Digestive Enzymes: How Can They Help with a Bloated Belly and Heaviness After Eating?

Digestive Enzymes: How Can They Help with a Bloated Belly and Heaviness After Eating?

Who doesn’t want to have healthy and problem-free digestion? I’m sure you’ll agree with me that when this aspect of health doesn’t function, one is far from satisfied. It’s not spoken in vain that good digestion is the foundation of health. This is exactly what digestive enzymes take care of. Sometimes, however, it so happens that you have a deficiency of them, which is indicated, for example, by bloating or abdominal pain. The good news, however, is that they can be supplemented. Today’s article will reveal everything you need to know about digestive enzymes.

What are enzymes?

Enzymes are important substances for the body and play an important role in many biochemical reactions within the body. Without them, the body would not be able to efficiently convert nutrients into energy or get rid of harmful substances such as alcohol. Enzymes speed up these important reactions, sometimes by a factor of millions. They are therefore like workers in the body, which are essential for ensuring that your metabolism works quickly, smoothly and efficiently. [1]

what are enzymes?

How do enzymes work?

Enzymes are highly specific, which means that each of them accelerates only a certain type of biochemical reaction. That’s why the body has tens of thousands of them. In fact, enzymes can only bind to a substance with a specific structure.

Imagine that they behave similarly to a lock and key. An enzyme is like a kind of lock into which only a key with a particular shape fits, in the same way that each of your keys only fits into one particular lock. In this case, that key is the so-called substrate, that is, the substance to which the enzyme binds. This can be proteins, nucleic acids, another enzyme, oxygen, water, and many other substances. Only under these conditions can a biochemical reaction take place. Once the reaction has taken place, the key (substrate) is released from the lock (enzyme) and waits for the next key to bind. [1]

What are digestive enzymes?

Digestive enzymes play a major role in the breakdown and digestion of food. As food passes through the digestive tract, it comes into contact with digestive enzymes that gradually break down carbohydrates, proteins and fats into smaller units. These can then be absorbed into the blood and continue to do their job (burned for energy, incorporated into muscle, etc.).

Digestive enzymes operate in the oral cavity and stomach. However, the most important are the pancreatic enzymes, which are secreted by the pancreas into the small intestine. It is there that the most important processes in terms of nutrient digestion take place. [10]

What enzymes are in the body?

There are several different digestive enzymes that work within the body to help maximise nutrition. They are generally divided into three main groups, each dedicated to digesting a different macronutrient. At the same time, each enzyme is specific to only certain parts of the digestive system.

  • Amylases break down complex carbohydrates into oligosaccharides and disaccharides, i.e. carbohydrates with fewer units in the chain.
  • Proteases, such as pepsin in the stomach, digest proteins and break them down into peptides and individual amino acids.
  • Lipases break down fats into glycerol and fatty acids.

There are other enzymes in the digestive system, such as lactase or sucrase, which further break down disaccharides into simple carbohydrates (monosaccharides). These can then be absorbed from the gut into the blood. [10]

An overview of digestive enzymes

Part of the digestive system

Digestive enzymes

What do they split?

What is formed?

Oral cavityAmylaseComplex carbohydrates (starch)Oligosaccharides and disaccharides
StomachPepsínProteinPeptides and amino acids
PancreasTrypsinProteinAmino acids
LipaseFatGlycerol and fatty acids
AmylaseComplex carbohydrates (starch)Oligosaccharides, disaccharides and monosaccharides
Small intestineSucraseSucroseMonosaccharides (glucose and fructose)
LactaseLactoseMonosaccharides (glucose and galactose)
MaltaseMaltoseMonosaccharides (glucose and glucose)

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How do digestive enzymes work in reality?

Do you know what journey your lunch, for example, regularly takes after it disappears from your plate? Imagine, for example, if you had salmon with potatoes and a vegetable salad. What role do the different digestive enzymes play in its digestion? Let’s take a look together at what happens in the body when you eat such a meal.

1. Oral cavity

When food containing carbohydrates, proteins and fats enter the mouth, only the carbohydrates are instantly digested. In this case, it is potatoes. These are taken up by salivary amylase during chewing and partially break down complex carbohydrates (starch) into oligosaccharides. Complex carbohydrates are like chains with a large number of beads, which the enzyme cuts into shorter parts.

2. Stomach

After the already chewed and slightly digested food passes through the pharynx and oesophagus, it finds itself in the stomach. The stomach is primarily concerned with the digestion of proteins. The enzyme pepsin, which breaks down proteins into smaller peptides and amino acids, is there waiting. Thus, in the case of this imaginary lunch, the stomach is mainly devoted to the salmon, which is a valuable source of protein.

