Besides the usual nutritional supplement superstars, such as creatine and whey protein, there are a host of other lesser-known supplements that are often touted for their alleged health benefits. One such supplement is digestive enzyme supplements. They have been around for years, based on the assumption that they will significantly improve digestion, and ease such digestive problems as bloating, gas, and other digestive upsets. And it does make sense when you consider the digestive process of foods. All macronutrients in food, such as protein, fats, and carbohydrates, are broken down by specific digestive enzymes produced mainly in the pancreas. Thus, there are digestive enzymes that work only on sugars and starches, while others will only interact with fats and protein. A fat-digesting enzyme will not do anything to help digest protein, and vice-versa. Enzymes are very specific, working in a lock and key type of way. For this reason, various diets that have promulgated "food combining" for maximum health and digestive benefits have been nonsensical. Eating carbs with protein will not interfere with the uptake of either nutrient, since the digestive enzymes can break down both in complete harmony. There is no conflict, like many purveyors of various food combining diets falsely claim.
The notion that using a digestive enzyme supplement may improve digestion is appealing to those engaged in exercise or sports. After all, this would mean that you could consume nutrients such as protein, fat, and carbs and derive maximum nutritional benefit from them. But the question is: are digestive enzyme supplements really needed, and will they work as advertised?
Doctors have been prescribing pharmaceutical forms of digestive enzymes for years, mainly to treat problems related to pancreatic function. Since the pancreas produces most of the digestive enzymes in the body, if something is wrong with that organ, not enough "digestive juice" will be produced, and this will indeed result in problems with digesting food. These drug forms of digestive enzymes include enzymes specific for protein, fats, and carbs, along with ox bile, which helps to emulsify fat, and thus make it more amenable to digestion. In the body, eating fat stimulates the release of a gut hormone called CCK, which then stimulates the gallbladder to contract and secrete bile. The bile decreases the surface area of the consumed fat particles, which makes them open to further breakdown by specific fat-digesting enzymes called lipases. As a point of note, you also need this same bile flow to be able to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E. and K. As such, if you wish maximum uptake of these nutrients, you would be well-advised to consume them with either a meal containing some fat, or a small amount of added fat eaten in conjunction with taking the vitamins. Ingesting vitamin D with a small . . .