How much do you know about taking digestive enzyme supplements safely?

Digestive enzymes are promoted as a natural and safe treatment for best health. The most common claims are that healthy people (without diseases impacting the digestive system like cystic fibrosis) are healthier taking digestive enzyme supplements. Websites and books state the impact of our modern lifestyle requires enzyme supplements for proper digestion to take place. They also say the body makes fewer enzymes as we age leading to significant health problems. These ideas are not supported by medical or nutritional research.

This can make it difficult to decide whether to try digestive enzymes. There are some important questions you can ask yourself though to help make the right choice.

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  • Do you have other medical conditions that may be made worse by increasing the amount of enzymes in your digestive system?
  • Do you know what a safe dose is for YOU? (There is a maximum dose of enzyme supplements that you can take with each meal and a total maximum dose that you can take per day. This safe dose is worked out based upon your body weight, your current health needs and diet.) 
  • Do you know about the potential side effects of taking digestive enzyme supplements and how best to decrease this risk?
  • Do you know what foods are best to take pancreatic enzymes with and which foods may increase the risk of side effects?


Are There Any Side Effects?

The side effects of digestive enzyme supplements is something you rarely hear about but because enzyme supplements are a tested treatment for certain medical conditions there is plenty of medical research exploring the side effects of taking enzymes.

A common, although not overly serious problem enzyme supplements can cause is constipation. If you already have problems with this you may want to consider the use of digestive enzymes carefully. It is also important to know that if you hold some enzyme supplements in your mouth for too  long  they can cause irritation leading to sores on the mouth, tongue and lips.

Most importantly though if you increase the amount of digestive enzymes beyond what your body actually needs to digest food you can cause a serious disease called fibrosing colonopathy. Children especially are at risk of developing this condition from using digestive enzyme supplements. There is no research on this disorder in people who take enzymes for alternative health reasons. Instead the focus is on people with a disease called cystic fibrosis who do not make enzymes and rely on supplements to digest their food. In cystic fibrosis (or other disorders of the pancreas) if you take an enzyme dose beyond your medical needs you are at risk of developing fibrosing colonopathy. It would be expected that this risk would be higher for people who make digestive enzymes naturally. This is because it is easier to take more than your body needs as the extra enzymes you swallow are added to what your body already has in its digestive system.Making it easier to have too much for good  health.

So unlike other supplements, such as a multi-vitamin, the use of enzyme supplements is far more complex. The answer is to discuss your thoughts about taking digestive enzyme supplements with your doctor and if you decide to take them, do so under his or her care.