are digestive enzymes good for IBS?

Are Digestive Enzymes Good for IBS?

If you suffer from digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), you’re probably no stranger to bloating and tummy aches.

These are two of the most common symptoms of many IBS and IBD but there are many more. From constipation or diarrhoea to cramps and pains, living with a digestive disorder is no walk in the park. It can seriously interfere with your daily living.

Digestive enzymes are a common natural remedy for bloating. Many people take them as a supplement when their IBS is flaring up in the hopes that it will reduce the size of their bloated stomach and help to get rid of excess gas in the bowel.

But the question of whether or not digestive enzymes are actually an effective treatment for IBS has a complex answer. They work well for some people, but not so well for others. But why is this?

Here is everything you need to know about taking digestive enzymes for bloating and IBS.

What Are Digestive Enzymes?

Digestive enzymes are found naturally in your body. They are produced by certain glands and organs in your body.

The glands and organs that produce your digestive enzymes include the salivary glands, stomach, liver, and pancreas.

There are several different kinds of enzymes, each of which has their own unique functions in the digestive process. Some of the key digestive enzymes produced by your body are:

  • Amylase
  • Lipase
  • Protease and peptidase

You can also take digestive enzymes as a supplement to enhance your natural digestion. Keep reading to learn more about why these supplements might be great if you have IBS!

What Do Digestive Enzymes Do?

Digestive enzymes, whether made naturally in your body or taken in through supplements, have an extremely important function.

They are specialised proteins called enzymes. They help your body to break down the foods that you ingest into smaller molecules.

Without this breakdown, the food molecules would be too large to pass through the wall of the small intestines. Basically, without digestive enzymes, we wouldn’t be able to absorb nutrients from the foods we eat.

Each type of digestive enzyme breaks down a different type of macronutrient. Amylases metabolise carbohydrates, lipases break down fats, and proteases and peptidases break proteins down.

This is why supplementing with digestive enzymes is ideal people with digestive disorders, including IBS.

Why Take Digestive Enzymes if You Have IBS?

There are many reasons why you might need to supplement with digestive enzymes, but one of the most common reasons is IBS.

This digestive disorder affects around 20% of adults, so it’s one of the most (if not the most) common digestive disorders across the globe. It leads to a range of negative symptoms, such as:

  • Aches and pains
  • Bloating
  • Cramps
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Excess gas

Digestive enzymes are a great natural remedy for bloating because they mimic your body’s natural enzymes. They are full of specialised proteins that break down the food that you ingest, providing gas relief and reducing bloating.

Alongside digestive enzymes, you might benefit from taking probiotics, laxatives, or pain killers, depending on your specific set of symptoms.

Dietary changes, regular exercise, and reducing your stress levels can also be helpful to relieve the symptoms of IBS.

Do Digestive Enzymes Work?

There has been some research on the effectiveness of IBS.

Because IBS is such a complex digestive disorder with many nuances, it’s difficult to determine the exact effectiveness of digestive enzymes. There are many causes of IBS so digestive enzymes are unlikely to be a suitable solution for everybody.

However, current research around digestive enzymes as a natural remedy for bloating is showing promising results.

Let’s take a look at some of the research.

One study found that those who regularly had diarrhoea after eating had significantly less symptoms after taking pancrelipase (PEZ). Another study showed that giving this same enzyme, pancrelipase, relieved the symptoms of food-induced IBS, such as bloating, cramping, pain, and constipation.

Another study administered a combination of digestive enzymes and soluble fibres called Biointol to a range of IBS sufferers. They found that Biointol reduced bloating, excess gas, and stomach discomfort. There was, however, very little effect on constipation or diarrhoea.

Those are just a few of the many studies that are centred around IBS and digestive enzymes. Clearly, digestive enzymes have some effect as a natural remedy for bloating and IBS, but there is still more research required to confirm these benefits.

It’s likely that you’d have to try different combinations of digestive enzymes to see which ones work best for your unique set of symptoms. Certain digestive enzymes might be more suitable for you than others.

Unless you have diagnosed medical health condition that reduces or inhibits the production of just one digestive enzyme in your body, you probably won’t know which enzymes you actually need to supplement with. Therefore, a lot of it is trial and error.

Your doctor or dietitian may help to guide you in the right direction if you have no idea where to start when it comes to choosing the right digestive enzyme supplement for your needs.

Are Digestive Enzymes Safe?

Generally, digestive enzymes are safe. They are available to buy directly from brick-and-mortar and online health stores without the need to get a prescription from the doctor. I’m other words, they are over the counter supplements.

There are some studies that point to the negative impacts of certain digestive enzymes. For example, some studies have pointed to the potentially dangerous effects of bromelain in supplements.

Bromelain is obtained from pineapples and it does have lots of positive health benefits. However, some studies indicate that it can interfere with the platelets in your blood. Your platelets are essential for blood clotting, so disruption to their normal function can be detrimental.

Due to these findings, supplements that contain bromelain may be unsuitable for those of you who are taking blood-thinning medications (anticoagulants), such as warfarin.

How Do You Take Digestive Enzymes?

Most healthcare professionals recommend that you take digestive enzymes a couple of hours before eating or just after eating your main meals. Doing so will aid your digestion. This can reduce the chances of you getting a bloated stomach or tummy aches, even after a larger meal.

Of course, if you eat an extremely large meal, you’ll probably feel pretty bloated and gassy afterwards. In this case, digestive enzymes might not be very effective and your bloat will naturally go down as your digestive tract breaks down all of the food you’ve ingested.

Your body’s ability to produce digestive enzymes decreases as you age. This is also affected by your genetics, lifestyle, physical health, and stress levels.

Prior to commencing any form of digestive enzyme supplement, you should always consult your doctor. They will be able to check your medical history to determine which supplements are the most suitable for you.

If the doctor thinks you’d benefit from stronger, more concentrated digestive enzyme supplements, they may write you a prescription to obtain the product from your local pharmacy. Prescription digestive enzymes may contain a combination of amylase, lipase, bromelain, and lactase to relieve IBS symptoms.

Are There Any Side Effects to Taking Digestive Enzymes?

Although digestive enzymes are generally safe to use, there is a small chance that you will experience some side effects. The most common adverse effects include:

  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Dizziness
  • Excess gas
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Stomach or intestinal cramps 
  • Weight loss

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should stop taking the digestive enzymes and see your doctor or dietitian for further advice.

It’s possible that your side effects are caused by just one of the digestive enzymes in the supplement. However, you won’t know exactly which one you’re having adverse reactions to unless you get tested.

Going to see a medical professional means you can get all of the right tests done to determine the cause of your side effects. From here, your doctor might practice different digestive enzymes to relieve your symptoms or they might suggest removing supplements from your IBS treatment plan.

Final Thoughts

Digestive enzymes can be beneficial in reducing the symptoms of IBS. They can enhance your digestion, reducing the risk of bloating or excess gas, so that you can enjoy your favourite foods without worrying about the after-effects.

You should always be cautious when taking digestive enzymes. The research highlights that the use of these supplements for IBS treatment can be extremely effective, but that doesn’t mean they will work for everybody.

Your body and digestive system are unique and certain digestive enzymes might not be suitable for your needs. Most people with IBS see positive effects when they use these supplements as part of a later treatment program.

Make sure to do your research and get professional guidance before you buy any digestive enzymes for your IBS.