Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
5 min read
Digestive enzymes are proteins in your body that help your body break down the food you consume. They help make the protein, fats, and carbohydrates you consume small enough to be absorbed by your small intestine. Without these enzymes, far too many of the nutrients in your food would end up going to waste.
When everything is functioning as it should, your body makes these enzymes in the digestive system, including your stomach, your mouth, and your small intestine. And they’re mainly made by the pancreas. The three main types of digestive enzymes are:
If your body isn’t producing enough of these enzymes, you may notice some frustrating digestive issues, including bloating, cramping, gassiness, and diarrhea; indeed, your body can even end up being malnourished. That’s when replacement digestive enzymes – or digestive enzyme supplements – can play a helpful role.
So, when is the best time of day to take digestive enzymes? Since the function of these enzymes is to break down the food we consume, it’s best to take them with meals. When you take your digestive enzyme with a meal, that enzyme will go to work with that meal, helping the meal’s nutrients get into your system. In many cases, the type of enzyme you’re using is designed to break down a certain type of food; a lactase supplement, for example, can help your body break down dairy. But regardless of the type of enzyme or the desired effect, you should strive to take your enzymes with meals. The time of the day is less important than the fact that the supplement is taken close to the time you’re eating.
You can take digestive enzymes before you eat, after you eat, or with the meal itself. The key is to make sure you take the enzyme within just a few minutes of eating. Most people recommend taking the enzyme about 15-20 minutes before eating, however. For greater clarity on this point, you can check the instruction label on your product. The proper dosage will also vary based on what kind of supplement you’re using and how potent it is. If you need more direction, you can’t go wrong checking in with a pharmacist or nutritionist. Before adding any new supplement to your routine, it’s important to consult a medical professional.
Digestive enzymes only work properly when they have something to metabolize – food, in other words. They’re intended to mimic actual pancreatic enzymes, which are there to break down food. That’s why you should always try to take digestive enzymes around the time you’re going to eat. Take them on an empty stomach only if you’re going to eat within the next 20-30 minutes.
Consistency is the key to seeing benefits and positive results. A good strategy may be to take them twice per day, with meals. As your routine gets established, pay attention to your body; see if you’re noticing any improvements to your overall health and wellbeing. If you have questions about your digestive enzyme routine, see your doctor.
However, if you have digestive problems specific to a particular type of food – lactose intolerance, for example – you only need to take your digestive enzyme when you’re going to be eating that food. If you have a gluten intolerance and you’re eating at a nice restaurant, you can take your enzyme as a sort of insurance measure, in case your food has been cross contaminated with gluten. In the case of gluten, though, taking the enzyme shouldn’t be considered a free pass to eat gluten.
There are several foods that have digestive enzymes, including:
Adding any of these foods to your diet can be good for you. However, it’s important to note that there’s no real scientific evidence to suggest that eating foods rich in enzymes leads to improved digestion. Instead of focusing solely on enzyme-rich foods, you’d be better served by making sure your diet is well balanced and nutrient-rich, including fruits, veggies, proteins, and grains. A balanced, healthy diet can support the digestive enzymes already in your body and help ensure that your body is producing the enzymes it needs.
Like any supplement, digestive enzymes can lead to some side effects, especially if you’re taking too many. The digestive system requires a balance that can be thrown off if the enzyme dose is off or the ratio of enzymes in your system is wrong. Taking too many digestive enzymes can lead to symptoms of digestive discomfort, including:
You should exercise particular caution if you’re taking other medications or pharmaceuticals, since these can interfere with digestive enzymes. Talk to your doctor before switching up your supplement regimen. You should also talk to your doctor if these side effects persist.
Digestive enzymes are in the body to help break down the food we eat and allow us to absorb the nutrients we need. These enzymes are made in the stomach, small intestine, and pancreas. When the production of these enzymes is disrupted, though, you may experience some negative digestive symptoms. Digestive enzyme supplements can help address these symptoms. It’s important to take these supplements consistently and in conjunction with your mealtimes.