What Are Digestive Enzymes and How Do They Work?

An enzyme is a form of protein inside a cell. Digestive enzymes are a necessary component of your digestive system. Without them, your body is unable to break down meals and absorb nutrients completely.

Your body's enzymes greatly assist in completing of crucial functions, such as muscle growth, the elimination of impurities, and the breakdown of bits of food during digestion.

Enzymes, for instance, are responsible for good digestion and primarily generates in the pancreas, stomach, and small intestine. However, your salivary glands generate digestive enzymes to begin breaking down food particles while you are still munching. If you have digestive issues, you could also take enzymes as pills.

The shape of an enzyme is associated with its mechanism. Enzymes could be damaged and changed by heat, disease, or hazardous chemical situations. Whenever this occurs, an enzyme fails to function. 

A shortage of digestive enzymes can result in several gastrointestinal (GI) health problems. Even if you eat a healthy diet, it can keep you malnourished. Some medical conditions could also impair the development of digestive enzymes. You can take digestive enzymes prior to meals to support your body procedure more efficiently in that scenario.

What are digestive enzymes?

Your body generates enzymes in the digestive system, which includes the mouth, stomach, and small intestine. The pancreas performs the majority of the functions. Digestive enzymes aid in the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in the body needed to allow for absorption of nutrients and maintain good health.

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency occurs when digestive enzymes are deficient, resulting in poor digestion and malnutrition (EPI). When this occurs, digestive enzyme substitution may be a realistic choice. Some digestive enzymes must be prescribed by a doctor, while others are available over the counter (OTC).

Digestive System

How do digestive enzymes work?

Digestive enzymes substitute natural enzymes by aiding in the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Nutrients are absorbed into your body via the small intestine lining and dispersed via the bloodstream after food is swallowed down. Must take them just before eating because they are designed to mimic your natural enzymes, which allows them to do their work as food enters your stomach and small intestine. They won't be that much good if you don't start taking them with food.

Forms of digestive enzymes

The major forms of enzymes include:


It is present in the salivary glands, small intestine, and pancreas. Ptyalin is a kind of amylase that acts on starches when the food is already in your mouth. It stays active yet after you digest.


The stomach, pancreas, and small intestine generate protease. The majority of chemical reactions take place in the stomach and small intestine. Pepsin is the primary digestive enzyme that attacks protein molecules in the stomach. When protein molecules approach the small intestine, many other pancreatic enzymes get to cooperate.


The pancreas and small intestine generate lipase. Lipids perform various functions, such as long-term storing energy and cellular healthcare. A category of lipase is also found in breast milk to assist a baby digest fat particles more easily while nursing.

Intestinal Wall

What affects enzymes?

Enzymes work much better when your body temperature is normal. The normal body temperature is 98.6°F (37°C), but natural body temperature varies between 97°F and 99°F (36.1°C and 37.2°C).

The configuration of enzymes breaks down when you have a fever and your temperature rises too high. They are no longer functional. Recovering your body temperature to its normal range will aid in the restoration of enzyme wellness.

Certain medical conditions, such as pancreatitis (pancreatic inflammatory disease), harm your pancreas and lessen some digestive enzymes amount and efficiency.

The pH of your gastrointestinal system could also have an impact on enzyme production. Enzymes function better in a relatively narrow pH range. Therefore, the shape and function of an enzyme would struggle if the environment around it becomes too acidic or too basic.

Inhibitors are chemicals that can interact with an enzyme's tendency to relieve a chemical reaction. Antibiotics are an interesting example. They stimulate or prevent certain enzymes from aiding in the transmission of infectious diseases.

Your food intake could also have an impact on your body's enzyme activity because numerous products contain digestive enzymes, which enable you to share the workload of your body's naturally produced enzymes.

Bananas, for instance, contain amylase. So, whereas banana is high in carbs, it also contains amylase, which aids in digestion and allows you to use such carbs for energy afterwards.

Eating enzyme-rich meals can increase your body's enzyme activity. Try to keep the foods with the calorie intake and other nutrition facts in your diet. Aside from your dietary habits, your body's overall fitness will influence how it generates, stores, and releases enzymes and how effectively its enzymes function.

Eating a nutritious diet in reasonable quantities regularly and maintaining a healthy lifestyle will assist your body's enzyme activity to remain more consistent. That because if you overeat on a large meal now and then, you may experience unpleasant side effects such as indigestion, vomiting, or even diarrhoea if you're not using enough enzymes commonly available to improve digestion.

Who needs digestive enzymes?

If you have EPI, you may require digestive enzymes. Few conditions that can cause a lack of digestive enzymes to include:

  • pancreatic or biliary duct clogging or narrowing
  • pancreatitis (chronic)
  • pancreatic surgery
  • benign tumours or pancreatic cysts
  • pancreas cancer
  • diabetes
  • cystic fibrosis 

Digestion could be inefficient and uneasy when you have EPI. It could also cause malnourishment. Signs may occur:

  • bloating
  • cramping after eating
  • floaty yellow, greasy stools
  • diarrhoea
  • excessive gas
  • foul-smelling faeces
  • weight loss even if you eat healthily

Perhaps if you do not have EPI, you may experience difficulty with some foods. Lactose intolerance is a perfect example. Lactase supplements, which are available without a prescription, can aid in the digestion of lactose-containing foods. If you have difficulty eating beans, an alpha-galactosidase supplement may help.

Healthy Digestive System

Natural digestive enzymes

You can find natural digestive enzymes in fruits, vegetables, and other foods. Eating them can help with digestion.

  • Mangoes and bananas contain amylase, which aids in the ripening of the fruit.
  • Honey, especially raw honey, contains amylase and protease.
  • Avocados contain lipase, a digestive enzyme.
  • Papaya contains a protease known as papain.
  • Sauerkraut, also known as fermented cabbage.

Some of these foods may help with digestion if you add them to your diet.

The Bottom Line

Digestive enzymes are necessary for proper nourishment and overall health. They support in the absorption of nutrients from the foods that you eat. Without them, certain types of food can cause unpleasant side effects, digestive problems, or malnutrition.

Some GI disorders can cause an enzyme deficiency, but enzyme replacement could be an efficient approach. Contact your doctor regarding your gastrointestinal symptoms, possible causes, or whether enzyme substitution is a good option. 

However, when you're in good health, eat a healthy plant-based diet. If your doctor thinks your enzyme levels are normal, do not take enzyme supplements in the hopes of becoming even healthier. They can have a negative impact on your metabolic processes.