Digestive enzymes are substances that help you digest your food. They are secreted (released) by the salivary glands and cells lining the stomach, pancreas, and small intestine.
Digestive enzymes do this by splitting the large, complex molecules that make up proteins, carbohydrates, and fats into smaller ones. This allows thenutrients from these foods to be easily absorbed into your blood and carried through your body.
There are several digestive enzymes, including amylase, maltase, lactase, lipase, sucrase, and proteases.
Some conditions can result in digestive enzyme deficiencies, such as lactose intolerance or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. In that case, supplementation with foods, over-the-counter supplements, or prescription digestive enzyme supplements may be necessary.
Keep reading to learn about different types of digestive enzymes and how they work.
What Are Digestive Enzymes?
Digestive enzymes are released when we:
- Anticipate eating
- Smell and taste food
- Go through the digestive process
Some foods require certain digestive enzymes to break down the specific nutrients they contain.
A variety of health conditions, especially those that affect the pancreas, can lead to deficiencies in digestive enzymes. This is because the pancreas secretes several key enzymes.
Often these deficiencies can be fixed by changing your diet. You can avoid certain foods or eat foods containing naturally occurring digestive enzymes. You can also take prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) enzyme supplements.
Types of Digestive Enzymes
Each of the many different digestive enzymes targets a specific nutrient and splits it up into a form that can eventually be absorbed.
The most important digestive enzymes are:
Amylase is important for digesting carbohydrates. It breaks down starches into sugars.
Amylase is secreted by both the salivary glands and the pancreas. The measurement of amylase levels in the blood is sometimes used as an aid in diagnosing various pancreas or other digestive tract diseases.
High levels of amylase in the blood may mean you have:
- A blocked or injured duct of the pancreas
- Pancreatic cancer
- Acute pancreatitis, which is a sudden inflammation of the pancreas
Low levels of amylase may mean you have chronic pancreatitis (ongoing inflammation of the pancreas) or liver disease.
The small intestine releases maltase, which is responsible for breaking down maltose (malt sugar) into glucose (simple sugar). The body uses glucose for energy.
During digestion, starch is partially transformed into maltose by amylases. The maltase enzyme then changes maltose into glucose. This sugar is then either used immediately by the body or stored in the liver as glycogen for future use.
Lactase (also calledlactase-phlorizin hydrolase) is an enzyme that breaks down lactose, a sugar found in dairy products. It turns lactose into the simple sugars glucose and galactose.
Lactase is produced by cells known as enterocytes that line the intestinal tract. Lactose that is not absorbed is fermented by bacteria in the gut. This can cause you to have gas and an upset stomach.
Lipase is responsible for the breakdown of fats into fatty acids and glycerol (simple sugar alcohol). It's produced in small amounts by your mouth and stomach, and in larger amounts by your pancreas.
Also called peptidases, proteolytic enzymes, or proteinases, these digestive enzymes break down proteins into amino acids. They also play a role in numerous body processes, including:
- Cell division
- Blood clotting
- Immune function
Proteases are produced in the stomach and pancreas. The main ones are:
- Pepsin: Pepsin is secreted by the stomach to break down proteins into peptides, or smaller groupings of amino acids. Those amino acids are then either absorbed or broken down further in the small intestine.
- Trypsin: Trypsin forms when an enzyme secreted by the pancreas is activated by an enzyme in the small intestine. Trypsin then activates additional pancreatic enzymes, such as carboxypeptidase and chymotrypsin, to help break down peptides.
- Chymotrypsin: This enzyme breaks down peptides into free amino acids that can be absorbed by the intestinal wall.
- Carboxypeptidase A: Secreted by the pancreas, it splits peptides into individual amino acids.
- Carboxypeptidase B: Secreted by the pancreas, it breaks down basic amino acids.
Proteolytic Enzymes: Benefits, Side Effects, Dosage, and Interactions
Sucrase is secreted by the small intestine, where it breaks down sucrose (the sugar in table sugar) into fructose and glucose. These are simpler sugars that the body can absorb.
Sucrase is found along the intestinal villi. These are tiny hair-like structures that line the intestine and absorb nutrients into the bloodstream.
Digestive Enzyme Deficiencies
There are a variety of health conditions that can interfere with the secretion of enough digestive enzymes to fully digest foods. Some are inherited genetic conditions while others develop over time.
Lactose intolerance occurs when you aren't able to digest lactose because of insufficient production of lactase by the small intestine. When you consume dairy products, you may experience:
- Abdominal pain
There are several forms of lactose intolerance.
