probiotics VS digestive enzymes: What’s the deal?

Since starting on hormone pills about a year ago (related to fertility issues) I’ve been taking probiotics to help fight bloating and boost digestion. They really make a difference. “Your microbiome is the control center of your body, it is the 6 pounds in your gut of bacteria that dictate everything from your hormones, to your mood to your energy levels, weight, how you’re absorbing calories, and beyond,” explain Sakara Life founders Danielle Duboise and Whitney Tingle. “Research is continuing to emerge about how critical a thriving gut is, and a probiotic is important, alongside a whole food, organic, plant-based diet to feed the symbiotic bacteria that will allow your body to work in synchronicity.”

But could there be more to do besides a probiotic and fiber-rich, healthy diet? A few weeks ago I got an email about Lo Bosworth’s female-focused wellness brand, Love Wellness, launching new products include a digestive enzyme. It’s called Bye Bye Bloat ($24.99) so naturally I wondered if this is something I should add to my vitamin cocktail…anything to fight bloating, am I right?? That said, I’m not one to take something for no reason and the supplement industry is full of products that don’t work. I turned to Sammi Haber, MS, RD, CDN of Nutrition Works NY to find out exactly how digestive enzymes compare to probiotics and who should use them and when.

Why would someone take a probiotic?

“Probiotics promote good bacteria in the gut.  They’re helpful for anyone who has any stomach discomfort, constipation or general GI issues.  Probiotics are one of the only supplements I recommend most people take – it really can’t hurt to take them.”

Why would someone take a digestive enzyme?

“Digestive enzymes are more specific than probiotics – they target certain foods that we might lack the enzymes to digest.  For example, those with a lactose intolerance will often take Lactaid.  This supplement contains the digestive enzyme lactase.  Lactase is the only enzyme in our body that can digest lactose (the sugar in dairy products).”

For each can you explain what to look for since there are so many on the market?

“Different probiotic strains exist.  The most common are strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.  Look for probiotics with these 2 strains specifically (and if the strains aren’t clearly listed on the label – skip it!).  Also look for probiotics with at least 1 billion CFUs.  This stands for Colony Forming Units, and shows how many bacteria in the probiotics are able to divide and form beneficial colonies.

For digestive enzymes, there’s only reason to take enzymes for foods which you specifically have trouble digesting. Again, someone with a lactose intolerance should take lactase. Our bodies naturally lose lactase (the enzyme needed to digest lactose) as we get older.  Other enzymes (like lipase and amylase) help the body break down dietary fat and starch, respectively. These should really only be taken if you have some kind of GI condition (IBS, pancreatitis) or are advised to by your doctor.  Other than lactase, there’s really no indication for a healthy person to take a digestive enzyme unless medically recommended. If you find you have stomach discomfort after eating certain foods (other than lactose-containing dairy), try a probiotic before going to a digestive enzymes.

Some foods, like pineapple, naturally contain digestive enzymes (in this case, called bromelain).  These can’t hurt and can only benefit digestion.  Continue to eat these foods as you would normally.”

How should they be taken? 

“Probiotics should be taken with food in the morning. Take them for any stomach discomfort or to promote a healthy gut in general.

When taking digestive enzymes, simply take them before eating the food that they break down (eg. take lactase right before eating ice cream).”

Is it ok to take both?

“Yes.”

Interested in trying both? Sakara Life’s Daily Probiotic Blend ($46) combines both! “This supplement contains prebiotic fiber to encourage the proliferation of healthy bacteria, critical and diverse probiotic strains that help support your endocrine system, immunity, vaginal ecosystem, and gut, and digestive enzymes to reduce inflammation and break down macronutrients,” say Duboise and Tingle. “Our comprehensive blend combines the digestive enzymes and probiotic. We recommend 2 in the morning with water and lemon, a half hour before eating anything, and 2 before bed, ideally an hour after you’ve eaten anything.”

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