Do I Need Digestive Enzymes or Probiotics?

Digestive enzymes and probiotics often get lumped together into the same category. After all, they both promote health by targeting the "gut," and signs you need one or the other can sometimes be interchangable. Probiotics and digestive enzymes are two very different substances in our body and it helps to understand the difference between the two if you are going to achieve vibrant overall health.

Digestive Enzymes

Digestive Enzymes are proteins that facilitate the chemical breakdown of the food you eat into smaller, more absorbable components. They're essential for extractingand absorbing nutrients from your food and can also help to reduce the number of unfriendly bacteria in your intestines. 

Different types of enzymes have their own specific jobs, and go to work breaking down specific types of food. Amylase enzymes break down starches into sugar molecules, lipase enzymes break down fat, and protease enzymes break down proteins into amino acids.

Certain foods, like raw fruits and vegetables, contain natural plant enzymes that assist with their own digestion. Raw dairy contains enzymes that help break down milk sugars, which are often difficult to digest. Enzymes are very senstitive to their environment, and heat can denature and destroy the enzymes present in the food we eat. Temperatures as low as 100° can start to impact enzymes. So when you consume cooked, pasteurized, and processed foods, you are missing out on the naturally occurring enzymes that would help you to digest and break those foods down. The burden of producing these enzymes is now left entirely up to your body.

Here's how to select the right digestive enzyme supplement for you and their health benefits.

Signs You May Benefit From Digestive Enzymes Include:

  • Feeling heavy, bloated, sluggish after meals
  • Abdominal cramping after meals
  • Persistent heartburn
  • Bacterial overgrowth in small intestine
  • Trouble digesting fatty foods
  • Skin rashes, acne, and eczema
  • Brain fog, headaches, and mood swings

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are bacterial organisms that live symbiotically on and in our bodies. Current research tells us our bodies may contain as much as ten times more bacteria and micro-organisms than actual human cells! These organisms live on the surface of our skin, in our mouths and noses, and inside our gastrointestinal system.

These beneficial bacteria play a role in supporting a number of our necessary bodily processes, including digestion, gut health, and immune health. The good bacteria compete for space and resources with "bad" bacteria that can cause us illness. The good bacteria even contribute to our natural energy levels - up to 10% of your daily energy needs can be derived from the byproducts of the good bacteria that live in your gut.

Our natural levels of good bacteria can be disrupted when we take a round of antibiotics, prescription corticosteroids, birth control pills, NSAIDS such as aspririn, heavily cholorinated water, stress, refined sugars, refined grains, and even exposure to BPA.

There are a handful of nutrients a woman doesn't want to miss out on while pregnant, and probiotics are one of them. So are prenatal supplementsvitamin Dcalcium, and the essential fat DHA

Signs You May Benefit From Probiotics Include:

  • Gas, bloating, heartburn
  • Constipation, diarrhea, IBS and IBD
  • Yeast infections
  • Fungal infections (like athlete's foot)
  • Skin disorders and allergies
  • Autoimmune conditions

As you can see, the signs of enzyme deficiency and probiotic deficiency can be very similar. Your nutrition professional can guide you into selecting the proper supplements for your specific needs and health profile.

How to Add Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics to Your Diet


Your diet can be a source of both digestive enzymes and probiotics. Here are 12 foods that contain natural digestive enzymes: pineapple, papaya, mango, raw honey, bananas, avocados, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kiwi and ginger.

Adding bitter foods also works wonderful for increasing digestive enzymes in your gut. Bitter foods activate bitter receptors on the tongue, which in turn activate cells in your stomach to normalize acid production for better digestion. When this happens, bile production and digestive enzyme production are improved as well. Proper bile production is essential for detoxifying the liver, excretion of heavy metals from your body, hormone balance, and bowel regularity. Finally, bitter foods also tend to be rich in antioxidants, which supports a healthy inflammatory response. Here's how to add more digestive bitters to your diet. 


Natural sources of probiotics include fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and sourdough bread. Here are all my favorite gut nourishers.

Foods such as raw, fermented vegetables or coconut water kefir can even offer the best of both worlds - providing you with a rich source of probiotic-containing foods that are full of enzymes for a healthy, happy digestive system.

If you want to take, or already take, a probiotic supplement, here are tips for choosing a quality probiotic supplement

Cheers to Your Gut Health!

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

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