Congenital Lactase Deficiency
Congenital lactase deficiency (also called congenital alactasia) is a rare inherited form of lactose intolerance. It happens when newborns are unable to break down lactose in breast milk or formula. They get severe diarrhea if they aren't given a lactose-free alternative.
Congenital lactase deficiency is caused by mutations in the LCT gene that provides instructions for making the lactase enzyme.
Lactase non-persistence is a common type of lactose intolerance that some people develop as adults. It affects around 65% of people, and it's caused by decreased expression (activity) of the LCT gene. Symptoms typically begin 30 minutes to two hours after eating or drinking dairy.
Most people with lactase non-persistence keep some level of lactase activity and can continue to include a small amount of lactose in their diets. This may be in the form of cheese or yogurt since both tend to be tolerated better than fresh milk.
Secondary Lactose Intolerance
Secondary lactose intolerance develops when lactase production is reduced because of diseases that can damage the small intestine. These diseases include celiac disease or Crohn's disease as well as other illnesses or injuries that affect the intestinal wall.
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
The pancreas produces the key digestive enzymes amylase, protease, and lipase. People with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) have a deficiency of these enzymes. As a result, they are unable to digest food properly, especially fats.
The health conditions that affect the pancreas and are associated with EPI are:
- Chronic pancreatitis: An inflammation of the pancreas that can permanently damage the organ over time
- Cystic fibrosis: An inherited genetic condition that causes severe damage to the lungs and digestive system, including the pancreas
- Pancreatic cancer
Foods High in Digestive Enzymes
A variety of foods, especially tropical fruits and fermented vegetables, are naturally high in digestive enzymes that might speed up the digestion of certain nutrients.
It's best to eat them raw since heat can lessen or destroy these plant enzymes.
|Foods with Digestive Enzymes|
|Pineapple||Proteases (bromelain)||Helps digest proteins and has additional anti-inflammatory effects|
|Papaya||Proteases (papain)||Helps digest proteins and is a popular meat tenderizer|
|Kiwi||Proteases (actinidain)||In addition to its digestive enzymes, the fruit is high in fiber to support digestive tract function|
|Mango||Amylases||Helps break down carbohydrates from starches into simple sugars andincreases as the fruit ripens|
|Banana||Amylases,glucosidases||Like amylases, glucosidases also break down complex carbohydrates|
|Raw honey||Amylases, Diastases, invertases, proteases||The amylases and diastases help to break down starches, invertases break down sugars, and proteases break down protein|
|Avocado||Lipases||Helps digest and metabolize fat|
|Kefir||Lipases, lactase, proteases||The lactase in kefir helps to digest the fermented milk and may be tolerated by some people with lactose intolerance|
|Sauerkraut, kimchi||Lipases, proteases||Fermented foods develop enzymes during the fermentation process as well as probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, to further support digestive health|
|Miso||Lactases, lipases, proteases, amylases||This fermented soy paste contains a potent combination of enzymes that help break down lactose in dairy, fats, proteins, and carbohydrates|
|Ginger||Protease (zingibain)||In addition to its enzymes that can help break down proteins, ginger may also help ease nausea|
Digestive juices require hydration, so make sure that you drink water throughout the day.
Digestive Enzyme Supplements
People who don't have sufficient amounts of digestive enzymes or who are looking to support healthy digestion should consider supplementing their diet with digestive enzymes.
They can do this by eating healthy foods that contain naturally occurring digestive enzymes. But they can also take nutritional supplements under a healthcare provider's guidance.
Digestive enzyme supplements can come in:
- Liquids sourced from animals, plants, or microbes
There are prescription supplements regulated by the FDA as well as over-the-counter supplements.
Prescription enzyme supplements are recommended for conditions that affect the functioning of the pancreas, such as chronic pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer.
Brands of prescription pancreatic enzyme supplements (pancrelipase) include:
Over-the-counter enzyme supplements are not regulated by the FDA. There haven't been enough high-quality studies on them, so it's hard to know how effective they are.
The following are some of the supplemental enzymes that don't require a prescription:
- Lactase supplements may help people who are lactose intolerant to digest dairy products and are available as tablets or drops.
- Bromelain is a powerful protease from the fruit or stem of pineapples that comes in capsule, tablet, or powder form and may help with the digestion of protein.
- Papain from papaya may help with digesting proteins, and the powder form can be used as a meat tenderizer.
As with any supplement, check with your healthcare provider before taking an over-the-counter digestive enzyme to make sure it's safe for you.
Digestive enzymes are substances that help you digest your food. They're secreted by the salivary glands and cells lining the stomach, pancreas, and small intestine.
