We all have times when we eat too much — holiday meals, for example. While the body can handle occasional overeating, doing it on a regular basis causes more harm than just weight gain. When you eat, your organs must secrete digestive enzymes to break down all that delicious food into useful nutrients. Overeating or drinking to excess strains the pancreas and other organs.
Pancreatic enzymes play an essential role in digestion, which, of course, plays a role in how healthy your body is. Food is fuel! Pancreatic enzymes help break down all the macronutrients you eat — fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.
The Pancreas & Pancreatic Enzymes
The pancreas is a glandular organ inside the abdomen. You might know that it releases insulin and glucagon, hormones that keep your blood sugar level stable. But the pancreas also secretes enzymes that digest your food.
When you eat, your pancreas produces pancreatic juice that contains several enzymes. Although most pancreatic enzymes assist digestion, not all digestive enzymes are made in the pancreas. The stomach, small intestines, and tongue also produce digestive enzymes.
Types of Pancreatic Enzymes
Your body has three types of pancreatic enzymes: lipolytic, amylolytic, and proteolytic. Those are big words that have simple meanings. The root “lytic” means to break apart, and "lipo" refers to lipids (fats). Thus, lipolytic enzymes break down fats. "Amylo" is a Latin root word that means starch; Amylolytic enzymes work on carbohydrates. And proteolytic enzymes break down proteins.
Once large pieces of food get broken into smaller ones, the body can absorb and use their nutrients for energy or as the building blocks of organs and tissues. Let's take a closer look at each of the three pancreatic enzymes.
Amylolytic enzymes break down carbohydrates. Specifically, amylolytic enzymes break down complex carbs (polysaccharides) into simple sugars like glucose.
Interestingly, these enzymes are used commercially to produce beer, food sweeteners, and paper.
Amylase is one of the most common amylolytic enzymes. It’s considered a pancreatic enzyme because it’s produced by — you got it — the pancreas. Only half of the body’s amylase is made in the pancreas, though.[4, 5] The rest is made in your mouth and present in your saliva.
The primary purpose of lipolytic enzymes is to digest fats or lipids. Common lipolytic enzymes include lipase, phospholipase, and lecithinase A and B.
Healthcare professionals often look at blood levels of amylase and other enzymes when evaluating and diagnosing acute pancreatitis and other pancreatic issues.[7, 8] Don't worry, taking supplemental enzymes will not affect this test.
Proteolytic enzymes break down protein from your food. Sometimes, they’re also called peptidases, proteases, or proteinases. Examples of proteolytic enzymes made in the pancreas include chymotrypsin and trypsin. These two powerhouse enzymes work to break down amino acids.
Proteolytic enzymes not only help with digestion, but they also act systemically. This means they keep the body cleaned up, so to speak, breaking down protein from infections, scar tissue, and old cells.
Should I Take Pancreatic Enzyme Supplements?
Some people turn to pancreatic enzyme supplements on the recommendation of their healthcare provider. Many others take pancreatic enzymes to supplement the body’s natural production and to support normal digestive processes. You will know you need them if your digestion starts to get out of whack, whether that means constipation, gas, diarrhea, or stomach discomfort.
Supplemental enzymes work similarly to your body's natural enzymes. They help “predigest" protein, carbohydrates, and fats, thus easing stress on the pancreas and other enzyme-producing organs and helping with the proper breakdown and absorption of nutrients.
VeganZyme® is a full-spectrum blend of digestive and systemic enzymes. This superior formula contains amylase and lipase along with other enzymes that digest proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. These enzymes support digestion, boost the immune system, and encourage functional balance throughout the entire body. Unlike other enzyme supplements, VeganZyme’s ingredients are plant-based. Rest assured it does not come from pigs as many enzymes do.
How to Take Enzyme Supplements
Most enzyme supplements come in capsule form and should be taken at mealtimes to help with digestion. On occasion, people experience stomach discomfort when first starting to take the enzymes, but this will settle down.
If you want enzymes to help with digestion, take them with a meal or snack along with a glass of cold or room temperature water. Hot drinks can damage the enzymes and stop them from working properly.
You can also take these supplements as systemic enzymes. When you take enzymes at least two hours before a meal, they help clear out dead cells and old tissue, reducing systemic redness and swelling throughout the body. Make sure to take them with a glass of cool water.
Avoid taking your medicine with foods that have a high pH level, such as milk or ice cream, or with antacids that contain calcium or magnesium. These can damage the enzyme before it reaches your stomach.
Precautions & Potential Side Effects
Enzymes are generally safe but there are a few things to consider. Prescription pancreatic enzymes come from pigs. This presents a concern for vegetarians, vegans, or those who avoid pork for religious reasons. Vegan-friendly enzyme supplements like VeganZyme are an excellent option for those who do not wish to ingest animal products.
Also, pancreatic enzyme supplements can sometimes cause constipation if you're not drinking enough water. A good rule of thumb is half your body weight in fluid ounces each day.
Points to Remember
The pancreas produces pancreatic enzymes, as well as hormones like insulin and glucagon. Pancreatic enzymes play a vital role in the digestion of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Different types of digestive enzymes play unique roles in the body. Amylolytic enzymes process nutrients from carbohydrates, like starches and sugars. Lipolytic enzymes break down fats. And proteolytic enzymes digest proteins.
For optimal health, you need optimal levels of all pancreatic enzymes. An enzyme deficiency will cause digestive issues, among other things.
Enzyme supplements can boost the body's ability to digest food properly by breaking down fats, carbohydrates, and proteins and converting them to energy. If you go to the effort of eating healthy fruits, vegetables, and other foods, it makes sense to get the most out of what you consume with digestive enzymes.
You can also use enzymes for systemic support to reduce swelling throughout your body and aid the recycling of old tissue.
Have you taken pancreatic enzyme supplements? Share your experiences below!
- The Power of Your Pancreas. NIH News in Health Newsletter. National Institutes of Health. Feb 2017. Accessed 4 Oct 2019.
- Fieker A, et al. Enzyme replacement therapy for pancreatic insufficiency: present and future. Clin Ex Gastroenterol. 2011;(4):55-73.
- Laniro G, et al. Digestive enzyme supplementation in gastrointestinal diseases. Current Drug Metabolism. 2016;(2):187-193.
- Wong D. Amylolytic Enzymes. In: Food Enzymes. Boston, MA: Springer Science+Business Media; 1995.
- Amalyse (Blood). University of Rochester Medical Center. Accessed on 31st Oct 2018.
- Pirahanchi Y, Sharma S. Biochemistry, lipase. Treasure Island, FL:StatPearls Publishing;Jan 2019. Accessed 4 Oct 2019.
- Zieve L. Clinical value of determinations of various pancreatic enzymes in serum. Gastroenterol. 1964 Jan;46:62-67.
- Cartier T, et al. Normal lipase serum level in acute pancreatitis: a case report. Emerg Med J. 2006;23(9):701-702.
- Motyan J, et al. Research applications of proteolytic enzymes in molecular biology. Biomolecules. 2013;3(4):923-942.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.