Healthy Routes Column: Probiotics or Digestive Enzymes?

by Gladys Kublic, coowner Neighbors Vitamin Shop

This is a question we are frequently asked at Neighbors Vitamin Shop. It is also a question which we can successfully answer for anyone from infants to the elderly.

Digestive issues present themselves in a variety of symptoms which we have all experienced occasionally such as upset stomach, gas, bloating, heartburn, and bowel irregularities. These symptoms are very similar for either a probiotic deficiency or an enzyme deficiency. To successfully determine which is which it is important to understand the difference between the two.

The World Health Organization’s 2001 definition of probiotics is “live micro-organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”. Probiotics are living bacteria which are needed to maintain the healthy balance of microbes within our intestines. They are not produced by our body but are essential for its internal functions.

Digestive enzymes, on the other hand are proteins which break food down into digestible nutrients which can be absorbed and utilized by the body. Enzymes are found in all raw food, plants and fruits and when we are young and healthy, our body produces the digestive enzymes we need. A lifelong diet of cooked, processed foods depletes our body’s enzymes and hinders its ability to produce an adequate supply necessary for proper digestion.

If you have been ill; if you have taken antibiotics; if you have been under stress; or if you suffer from recurring urinary tract or yeast infections you would benefit from probiotics. There are various combinations of the different strains which address these symptoms. Children’s tummy troubles are relieved with probiotics formulated especially for them from infancy on. There are high potency formulas which aid sufferers of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Ulcerative Colitis, and C. Difficile infections. There are now Traveler’s Probiotic formulas which are able to survive at room temperatures for approximately 30 days for vacationers who experience diarrhea or nausea when away from home.

Digestive enzymes are necessary when you find that great dinner just seems to sit in your stomach forever. Many people suffer after a hearty Italian pasta meal which combines a lot of the ingredients which are commonly hard to digest – gluten from wheat flour pasta, lactose and casein from the cheese and fats. We all overeat at times which taxes our body’s ability to produce enough enzymes to properly digest our food. When we change our diet, even if it is for the better, we may not have the ability to produce enough of the needed enzymes because they are very specific in their actions. A good enzyme product won’t just help with gluten and casein digestion, it will include enzymes that assist in the digestion of fats, carbohydrates, sugars, and other proteins. An enzyme product that contains a variety of proteases (for digesting proteins), amylase, cellulase, phytase, lactase, sucrase (carbohydrates), and lipase (fats) is most beneficial. Proteases have evolved multiple times, and different classes of protease can perform the same reaction by completely different catalitic mechanisms. Superior formulas contain several classes of protease.

Probiotics are considered essential supplements because they are not something the body can produce. We need to acquire them from foods or supplements. Besides restoring beneficial bacteria to our system, probiotics produce enzymes such as protease, lipase, and lactase to further assist with protein and fat digestion as well as reduce problems associated with lactose intolerance. Probiotics also produce B vitamins, particularly folic acid and B12, which are biocatalysts in food digestion.

Enzymes ensure the complete digestion of our foods by helping to create the proper environment for the right balance of microbes in our digestive tract. Whether taken alone or together, these two supplements offer many health benefits. As anyone familiar with a colicky baby knows, if the tummy has troubles, it’s big trouble. So even if we can now suffer in silence, there is no need to when probiotics and enzymes are readily available.

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