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Digestive Enzymes vs Probiotics - Which Is Better?

With surveys suggesting up to 74% of Americans regularly deal with gastrointestinal-related issues or symptoms, it’s not surprising that so many people have started taking digestive enzymes and probiotics supplements in their search for better gut health. But which one should you be taking? The red pill or the blue pill…I mean, digestive enzymes or probiotics? Well, in this article, we’ll take a closer look at both of them, including what they do, how they can help your gut health and who they are best suited for.

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    The origins of enzymes vs probiotics

    Just before we get started, did you know that us humans have been fascinated by bacteria since as far back as the 1600s? In fact, it was around this time that famous scientists like Antonie van Leeuwenhoek first viewed bacteria under a microscope.

    But despite their pioneering discoveries, Antonie and other early leaders of microbiology viewed bacteria as mainly disruptive and “disease-causing”. And so if you had asked them, which is better - probiotics, being bacteria, or digestive enzymes - they would have been Team Enzymes all the way!

    Fast forward to the 21st century though and we’ve learnt a lot. In fact, in the past two decades or so we have truly begun to understand how much we need bacteria, especially in our guts, and just how poorly we can feel when we don’t have adequate amounts and diversity of them.

    But of course that’s just one aspect of gut health.  We also have to worry about how well we digest and absorb the food we eat.  So with that history lesson out of the way let’s first look at...

    What Are Probiotics?

    Well, you probably already know that they are healthy bacteria that can benefit us humans in some way. But did you know the name Probiotic actually means for life? Which is such a befitting name for these little bacterial buddies of ours.

    Now, here’s the really cool thing: inside your gut right now, there is a five-foot-long tube known as the large intestine, or colon. And guess what: it can house upwards of 100 trillion bacteria or microbes to use the technical term.  And they come from thousands of different species, ranging from beneficial to neutral to potentially harmful.

    Together they make up what is called your microbiome. And you can think of it like an entire rainforest inside your gut!

    So now you know that, I bet you’re wondering…

    What Is A Healthy Microbiome?

    In other words, how can we make sure the 100 trillion bacterial buddies living inside of us; help our gut health, instead of hindering it?

    Well, just as a healthy rainforest requires diverse plant and animal life to flourish and thrive, your microbiome also needs a wide variety of bacteria, yeast, and fungal species to remain in balance. And to give you an idea of just how important this is, I wanted to share a quote from this 2020 paper we recently read in the Digestive Diseases journal.

    So the researchers wrote…

    “This diversity allows humans to obtain a variety of benefits such as digesting various foods (especially fiber), producing vitamins and other protective metabolites, activating homeostatic gut and systemic immune responses and preventing colonization by pathogens.”

    And if you don’t speak fluent geek like our research team at Essential Stacks, to summarize what they are saying is; a diverse microbiome can help your digestion, nutrient absorption, immune system and even protect you from dangerous bacteria and yeast.

    Not only that, but a well balanced microbiome has also been linked to better mood, skin, cognition and metabolism.

    What If Your Microbiome Is Unhealthy?

    But what happens if your microbiome is unhealthy? Well, when there is an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in our gut, dysbiosis can develop. Which is just a fancy way for saying our microbial community - the rain forest within us - is out of whack.

    And this is a problem, because it can then cause many knock on digestive problems like bloating, constipation and of course diarrhea. So repopulating your gut microbiome with beneficial bacteria - in other words probiotics - can help to bring things back into balance.

    How Can We Consume More Probiotics?

    And in terms of how we can consume more probiotics, well, there are 3 great options you can try.

    1. The first port of call would be to rebuild the bacterial rainforest in your gut by consuming probiotic-rich fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi. And if you want to learn more about them, check out our articles on sauerkraut and kimchi.
    2. Of course not everyone loves the taste of these.  So the next best option you can try are fermented drinks like kefir and kombucha. Most people find these much easier to consume and often end up loving the taste. And if you want to learn how to make these fermented foods checkout the articles we wrote on kefir and kombucha.
    3. And finally if still you find probiotic foods and drinks a bit of a challenge to consume regularly enough to support your microbiome, then you can always try a probiotic supplement. Here at Essential Stacks we make this 50 billion CFUs probiotic.

    And since I don’t want this to turn into an infomercial for our probiotic, I’ll just say this: picking a good probiotic supplement is tough. Most don’t deliver enough good bacteria or from a diverse enough range of strains. So if you want to learn what to look for in a probiotic supplement, check out our Buyer’s guide to probiotics

    Now you know what probiotics are, why they’re important and just how silly our old Dutch scientist friend Antonie was when he thought bacteria were bad - silly dutch man - let’s take a look at…

    What Are Digestive Enzymes?

