Fat-Busting Enzymes : You Know You Want Some...Or Do You?
Updated: Feb 2
After my husband’s gallbladder was removed (which happens to around 500,000 Americans every year), the discharging physician’s assistant explained that the gallbladder’s job was to store bile from the liver and release it at the right time, which is integral in the digestion of fat. He explained that the liver (which produces the bile) would quickly adjust and be able to release the bile directly into the digestive tract, what amazing systems our bodies are made up of! During this adjustment, eating fat could result in unpleasant digestive distress. He recommended that he limit fatty meals and take digestive enzyme pills to help for the first few weeks after surgery to help digest fat. Wait, what? There’s a pill that helps digest fat?
Why have I never heard of this? I would like help digesting fat so it doesn’t end up jiggling all over!
We’ve talked a little bit about your microbiome and how it is linked to your overall health (mushroom coffee blog). While researchers have been doing studies on this connection, and ways we can boost the diversity and health of our gut microbiomes, capitalist driven companies have been rushing to fill the market with both prescription and over-the-counter ‘solutions’ for digestive enzyme deficiencies. They promise everything from post-surgery recovery to weight loss. While some formulas may have benefits and be based in scientific research, most are the modern day snake oil gimmicks.
I started by reading the bottle in the cabinet (he is still taking them 2 years later) and checking the manufacturer’s website, which makes several promises: less gas and bloating, more energy, better/faster digestion, better poops, less food allergies/intolerances, decreased inflammation, heartburn relief, optimized nutrient uptake, breaking down fats, carbs, proteins and more!
So, I started doing some research about whether or not it would be a good idea to use an enzyme supplement, because better digestion would ultimately lead to a healthier gut and maybe help lose weight, right? Of course, the result of any Google search will probably bring you to what you want to hear on the topic, but one has to dig a little deeper. What I found was that enzymes used for actual medical purposes by prescription are quite different than the ones you and I can purchase from our favorite online sites. Prescription medications for enzyme replacement are typically made from the pancreases of pigs, and are regulated and approved by the FDA. When given as a prescription (which would obviously come from a medical provider that clinically deems the medication as beneficial to your medical situation), the pills are designed to survive your stomach acids to get to the small intestine where they can actually be used to aid digestion. Digestive enzymes are often prescribed for people with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), pancreatitis and Cystic Fibrosis.
Over the counter enzymes are not regulated and contain questionable amounts of unproven ingredients. Of course, that doesn’t stop people from taking them. According to an article in the Harvard Health Letter:
‘The supplements are so popular that global sales are expected to reach $1.6 billion by 2025, according to recent marketing research. But don't be too quick to reach for them. "Some of them are clearly beneficial, in certain situations. But enzyme supplements also are often used in situations where there is little evidence that they do any good," says Dr. Kyle Staller, a gastroenterologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.’
So, should I take them? I tried them for a couple of days, but I felt bloated and when I saw the price of the bottle (and the fact that you have to take them immediately before eating a meal for them to work), I decided to research a new approach. A healthy person’s digestive system is able to make its own enzymes, but could I help it along? Are there natural foods I can add to my diet that could affect my gut microbiome and optimize my digestion? Turns out, yes you can!
Harvard Health Publishing. “Gut Reaction: A Limited Role for Digestive Enzyme Supplements.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health Publishing, 29 Jan. 2020, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/gut-reaction-a-limited-role-for-digestive-enzyme-supplements.
Have you tried enzymes to improve your metabolism? How did you feel, did you lose weight? Comment below!