Digestive Enzymes: What To Take And When

Got digestive issues? Well, join every one in America. Lucky for you, I'm a bit of an enzyme aficionado. I've been taking some sort of enzyme combo with every meal for the past three years. I'm going to break down which ones to take, when to take em, and where to get em!

The dangers of indigestion. Lack of proper digestive enzymes, good bacteria, or HCL (stomach acid) can cause all sorts of undesirable symptoms including: cramps, bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux. YAY, right? Not only are these annoying to live with, but the long term effects of lacking enzymes or stomach acid are detrimental. If you can't absorb your nutrients and proteins, it starts a harmful chain reaction in the body. The list of potential problems is way too long and depressing for me to post here. Oh, and BONUS: we naturally get depleted in enzymes as we age, so they are pretty much suggested for everybody.

So how do we get ourselves in this mess where we need added enzymes to digest food properly? Many contributing factors such as: high sugar diet, processed foods, chemicals, antibiotic use, sedentary lifestyle are just some of the stupid things we do that get us in this quandary. 

What is your problem?

Actually, no. Don't tell me your problems. I'm just concerned about your digestion for the purposes of this blog. There are two main types of digestive issues:

  • trouble breaking down protein + fat

  • trouble digesting complex carbs + sugars

Some people (like me) suffer from both. The former is usually a sluggish gallbladder  that doesn't release sufficient bile and/or low HCL (stomach acid) production. Bile and HCL help us digest fats and animal proteins, disinfect our food, and assimilate nutrients. The latter is commonly due to lack of sufficient good bacteria due to antibiotic use, infections, overconsumption of sugar, or conditions like Sibo (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). Inability to break down carbs, fats, or proteins can lead to low energy, malnutrition, and disease.

HCL supplements. {if you have ulcers, these are not for you}

How do you know if you need extra HCL?

Low HCL is becoming an American epidemic due to the diet we eat, coupled with antibiotic abuse + gut infections, and causes a whole host of issues due to lack of nutrient absorption. A holistic doctor can look at different things on your blood test to determine if you're breaking down proteins well. "BUN" or urea nitrogen is one way of measurement.

How many do you take?

That depends on how low you are and this article will help you determine what dose is right for you via self testing. Be sure your HCL includes Pepsin. HCL supplementation is contraindicated is in the case of ulcers or similar conditions, because obviously, you need to avoid acid in that situation. ALSO, ONLY TAKE HCL WITH ANIMAL PROTEIN. You don't need much acid to break down a salad, but you need other types of enzymes... listed below.

Here are some other helpful tips on how to increase stomach acid naturally. 

  • 1-2 TB of lemon juice or 1 TB of apple cider vinegar in some water 20 mins before a meal

  • Digestive bitters 20 mins before a meal (see below)

  • Drink 16 oz of fresh organic celery juice on an empty stomach for a few months to transform digestion and increase enzyme production. Read about it here.

Here is the HCL supplement I've been using for several years by Pure Encapsulations. As with most supplements, I get them on Vitacost to save money! Seriously - THE BEST tip for saving money on health products is Vitacost. Plus free shipping over $49!

Digestive Bitters.

What are bitters? Well. Bitters are a variety of herbs that signal the stomach to produce HCL, bile, and digestive enzymes when they mix with our saliva. Our problem is that we only eat pleasant tasting things - often the same stuff repeatedly. Over time, the body gets used to certain things and it needs to be woken up in a sense. We were made to eat a variety of foods and herbs for a reason.

Take before meals to stimulate digestion or afterward to settle stomach. I like these organic ones from Urban Moonshine.

Comprehensive Digestive Enzymes.

These are enzymes that cover the whole spectrum: proteins, fats, carbs. However, if you have low stomach acid you'll still need additional HCL. Digest Gold by Enzymedica is hands down the BEST enzyme I have ever taken and most holistic doctors agree. I noticed immediately that it was helping with my bloating and discomfort after eating carbs or sugar. It also has ATP pro, which helps break down glucose from carbs and convert into energy.

If you don't like taking pills, there's a chewable option: Garden of Life Organic Digest. You simply chew one tablet after a meal - so they're handy for on the go. I personally didn't find them to be strong enough for me. However, I have severe digestive issues so most (normal) people would probably notice a difference with these.

Enzymix Pro by Apex Energetics is a great comprehensive enzyme that has HCL + fat and carb enzymes. It is usually only available through a practitioner.

Vegetable + Raw foods Enzymes.

If you have issues digesting raw veggies, salads, beans, or eat a vegan diet — VeggieGest enzyme is for you! It works really well to break down fibrous foods that cause digestive upset and may not be getting broken down correctly.

Fat Digestive Enzymes. 

This Enzymedica Lypogold is fantastic for those who get bloated, gassy, or nauseous after fatty foods. Even foods you might not think of like avocado have 21g of fat! That is a lot of you have a sluggish gallbladder or liver. Great to take when you're out to eat!

Liquid Comprehensive Enzymes.

A liquid comprehensive enzyme is Iberogast. It is a digestive support supplement that has been widely used in Germany and throughout the world for over forty years. Here is a great summary of all the issues it addresses. You simply drink it in some water before a meal. It also has some digestive bitters, which stimulate your own enzymes to kick in. This is big supplement in the SIBO world  - as it is often used during treatment. 

Gluten + Casein Enzymes.

If you have a gluten or dairy sensitivity, this is your best friend for when you eat out! Even if you order gluten free, you are likely going to be ingesting gluten unless you are at a Celiac friendly restaurant - and there's like 2 of those in the whole country. This Integrative Therapeutics Similase GFCF will help you break down any incidental gluten or casein protein!


Gallbladder Enzymes.

If you have a horrible time digesting fats - as evidenced by labs or by burping/nausea after fatty or greasy meals, you likely have a sluggish gallbladder and liver. The biggest natural thing you can do to increase bile production and help your poor little gallbladder? BEETS. Or beet powder in a smoothie if you hate the taste.

This article explains how to know if you have an issue digesting fats, the importance of it and how to get yourself up to speed. Gallbladder insufficiency is actually starting to be recognized as a possible root cause for SIBO. Beta TCP by Biotics Research helps with liver detoxification as well as bile production and can be used as a general enzyme with any meal for those who need help in these areas.

Ox Bile is necessary if you've had your gallbladder out - it's basically replacing the bile salts you're lacking. In some extreme cases, people with gallbladders use this as well if they really can't digest anything. Biotics Research also makes a product for this called Beta PLUS.


Let me know any tips that have helped your digestion to improve, or ask any questions you have below! XOXO

Wondering who's the mysterious wordy genius behind these posts? Follow this little rabbit trail to read more About Me! The use of the term genius is open to interpretation. Like just about everything else on this site.