, your body may fail to produce sufficient levels of digestive enzymes. You may have problems with your pancreas, for example, making it difficult for your body to break down fats, carbs, and proteins.

Common symptoms of digestive enzyme deficiency include:

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Oily stools
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Belly pain or cramps

Sometimes, these symptoms are a sign of enzyme deficiency. Your body, for various reasons, may not be producing enough enzymes to break down the foods you eat. However, if these symptoms persist, you should talk to a doctor, as they could be a sign of a more serious medical condition.

Common Digestive Enzymes and Digestive Enzyme Supplement Ingredients

Your body produces amylase to break down complex carbs, and it produces lipase to break down fats. These enzymes and others play a crucial role in the digestive process.

Here are some of the most common digestive enzymes produced by your body – and the most popular digestive enzyme supplement ingredients:

Amylase: Your mouth and pancreas produce amylase to help break down complex carbs.

Lipase: Your pancreas creates lipase to break down fats.

Protease: Your pancreas creates protease to break down proteins.

Lactase: Various parts of your digestive system create lactase to break down lactose, which is the sugar in milk and other dairy products.

Sucrase: Various parts of your digestive system create sucrase to break down sucrose, a common type of sugar found in many foods.

Digestive Enzyme Insufficiency Conditions

If your mouth, pancreas, small intestine, and stomach cannot produce sufficient digestive enzymes, then you might have one of several digestive enzyme insufficiency conditions.

Some of the most common conditions linked to enzyme insufficiency include:

Congenital Sucrase-Isomaltose Deficiency: If your body isn’t producing enough sucrase to digest certain sugars, then you may have congenital sucrase-isomaltose deficiency.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI): If your pancreas cannot produce enough enzymes to digest carbs, proteins, and fats, then you may have EPI.

Lactose Intolerance: Many people are naturally lactose intolerance because they body doesn’t produce enough lactase, making it difficult to digest the sugar found in milk and dairy products.

Causes of Digestive Enzyme Deficiency

You may develop a digestive enzyme deficiency condition for various reasons – including genetic reasons, lifestyle factors, and other causes. Certain medical conditions also make it difficult for your body to produce digestive enzymes.

Some of the most common causes of digestive enzyme deficiency include:

  • Genetic causes
  • Lifestyle factors
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Cystic fibrosis (roughly 90% of people with cystic fibrosis have pancreatic enzyme insufficiency)
  • Gastrointestinal surgeries
  • Pancreatic cancer, chronic pancreatitis, and other conditions that disrupt your pancreas

Even if your parents have a healthy gut, you may have genetic factors increasing the risk of enzyme deficiency. Some genetic factors are present at birth and become worse over time, for example.

How to Support Digestive Enzyme Production

Many people take digestive enzyme supplements daily to support gut health and digestive enzyme production.

Here are some of the best and most science-backed ways to support digestive enzyme production and support overall gut health:

Digestive Enzyme Supplements: Digestive enzyme supplements are available over-the-counter, and they claim to help with gas, bloating, diarrhea, acid reflux, and other conditions. Digestive enzyme supplements clearly label their ingredients upfront, and most contain a blend of protease, lipase, amylase, and other common digestive enzymes.

Prescription Digestive Enzymes: If your doctor diagnosed an enzyme deficiency, then they may recommend a prescription-strength digestive enzyme formula. The FDA has approved pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT), and it’s the most popular digestive enzyme deficiency treatment recommended by doctors today. PERT can help your body with protease, amylase, and lipase production to break down proteins, complex carbs, and fats.

Lactase Supplements: If you are lactose intolerant, then a lactase supplement could help you eat dairy products with limited side effects. Lactase supplements give your body the digestive enzymes needed to break down lactose, the main sugar in dairy.

Alpha Galactosidase Supplements: Alpha galactosidase is one digestive enzyme your body cannot produce on its own – even if you have no digestive enzyme production issues. Your body needs this enzyme to break down galactooligosaccharides (GOS), a type of non-absorbable fiber.

Digestive-Enzyme Rich Foods: Some natural health experts recommend eating more pineapples and avocados because they’re rich with digestive enzymes. It’s true avocado and pineapple contain digestive enzymes (including bromelain). However, there’s little evidence they can specifically help with digestive enzyme production. Instead, it’s better to follow a balanced, whole food diet to support your body’s natural production of digestive enzymes overall. Avoid processed foods, fried foods, and fatty foods to help your body maximize digestive enzyme production.

As Johns Hopkins explains, most healthy people don’t need to take digestive enzyme supplements because their bodies produce digestive enzymes naturally. However, people with digestive enzyme insufficiency issues could benefit from talking to a doctor about digestive enzyme treatments and supplements.

Final Word

Digestive enzyme insufficiency can lead to bloating, gas and other issues.

By spotting the signs of digestive enzyme problems early, you can talk to a doctor for the help you need – whether it’s in the form of pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT) or digestive enzyme supplements.

10 Common Signs of an Unhealthy Gut – and 5 Proven Strategies to Help

Millions of people have gut health problems.

Common signs of an unhealthy gut include bloating, indigestion, heartburn, constipation, and diarrhea.

However, gut health problems can also lead to lesser-known symptoms like sleep problems, sugar cravings, depression, anxiety, and skin rashes.

Today, we’re highlighting some of the most common signs of an unhealthy gut – and 5 proven strategies you can use to support gut health.

