Do I Need to Take Digestive Enzymes?

If you could pop a pill for better digestion, reduced bloating, and increased nutrient absorption, you would be tempted, right?

These are the promises made by companies selling digestive enzymes, a growing category of supplements which may help the body break down compounds in food.

But the promises often go beyond helping digestive issues, with claims extending to weight loss, clearer thinking, a flatter stomach, and even the ability to eat foods you are allergic to.

What are digestive enzymes?

“Digestive enzymes are proteins your body produces and uses to break down food into energy and nutrients,” says US registered dietitian and nutrition writer, Christy Brissette.

Once you start eating, your body releases many digestive enzymes. Some are made in the mouth, others in the stomach and small intestine, but most come from your pancreas.

Some enzymes you may have heard of include amylase, which breaks down starches, protease, which breaks down protein, and lipase which helps break down fat. Lactase is another, which breaks down lactose, the sugar in milk and diary foods.

Once broken down into small molecules, these nutrients are absorbed through the wall of the small intestine and into your bloodstream.


When you do not have enough enzymes

Sometimes the body does not make enough digestive enzymes, meaning it cannot break down certain foods and absorb nutrients. People with conditions affecting the pancreas, such as pancreatitis and cystic fibrosis, often need to take prescription digestive enzymes which help the body digest food and absorb nutrients better.

Some people with diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, uncontrolled coeliac disease, or following weight loss surgery may also need digestive enzymes.

“When your body does not produce enough of certain digestive enzymes, undigested compounds can make their way into your large intestine and cause unpleasant symptoms,” says Brissette.

These include gas, belly pain or cramps, bloating, oily stools and unexplained weight loss. If you have any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to a lack of enzymes. Talk to your doctor as they could be signs of gut irritation or a more serious condition.


Should I take them “just in case’?

“Unless you have a digestive enzyme production issue, you do not need to take digestive enzyme supplements,” says Canadian registered dietitian Abby Langer.

“Taking more digestive enzymes via supplementation does not help you break down or absorb your food better if your enzyme levels from your own body are not low.

“That being said, there are two more common digestive enzyme supplements that are more routinely used,” says Langer.

“Lactase for lactase deficiency which results in lactose intolerance, and alpha-galactosidase, which nobody’s body makes, but is the main ingredient in the product ‘Beano’. This enzyme can potentially help break down fermentable carbohydrates in foods like beans and vegetables,” she says.

“Both of these supplements may help with Irritable Bowel Syndrome in certain cases.”

Digestive enzymes may be natural, but they are not risk free. Some reported side effects include allergic reactions, interactions with medications, and abdominal pain. It is best to avoid digestive enzymes unless they have been recommended by a health professional.

Help Your Sleep With Morning Light

Getting a good night’s sleep starts the moment you wake up. Just as we need a dark environment to help us drift off, we need bright daylight first thing to set our natural body clock that makes us naturally tired at night, says podcaster and author Dr Rangan Chatterjee in his Friday Five email.

Here are a few ways Dr Chatterjee suggests getting your morning light fix:

  • Have your morning tea or coffee in your garden, balcony, or next to a window.
  • If you work from home, take a walk around the block or do a short workout outside before you start work.
  • If you need to drive in the morning, leave your car a 10-minute walk from your destination. The same can apply if you get the bus or train.
  • Walk your dog first thing in the morning (or offer to walk someone else’s).
  • Talk a morning break and spend it outside.

Pelvic Floor Health is Not Just For Women

Racing for the toilet, ‘leaking’ when you laugh or sneeze? You might need to think more about your pelvic floor.

Strong pelvic floor muscles are necessary for bladder and bowel control and good sexual function. Studies have found that around 300 million people worldwide experience incontinence, with around a third of women and 16 per cent of men experiencing pelvic floor problems.

Colorectal Surgeon Dr Sanjay Kariappa talks about pelvic floor issues and why we ALL need to care.

“Around 70 per cent of people experiencing incontinence will not seek help. Often, they are embarrassed, or they think it is a normal part of getting older. It is not. People feel self-conscious and may change the way they live. They might reduce their fluid intake, alter the way they eat, only go to familiar places where they know where the bathrooms are, or worst-case scenario do not go out at all.”

Pelvic floor muscles are like a hammock that stretches from your tailbone to your pubic bone. They support your abdomen, your bladder and bowel and, in women, the uterus. These muscles can get stretched or damaged by factors including surgery, chronic cough, heavy weightlifting, or long-term constipation.

How to strengthen your pelvic floor

Pelvic floor exercises are not just for women. Men can also benefit from learning to contract and relax their pelvic floor muscles.

  • Imagine you are trying to avoid passing wind or stop the flow of urine. Tighten those muscles at the same time for one second then release.
  • Repeat that 10 times, aiming for three sets altogether. If you are finding it difficult to locate your pelvic floor muscles, a pelvic floor physiotherapist is a great next step.

“My advice is that if you notice a change in your continence that is impacting your quality of life, please seek help sooner rather than later,” says Dr Kariappa.

3 “Healthy” Foods to Watch Out For

Do not be fooled by these three foods that appear healthy but may not always be beneficial for us.


Breakfast cereals

Australian consumer organisation Choice found that some of the best-loved cereals may not be as healthy as you will expect.

Depending on where you are, there may be guides on the pack giving you a quick way to see how nutritious a product is. These will usually take into account ‘good’ things like protein and fibre. But it will not tell you how natural or unrefined the ingredients are, whether the product contains artificial preservatives, colours and flavours, or how processed the product is.

“Highly processed breakfast cereals often have fibre and protein added to increase their health rating,” says accredited practising dietitian and Choice food expert Shadia Djakovic.

“Rolled oats have a high rating due to their naturally-occurring fibre content. But they have only one ingredient – oats – which means they have a higher rating without the need for any added nutrients to make them healthier.

“Look at the shape and colour, does it look like a natural product?” says Djakovic. “If it is far from natural-looking, chances are it is highly processed and needs things like salt and sugar to make it taste good.”


Watch out for salads, warns accredited practising dietitian Melissa Meier in body&soul. We think of them as a healthy option but they are not always the best thing on the menu, she says.

Salads contain vegetables, but may come loaded with refined carbohydrates and processed meats, says Meier. And store-bought dressings often contain way too much sodium (which may increase blood pressure), with some also high in added sugar and saturated fat.

The best bet is to make your own dressing, says Meier, with good quality oil such as extra virgin olive oil, a splash of vinegar or citrus juice, and some flavour in the form of mustard, pepper and dried herbs and spices.

Protein bars

Protein bars are promoted as a healthy snack to fill the protein gap in our diets and help build muscle.

But most people do not need extra protein as they get enough through their diet, says Dietitians Australia. For those who do need more, foods naturally high in protein like eggs, fish, yoghurt, nuts, tofu and beans are good choices as they also add nutrients.

Protein bars vary significantly in quality, so it pays to read labels. Many are full of sugar, salt, artificial sweeteners and colours, and oils and thickeners that add kilojoules without making you healthier.