3. Small intestine

The food then travels from the stomach to the duodenum, which is the initial part of the small intestine. At the same time, the pancreas secretes digestive enzymes here. These play the most important role in the process of food digestion.

The pancreatic enzyme amylase breaks down carbohydrates, trypsin digests proteins, and lipase breaks down fats into glycerol and fatty acids. However, enzymes stored in the intestinal mucosa (lactase, sucrase, etc.) also play an important role, breaking down carbohydrates into the smallest of units – monosaccharides.

In the small intestine, the whole food is broken down into its smallest parts. These are then ready for the next journey through the body.

4. Target tissues

When proteins, fats and carbohydrates are broken down into their smallest components, they can be absorbed into the blood and perform their unique role in the body.

  • Carbohydrates can be further used as an immediate source of energy, stored as muscle and liver glycogen, or converted to fat stores when excessive intake occurs.
  • Protein is used for the regeneration and growth of muscles, as well as a number of other body tissues. They are also used by the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other important components of the body. With excessive intake or prolonged and strenuous physical activity, they too can be burned for energy.
  • Fats can also be used as an energy source or stored for later use.

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Digestive enzymes versus probiotics

While probiotics also help with digestion, they should certainly not be confused with digestive enzymes. These are health-promoting bacteria that reside in the large intestine and are mainly interested in the non-digestible part of our food – fibre. This is the food that allows them to multiply and maintain an optimal composition of the intestinal microbiome. When harmful bacteria predominate over beneficial ones in the gut, you may experience symptoms such as indigestion, bloating or abdominal pain.

That is why it is recommended to have plenty of probiotics in the diet for good digestion. For example, they can be obtained from fermented dairy products or foods such as kefir milk, tempeh or cabbage. They can also be supplemented with supplements such as ProbioTen or the well-known Probiofix.

digestive enzymes versus probiotics

How does a lack of digestive enzymes manifest itself?

The body digests food best when it has sufficient digestive enzymes. However, if some of these are in limited amounts, the following digestive problems may occur.

  • flatulence
  • abdominal bloating
  • cramps
  • diarrhoea
  • stomach pain
  • a heavy feeling after food

If you are troubled by these problems, it is possible that your digestive system needs help by providing digestive enzymes externally. You can try supplementing them and see what effect they have on you. However, for long-term problems or those that don’t go away even after taking a dietary supplement, it’s definitely a good idea to visit your doctor.

In more severe cases, a deficiency of digestive enzymes can also manifest itself in weight loss or even malnutrition. When the deficiency is severe, the body is unable to digest food efficiently and use it as a source of energy. In these cases, a visit to the doctor is essential.

manifestations of digestive enzyme deficiency

When should you take digestive enzymes?

However, the digestive problems mentioned above can have various causes, not just a reduced amount of digestive enzymes. When can you suspect that it is a deficiency of these enzymes?

  • Dairy products can cause digestive problems. In this case, it may be lactose intolerance (LI), where the enzyme lactase, which digests milk sugar (lactose), is missing. When this is the case, you can simply supplement lactase in a separate nutritional supplement.
  • A higher protein intake also makes your life more complicated. This is not surprising, as protein is quite difficult to digest. In this case, supplements that contain proteases (enzymes that digest proteins) can help.
  • Stressful periods induce digestive complications. This is also possible, because stress is often associated with a transient lack of digestive enzymes. If this is the case, preparations with complex pancreatic enzymes may be useful.
  • A diet rich in fat leads to sluggish and difficult digestion. Fats, like proteins, are harder to digest and so your natural enzyme production may not be sufficient for a fatty meal. It is therefore a good idea to reach for supplements that contain lipases.
  • Large portions are your worst enemy. It may be the case that your enzyme supply just simply isn’t enough for a certain amount of food. In the first place, it is wise to adjust your diet to avoid overeating unnecessarily large portions. However, sometimes supplements with a comprehensive range of digestive enzymes, such as DigeZyme, can help ease the discomfort after a big meal.
  • People with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) could also benefit from taking digestive enzymes. However, their action in this disorder is still poorly understood, so it is advisable to consult a doctor about taking enzymes. [4]
When should you take digestive enzymes?

Health problems associated with digestive enzyme deficiency

A deficiency of digestive enzymes can be congenital or acquired during one’s lifetime, for example due to stress or lifestyle.

Sometimes it may be a mild deficiency that can be solved by dietary modifications or supplements, but there are also serious deficiencies of digestive enzymes. These are usually related to chronic diseases and are collectively referred to as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (deficiency).