Sometimes people have a digestive enzyme deficiency. These deficiencies are connected to various health conditions. Many of these health conditions are related to the pancreas.
You can treat a digestive enzyme deficiency by changing your diet and/or taking a prescription or over-the-counter enzyme supplement. Before you decide to take an enzyme supplement, get your healthcare provider's advice. They can help you determine if it's safe for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who should take digestive enzyme supplements?
If you have pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, cystic fibrosis, or another disease of the pancreas, you may need to take prescription digestive enzymes. Those who are lactose intolerant can takeOTC supplements.
Researchers are exploring whether digestive enzymes may also help those with celiac disease.
Learn More:Digestive Enzymes and Celiac Disease
When should I take digestive enzymes?
It depends on why you’re taking them.(Video) Digestive enzymes and hormones
For example, prescription supplements for cystic fibrosis need to be taken at every meal and snack, but the dosage and timing may vary depending on what you’re eating or your age.
Follow your healthcare provider's prescription or the OTC instructions.
Learn More:An Overview of Cystic Fibrosis Diet and Supplements
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Peyrot des Gachons C, Breslin PAS. Salivary amylase: digestion and metabolic syndrome. Curr Diab Rep. 2016;16(10):102. doi:10.1007/s11892-016-0794-7
Rompianesi G, Hann A, Komolafe O, Pereira SP, Davidson BR, Gurusamy KS. Serum amylase and lipase and urinary trypsinogen and amylase for diagnosis of acute pancreatitis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;4:CD012010. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD012010.pub2
Genetics Home Reference. Lactose intolerance.
Mótyán JA, Tóth F, Tőzsér J. Research applications of proteolytic enzymes in molecular biology. Biomolecules. 2013;3(4):923-42. doi:10.3390/biom3040923
Genetics Home Reference. LCT gene.
The National Pancreas Foundation. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI).
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Updated questions and answers for healthcare professionals and the public: Use an approved pancreatic enzyme product (PEP).
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Treatment for lactose intolerance.
Pavan R, Jain S, Shraddha, Kumar A. Properties and therapeutic application of bromelain: a review. Biotechnol Res Int. 2012;2012:976203. doi:10.1155/2012/976203
Gianluca I, Silvia P, Valentina G, Antonio G, Giovanni C. Digestive enzyme supplementation in gastrointestinal diseases. Current Drug Metabolism. 2016;17(2):187-193. doi:10.2174%2F138920021702160114150137(Video) Human Digestive Enzymes | Types | pH | Functions
Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Enzymes.
By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.
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Some of the most common digestive enzymes are: Carbohydrase breaks down carbohydrates into sugars. Lipase breaks down fats into fatty acids. Protease breaks down protein into amino acids.What are the 4 main types of digestive enzymes? ›
Types of Digestive Enzymes
Amylase (made in the mouth and pancreas; breaks down complex carbohydrates) Lipase (made in the pancreas; breaks down fats) Protease (made in the pancreas; breaks down proteins)
Digestive enzymes play a key role in breaking down the food you eat. These proteins speed up chemical reactions that turn nutrients into substances that your digestive tract can absorb. Your saliva has digestive enzymes in it.How many types of digestive enzymes are there? ›
There are mainly three main types of Digestive Enzymes present in our body. They're grouped based on the reactions they catalyse: Amylase Enzyme: They break down starches and carbohydrates into sugars. Protease Enzyme: it breaks down proteins into amino acids.What are the types of enzymes? ›
Enzymes are classified into six categories according to the type of reaction catalyzed: Oxidoreductases, transferases, hydrolases, lyases, ligases, and isomerases.What are digestive enzymes 7? ›
Digestive enzymes are the enzymes that break down polymeric macromolecules into smaller building blocks to facilitate their absorption by the body. Our digestive system does not absorb the food we eat, it absorbs nutrients in the form of simpler molecules.What is the function of pepsin? ›
Pepsin is a stomach enzyme that serves to digest proteins found in ingested food. Gastric chief cells secrete pepsin as an inactive zymogen called pepsinogen. Parietal cells within the stomach lining secrete hydrochloric acid that lowers the pH of the stomach. A low pH (1.5 to 2) activates pepsin.What is the function of digestive? ›
Your digestive system breaks nutrients into parts small enough for your body to absorb and use for energy, growth, and cell repair. MyPlate offers ideas and tips to help you meet your individual health needs . Your digestive system breaks nutrients into parts that are small enough for your body to absorb.What are the 4 functions of enzymes? ›
Enzymes include detoxification, muscle building, and breaking down food particles during digestion. Enzymes actually accelerate the rate of a chemical reaction to support life. Enzymes are very helpful in performing important functions of our body.What is the function of digestive enzymes Class 10 short answer? ›
Digestive enzymes such as amylase, lipase, pepsin, trypsin, etc., help in the chemical digestion of food by breaking down complex food particles into simpler ones. These simple molecules can be easily absorbed by the blood and is thus transported to all the cells in the body.