    ...and why are they important?

    So I guess the first big thing to say is that although probiotics are undoubtedly beneficial, sometimes the problem with our gut health isn’t due to an imbalanced microbiome.

    Instead, sometimes the issue arises earlier in the digestive tract like in the stomach or small intestine. In other words, we have a problem digesting our food properly.  And in these cases, digestive enzymes are a lot more important.

    So to set the scene for you, it’s important to know that our bodies naturally and constantly produce enzymes that help to break down the food we eat into smaller building blocks that our cells can use for energy.

    For obvious reasons, a huge steak couldn’t just slide down the digestive tract in its entirety. Instead, we’ve got to break it down first in multiple ways - and one of the key ways for doing this is with enzymes.

    But, this natural enzyme production can decline due to age, an unhealthy diet, stress and a variety of other health issues.

    Not Enough Enzymes Can Lead To Poor Digestion

    And if we are not making enough enzymes, then our bodies might struggle to completely break down the food we eat. And this in turn can cause uncomfortable digestive symptoms - hello bloating, gas and reflux.

    And in these cases, you might take a digestive enzymes supplement.

    In other words, you would send down more of the good guys to help with food break down. And that way you can ensure you don’t end up like Bryan Cranston storming out of the Tonys.

    Digestive Enzymes vs Probiotics - Which Is Better?

    So in terms of which is better, well hopefully you can now see that one is not necessarily better than the other. Instead, it comes down to what your digestive issues are and whether foods are the key cause of them. And so to wrap up this article let’s take a quick look at when to choose which supplement.

    When To Choose Probiotics

    So quite simply probiotics can help with a broader range of health concerns than digestive enzymes. And that’s because your gut microbiome can affect so many other parts of the body as we saw earlier in the video.

    Supplemental probiotics have been found to help with many issues, including: irritable bowel syndrome, and constipation, as well as other common GI issues like leaky gut, SIBO and diarrhea.  Probiotics are even thought to potentially benefit non-digestive issues, like depression, acne and allergies.

    When to Choose Digestive Enzymes

    So now in terms of when you should choose digestive enzymes, well these are a better choice when most of your issues come from eating.

    You see, although probiotics can help digest fiber-rich foods - that’s about it. By contrast, a digestive enzyme supplement with a wide variety of different enzymes can help you digest everything from protein to fats, and of course carbs and fiber.

    With that said, something like our Pure Enzymes supplement, which is a multi-enzyme formula is not for everyone…

    You see, if you only find some specific foods cause you a problem - for example dairy - then you don’t need an enzyme supplement with so many different enzymes.  Instead, you would be fine taking a single enzyme supplement. For example:

    • Lactase enzymes for lactose intolerance
    • Or alpha-galactosidase enzymes for beans and legumes
    • Or even Peptidase DPP-IV* for gluten intolerance

    And by contrast, if you get bloated or experience other digestion issues randomly - meaning you can’t pinpoint a specific food - well then a broad spectrum digestive enzyme supplement like Pure Enzymes may be your best bet.

    What If I Want To Take Both Probiotics & Enzymes?

    Well, the simple answer is you can. As they don’t interfere with each other and offer complementary benefits.

    However we don’t want you to go spending money on supplements that aren’t really necessary. So it can be worth trialing out each supplement separately to see if one works better for you than the other.

    For example, you could take a probiotic for 4 weeks and keep an eye on your symptoms, if they improve, you know probiotics by themselves are probably good enough! If not, go ahead and try adding digestive enzymes into your routine.

    Overall, the moral of the story is that both probiotics and digestive enzymes supplements can benefit different parts of your digestive system.

    So to recap…while enzymes help you break down food completely to help with bloating, gas & indigestion, probiotics help repopulate your gut microbiome to benefit both digestive and overall health.

    Now we want to hear from you…what have you found works best for you? Let everyone know by leaving a comment below.

    Evidence Based

    An evidence hierarchy is followed to ensure conclusions are formed off of the most up-to-date and well-designed studies available. We aim to reference studies conducted within the past five years when possible.

    • Systematic review or meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
    • Randomized controlled trials
    • Controlled trials without randomization
    • Case-control (retrospective) and cohort (prospective) studies
    • A systematic review of descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method studies
    • A single descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method study
    • Studies without controls, case reports, and case series
    • Animal research
    • In vitro research

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