1) Constipation, Diarrhea, Bloating, and Other Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Symptoms

We’ll start with obvious gut health problems: if you regularly experience constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and other IBS symptoms, then it could be a sign of poor gut health. These issues are not normal, and they could be a sign of IBS or other diagnosable gut health conditions.

2) Skin Irritation, Rashes, Psoriasis, and Other Conditions

Have you noticed skin rashes, acne, and other visible signs of skin problems in recent years? It could be a sign of gut health. Many skin conditions are traced back to bacteria in your gut. If you have an excessive balance of bad bacteria relative to good bacteria, then it could increase your risk of psoriasis and other skin conditions.

3) Autoimmune Conditions

Some research suggests around 70% of your immune system is linked to your gut. Your gut plays a critical role in immunity. It can prevent negative substances from entering your body, filter problematic ingredients out of your body, and ensure your immune system functions optimally. Over time, poor gut health can lead to chronic inflammation, which increases the risk of autoimmune conditions. Autoimmune conditions occur when your body attacks itself instead of harmful pathogens. Common autoimmune conditions include celiac disease, Graves disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes.

4) High Stress

Do you have a stressful life? Have you recently faced stress in your personal or professional life? High stress could worsen gut health. And, poor gut health could make stress worse. As your body becomes more stressed, it impedes digestion. As your digestion becomes worse, you become more stressed as your body struggles to absorb nutrients and break down the foods you’re eating. Over time, poor digestion is also linked to depression, anxiety, and other conditions.

5) Cravings for Sweet, Sugary, Fatty, or Unhealthy Foods

Do you frequently crave sweet, sugary, or fatty foods? Don’t blame poor self-control; instead, many people have excessive cravings because of gut health issues. Some people experience sugar cravings because of gut health problems, for example. Imbalanced gut microbiota can encourage you to reach for unhealthy foods in your kitchen.

6) Unexplained Weight Gain or Weight Loss

Have you lost or gained weight recently without a significant change to your diet or exercise program? Poor gut health may be to blame. Some unexplained weight gain and weight loss is linked to poor gut health. Your body may be struggling to absorb nutrients from the foods you eat. Or, leaky gut could cause excessive toxins to enter your body, making it harder to lose weight.

7) Fatigue, Low Energy, or Sluggishness

Gu health problems can lead to energy issues. If you frequently feel tired, have excessive lethargy, or lack motivation throughout the day, then your gut could be at fault. Your gut may be struggling to process food into energy, for example. Or, it could be spending so much energy digesting your food that there’s little energy leftover for you.

8) Difficulty Sleeping

If you have bad gut health, you’re more likely to have a bad sleep. Poor gut health makes it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, and enjoy a restful sleep. You might wake up in the middle of the night due to poor gut health. Or, you could fail to enter the deep sleep or REM cycles of sleep because of your gut health problems.

9) Mood Imbalances & Irritability

Your gut health plays a crucial role in mood. If you’ve been struggling with mood imbalances, irritability, or other issues lately, then your gut could be to blame. Your gut plays a critical role in your sense of wellbeing. Multiple studies have shown a connection between gut health, depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

10) Chronic Fatigue, Depression, Anxiety, and Other Unexplained Mood Disorders

If your mood issues progress to a point where you’re dealing with chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, and other unexplained disorders, then gut health could be to blame. Many people with depression and anxiety have perfectly healthy guts. However, numerous studies have connected gut health to depression, anxiety, and other disorders.

5 Science-Backed Ways to Support Your Gut

You can support gut health using various proven strategies. Although serious gut disorders require medical diagnosis and treatment, you could support gut health by eliminating certain foods, taking specific supplements, and drinking more water, among other strategies.

Here are some of the best, most science-backed ways to support your gut:

Eat Probiotic-Rich Foods: Probiotic supplements are more popular than ever. However, many experts recommend focusing on probiotic-rich foods instead of probiotic supplements. Kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, and yogurt are all rich with billions of colony forming units (CFUs) of probiotic bacteria. Your gut needs these bacteria to break down the food you eat, extract their nutritional value, and maintain regular digestion.

Eat More Prebiotics: 95% of Americans don’t get their daily recommended intake of fiber. That’s a problem, because fiber is a valuable prebiotic. Your body needs fiber to fuel the probiotic bacteria in your gut. Eat more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains to supply your gut bacteria with the prebiotic fuel needed to support good digestion.

Drink More Water: Many people experience relief from certain gut health symptoms just by adding more water to their diet. This tip is particularly important if you drink a lot of soda, coffee, supplement drinks, or other beverages. In many cases, your gut simply need water to support good digestion.

Eat Slowly: Your digestive system can only process so much food at once. If you chew slowly, you give your gut more time to catch up to your mouth. Eating slowly breaks food into slower parts. Studies also show eating slowly can lower the risk of obesity and similar conditions.

Consider Seeing a Doctor: Sometimes, you do everything right but still experience symptoms of gut health problems. Consider seeing a doctor for gut health recommendations from a medical professional. The gut health problems listed above could be signs of a serious condition.

Final Word

Your gut health is crucial for overall health. From immunity to skin health to energy to mood, your gut is more valuable than you may think.

Learn to spot symptoms of gut health before they become serious. By spotting gut health issues today, you can tackle them as soon as possible.

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