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Digestive enzyme tablets, any good?
May 27, 2008 4:49 AM   Subscribe

I take tablets of digestive enzymes daily. Am I wasting my time and money?

For years I've been taking a tablet of digestive enzymes after a meal of complex foodstuffs. The tablets contain Pancreatin, Papain, Bromelain, Cellulase, Lipase, Protease, Pepsin, Amylase, Ox Bile and Betaine Hydrochloride. I know that these enzymes work at different stages of the digestive process, but the tablets sit in the stomach along with the food. Do these enzyme tablets do much good?
posted by Tarn to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Many enzymes are inactivated by the hydrochloric acid in your stomach, so unless they are specially formulated some of the compounds listed will not work when taken orally. Do you have a specific condition you are treating? What are you taking these pills for in the first place?
posted by TedW at 5:04 AM on May 27, 2008


Do you have digestive issues? Like most 'supplements', they're only really effective if you have some deficiency that needs treating.
posted by missmagenta at 5:58 AM on May 27, 2008


Not only will they be inactivated by the acid pH of your stomach (although it may be temporary as the pH will change again in subsequent parts of your digestive tract), an enzyme in your stomach, pepsin, will start to chop apart protein. Most enzymes, including digestive enzymes, are made out of proteins. So in essence, the digestive enzymes you just consumed will be chopped up before they go the next part of the digestive tract.

You also already make most of the digestive enzymes and secrete these in particular locations (saliva contains amylase, stomach has pepsin, pancreas secretes many other enzymes such as lipase, proteases, etc. You already make these substances.

One more thing - think of a digestive enzyme like a pair of scissors. It does the same thing over and over and over again. Can't imagine why you would want to add 'extras'.
posted by Wolfster at 6:17 AM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't have any deficiencies in that respect; I understand they speed up digestion and liberate more goodies from the food.
posted by Tarn at 6:18 AM on May 27, 2008


I understand they speed up digestion and liberate more goodies from the food.

Whoever told you that was lying ;)

Most of those enzymes will be broken down before they ever get to where they're needed. If you had some sort of medical problem you could get enzyme tablets with a special protective coating to prevent the stomach acid eating the pills before they reach your small intestine but I doubt the pill you're taking are similarly coated.

Ironically, the pills seem to be lacking the only enzyme an otherwise healthy adult might need - lactase
posted by missmagenta at 6:37 AM on May 27, 2008


The cognitive dissonance was kicking in. I've spent so much on these pills, I was in denial about their fairly obvious lack of utility. They may have some kind of timed-release built in, but I doubt it. I guess Wolfster is right and the enzyme proteins that cannot function in the stomach are broken down by other enzymes. Any other info would be v. welcome. Thanks.
posted by Tarn at 6:50 AM on May 27, 2008


Why are you taking the medicines? For people who have pancreatic insufficiency or some problem making their own digestive enzymes, they could still be useful. Some people have a lower pH to their stomach acid, also making the enzymes needed. Oh....sorry....what missmagenta was asking too.
posted by skepticallypleased at 6:55 AM on May 27, 2008


If the pills have a coating that prevents them from being broken down in the stomach , they might help. I know such a coating exists, don't know if it's used in these scenarios...
posted by gjc at 7:44 AM on May 27, 2008


Chewing your food slowly and carefully will probably be just as helpful and much cheaper than enzyme pills (salivary amylase is released when you chew).
posted by oneirodynia at 9:33 AM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Am I wasting my time and money?'

Yes.
posted by tiburon at 10:12 AM on May 27, 2008


They're not curative medicine, but preventative. The notion that informs this is that modern food preparation destroys many of the natural enzymes in food. As such, the body could use a supplement as a helping hand.
posted by Tarn at 10:13 AM on May 27, 2008


The notion that informs this is that modern food preparation destroys many of the natural enzymes in food. As such, the body could use a supplement as a helping hand.

These aren't meant to supplement natural enzymes that should be present in your food, though. They're all natural enzymes that would be produced somewhere in your own digestive tract to help digest your food. The nutrient quality of the food you're eating doesn't enter into the equation.

Also, what everyone else said.
posted by vytae at 2:44 PM on May 27, 2008


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