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Digestive Enzymes For Weight Loss: Are They Effective? 

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Melissa Mitri post Reviewer Melissa Mitri post Reviewer
Verified by Melissa Mitri
MS, Registered Dietitian, Former President of CT Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Table of Contents

If you are struggling to lose weight, you may have wondered about the effectiveness of digestive and systemic enzymes and weight loss. 

In this article, we will outline the following: 

  • Different types of digestive enzymes and their effect on weight 
  • Potential side effects
  • digestive enzymes’ impact on gut health, 
  • Additional recommendations to consider

Let’s dive in.

What Are Digestive Enzymes, and How Do They Work?

Digestive enzymes, put simply, are proteins that help digest different types of food in the body. 

More specifically, digestive enzymes break down proteins, carbohydrates, and fat into their respective components. For example, carbs into sugar or glucose molecules, proteins into amino acids, and fats (or lipids) into fatty acid molecules. 

There are also certain digestive enzymes that break down specific types of sugars, such as lactose (the sugar in milk). 

Some digestive enzyme supplements are available over the counter at most drugstores. At the same time, others can only be obtained with a prescription from a physician.

Should I Take Digestive Enzymes?

Enzymes are naturally produced in the stomach, pancreas, and small intestine in the body’s gastrointestinal tract.

Most individuals without pancreatic disease or pancreatic surgery can make adequate amounts of these digestive enzymes without any problems. 

Therefore in most cases, there is not usually a reason to take supplemental digestive enzymes regularly.

However, there are some diagnosed health conditions where someone may need to take pancreatic digestive enzymes as supplements. [1] Here are some examples:

  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Pancreatitis
  • Pancreatic surgery
  • Cystic fibrosis

Many of these conditions involve a lack of digestive enzymes, which can often lead to poor absorption of nutrients and, eventually, malnutrition. 

Malnutrition can lead to severe health conditions. Therefore, individuals with the pancreatic disorders listed above are often prescribed digestive enzymes to ensure they are well-nourished and absorb the nutrients their bodies need. 

Types of Digestive Enzymes and Their Effects

Now that we have covered the basics of digestive enzymes, let’s discuss some of the main types found in the body. 

Types of Digestive Enzymes and Their Effects; wow enzymes like amylase, lipase, protease, lactase dissolve nutrients, Digestive Enzymes For Weight Loss
  • Amylase is an enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates, such as starch, into individual sugar molecules. Amylase is present in saliva and begins to break down carbohydrates into sugars immediately when you put a food rich in carbohydrates into your mouth. 
  • Lipase breaks down fats, or lipids, into smaller fatty acid molecules. 
  • Protease breaks down proteins into their building blocks called amino acids. A common example of a protease enzyme is bromelain, which is derived from pineapples. 
  • Lactase breaks down the sugar lactose, which is a milk component.

Without these enzymes, we would not be able to digest and absorb the nutrition in these foods.

Do Digestive Enzymes Help With Weight Loss?

There is currently no evidence to suggest that taking digestive enzyme supplements, whether prescription or over-the-counter, can help with weight loss. 

There are simply not many high-quality studies that examine this effect. Therefore, we need more research on pancreatic enzymes and weight loss. 

Despite the lack of evidence-based science regarding digestive enzymes and weight loss, research does suggest that digestive enzymes may benefit gut health. This can potentially reduce unpleasant digestive symptoms and improve overall well-being.

If you have a condition that results in digestive enzyme insufficiency (such as those mentioned in the list above), you may experience many uncomfortable symptoms, such as gas, bloating, or stomach cramps. 

It is in these cases that digestive enzymes may help, but it’s important to always speak with your physician about the best course of action for you.

Digestive Enzymes and Weight Gain

In fact, a side effect of taking digestive enzymes may actually be weight gain. 

Since the lipase digestive enzyme variety encourages fat breakdown to help absorption and digestion in the body, taking this enzyme may contribute to weight gain from increased fat absorption. 

However, for an individual deficient in lipase, this weight gain can be beneficial because malnutrition and malabsorption is a common concern many face. 

More studies need to be conducted on this potential weight gain effect in healthy people without pancreatic enzyme insufficiency.

Digestive Enzyme Inhibitors For Weight Loss

Now, what about digestive enzyme inhibitors? Digestive enzyme inhibitors, such as Orlistat, are lipase inhibitors that prevent the body from digesting fat. This effect can naturally lead to weight loss.

However, according to the journal Current Obesity Reports, digestive enzyme inhibitors may have adverse effects on the body, such as cramps, bloating, fatty stool, fecal urgency, and incontinence.

Therefore, it is essential to discuss the pros and cons of digestive enzyme inhibitors with your physician if you are considering them. [2] [3]

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Digestive Enzymes and Gut Health

As mentioned above, research has shown a potentially favorable effect of taking digestive enzymes on gut health.

Besides reducing gastrointestinal symptoms resulting from digestive enzyme insufficiency, digestive enzymes may also improve gut health through the gut microbiome or microbiota.

The gut microbiome is the community of “good” and “bad” bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal tract. Each of us has a unique combination of bacteria that make up our gut microbiome. A gut microbiome rich in beneficial bacteria is correlated with several health benefits.

For example, an imbalance of beneficial and harmful bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract (also known as dysbiosis) can exacerbate symptoms of flatulence and abdominal pain in those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). [4] Therefore, an increase in healthy bacteria in the gut can potentially relieve these unpleasant symptoms. 

During a study published in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, mice were supplemented with pancreatic digestive enzymes. [5] This is known as PERT, or pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy, which is commonly used for those with pancreatitis. 

The experiment showed that mice who received the digestive enzymes had an increase in beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. 

While more studies are needed in this area on human participants, this research suggests that digestive enzymes may benefit the gut microbiome in some cases. 

In another systematic review, researchers found an association between obesity and different gut microbiome profiles. [6] However, this research is not consistent enough to develop a firm conclusion since so many factors impact the gut microbiome. 

Additionally, more research needs to be done on the effect of digestive enzyme supplementation for individuals whose bodies’ naturally produce enough enzymes already. 

Because of this, probiotics, such as those found in kombucha, are likely more beneficial for gut health.

Final Words

Let’s wrap up some key takeaways from this article.

  • Digestive enzymes break down carbs, protein, and fat in the foods we eat into their individual components to be used for energy. Common digestive enzymes include amylase, protease, and lipase. 
  • Individuals who may benefit from digestive enzymes are those whose bodies do not naturally produce enough of them. These individuals are often diagnosed with a pancreatic disease such as pancreatitis, pancreatic surgery, pancreatic cancer, and more.
  • There is currently no research to suggest that digestive enzymes may cause weight loss, especially in those who are not deficient in digestive enzymes. 
  • However, digestive enzymes (specifically lipase) may cause weight gain in some cases because they help your body absorb fat.
  • Digestive enzyme inhibitors may promote weight loss. However, they may have unsafe side effects, including fat in the stool and diarrhea. 
  • Mice studies have shown that digestive enzymes may increase beneficial bacteria in the gut. However, more studies are needed on human participants. 

Overall, it is best to only take pancreatic digestive enzyme supplements when you get a prescription or recommendation from your physician.

For weight loss, stick with a healthy and balanced diet and regular physical activity for best results.

If you struggle to lose weight, consult a registered dietitian nutritionist for individualized weight loss advice and education. Additionally, utilizing an all-in-one weight loss app makes your weight loss journey more manageable and keeps you accountable towards your goals. 

Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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