  • The latter is typical, for example, in chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), which is the most common cause of reduced pancreatic enzyme production in adults.
  • A pancreatic tumour damages the pancreatic cells and therefore its ability to produce enzymes. [9]
  • Although cystic fibrosis is a disease of the lungs, in about 80 to 90% of cases it is accompanied by pancreatic insufficiency. People who suffer from this disease have to take pancreatic enzymes. [8]
  • Crohn’s disease, which is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease, is also typically associated with inflammation of the pancreas. [3]
  • This problem also occurs in type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The reason for this is not yet fully understood, but it is probably related to inflammatory processes in the pancreas or, possibly, fat deposited in the pancreas. [7]

In what form should you take digestive enzymes?

You can buy digestive enzymes in capsule form, either as supplements containing one enzyme or a combination of several.

  • For example, lactase, which is useful in lactose intolerance, is commonly available separately.
  • Complex preparations such as DigeZyme® are also suitable. These combine all the main enzymes such as amylases, proteases and lipases, but also lactase and other enzymes.
  • Doctors commonly recommend, for example, the frequently used over-the-counter Kreon or Pancreolan, which contain the key pancreatic enzymes.

Foods containing digestive enzymes

There are even some foods that contain digestive enzymes. These natural enzymes can then also help with digestion. Where can you find them?

  • Honey contains amylases and lipases, which help with the digestion of carbohydrates and fats.
  • Papaya is rich in the protease papain, which helps digest protein.
  • Avocados contain lipase. It can help to break down fats not only from this fruit.
  • Pineapple contains bromelain, which is also a protease. In addition to digesting proteins, it has also shown beneficial effects on inflammatory processes in the body. [6]

How do you take digestive enzymes?

Digestive enzymes should be taken with food to replicate the function of enzymes that are naturally produced in the body. These only start working when food is present in the digestive system. They should therefore certainly not be taken fasting. Nor should they be taken with hot drinks. The high temperature could destroy them. [2,9]

For specific diseases that lead to digestive enzyme deficiencies, such as the aforementioned cystic fibrosis, there are specific recommendations for taking digestive enzymes. On the other hand, however, there is no recommendation on how much enzyme to take for mild digestive problems. Therefore, it is advisable to follow the dosage on the product packaging while monitoring your body’s reaction. [5]

How long should you take digestive enzymes?

If digestive enzymes are taken within the recommended dose, they help to improve digestion while causing no adverse effects, and can be supplemented on a long-term basis.

Can taking digestive enzymes have side effects?

There are also side effects associated with supplementation of these enzymes, especially in the digestive system. Excess use can lead to abdominal pain, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, constipation and headaches. [2]

how to use digestive enzymes?

What should you remember?

An adequate balance of digestive enzymes is essential for good digestion. When these are lacking, your body reacts with digestive problems. A deficiency of these enzymes is typical of many chronic diseases, but is commonly encountered by healthy people as well. For example, lactose intolerance, a problem with the digestion of proteins or fats can occur.

This is when the option of supplementing digestive enzymes comes into play. So, if you are troubled by a feeling of heaviness after certain types of food or suspect lactose intolerance, digestive enzymes in capsules may be just the right choice.

Did you learn anything new from today’s article? If you found it interesting, we’d love you to share it with your friends and inner network.


[1] COOPER, G.M. The Central Role of Enzymes as Biological Catalysts. In The Cell: A Molecular Approach. 2nd edition – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK9921/

[2] FERRONE, M. et al. Pancreatic enzyme pharmacotherapy. – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17542772/

[3] FOUSEKIS, F.S. et al. Pancreatic Involvement in Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Review. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6135003/

[4] GRAHAM, D.Y. et al. Enzyme therapy for functional bowel disease-like post-prandial distress. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6910206/

[5] IANIRO, G. et al. Digestive Enzyme Supplementation in Gastrointestinal Diseases. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4923703/

[6] PATEL, K. Bromelain Research Analysis. – https://examine.com/supplements/bromelain/

[7] RADLINGER, B. et al. Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency in Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7113197/

[8] SOMARAJU, U.R. - SOLIS‐MOYA, A. Pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy for people with cystic fibrosis. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6734127/

[9] Pancreatic Enzymes and Supplements: Uses & Side Effects. – https://www.cancercenter.com/cancer-types/pancreatic-cancer/treatments/pancreatic-enzyme-supplements

[10] GOODMAN, B.E. Insights into digestion and absorption of major nutrients in humans. – https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/advan.00094.2009

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