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Enzymes are proteins that act as catalysts within living cells. Catalysts increase the rate at which chemical reactions occur without being consumed or permanently altered themselves.What is the name of enzyme 1? ›
Enzymes are biological catalysts (also known as biocatalysts) that speed up biochemical reactions in living organisms, and which can be extracted from cells and then used to catalyse a wide range of commercially important processes.How many enzymes are in the human body? ›
Enzymes are protein chemicals, which carry a vital energy factor needed for every chemical action, and reaction that occurs in our body. There are approximately 1300 different enzymes found in the human cell.How are enzymes named? ›
Enzymes are commonly named by adding a suffix “-ase” to the root name of the substrate molecule they will naturally be acting upon. For example, Lipase catalyzes the hydrolysis of lipids, they break down the molecule with the help of water; Sucrase catalyzes the hydrolysis of sucrose into glucose and fructose.What is a good digestive enzyme? ›
Foods that contain natural digestive enzymes include pineapples, papayas, mangoes, honey, bananas, avocados, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, kiwifruit and ginger. Adding any of these foods to your diet may help promote digestion and better gut health.What is enzyme explain? ›
An enzyme is a biological catalyst and is almost always a protein. It speeds up the rate of a specific chemical reaction in the cell. The enzyme is not destroyed during the reaction and is used over and over.
Enzymes are catalysts. They act as a catalyst to a chemical or biochemical reaction, with a defined mechanism. They increase the speed of that reaction, typically by 106-1014 times faster than the rate of the uncatalysed reaction. They are selective for a single substrate.What is enzyme with example? ›
The enzyme pepsin, for example, is a critical component of gastric juices, helping to break down food particles in the stomach. Likewise, the enzyme amylase, which is present in saliva, converts starch into sugar, helping to initiate digestion. In medicine, the enzyme thrombin is used to promote wound healing.What are the characteristics of digestive enzyme? ›
Digestive enzymes all belong to the hydrolase class, and their action is one of splitting up large food molecules into their 'building block' components. Another unique property is that they are extracellular enzymes that mix with food as it passes through the gut.Is bile an enzyme? ›
Bile is not an enzyme. Rather, bile helps digestive enzymes digest fat. Bile acts as an emulsifier, which means it helps to mix fat and water together.Who needs digestive enzymes? ›
Taking digestive enzyme supplements is currently recommended for people with specific digestive disorders, such as pancreatic insufficiency and lactose intolerance.What is the function of amylase? ›
Amylases' main function is to hydrolyze the glycosidic bonds in starch molecules, converting complex carbohydrates to simple sugars. There are three main classes of amylase enzymes; Alpha-, beta- and gamma-amylase, and each act on different parts of the carbohydrate molecule.What is the function of lipase? ›
Lipase is an enzyme the body uses to break down fats in food so they can be absorbed in the intestines. Lipase is produced in the pancreas, mouth, and stomach.Where is trypsin found? ›
Trypsin is a proteolytic enzyme found in the lumen of the small intestine and widely expressed in other tissues.What are the different types of enzymes? ›
Enzymes are classified into six categories according to the type of reaction catalyzed: Oxidoreductases, transferases, hydrolases, lyases, ligases, and isomerases. Structurally, the vast majority of enzymes are proteins.What is the function of the enzymes secreted from the small intestine and the pancreas? ›
Your pancreas creates natural juices called pancreatic enzymes to break down foods. These juices travel through your pancreas via ducts. They empty into the upper part of your small intestine called the duodenum. Each day, your pancreas makes about 8 ounces of digestive juice filled with enzymes.
Amylases' main function is to hydrolyze the glycosidic bonds in starch molecules, converting complex carbohydrates to simple sugars. There are three main classes of amylase enzymes; Alpha-, beta- and gamma-amylase, and each act on different parts of the carbohydrate molecule.What are the different enzymes involved in chemical digestion? ›
The role of enzymes
There are two enzymes in your saliva called amylase and lipase. They mostly break down carbohydrates and fats. Once a protein source reaches your stomach, hydrochloric acid and enzymes called proteases break it down into smaller chains of amino acids.
Enzymes perform the critical task of lowering a reaction's activation energy—that is, the amount of energy that must be put in for the reaction to begin. Enzymes work by binding to reactant molecules and holding them in such a way that the chemical bond-breaking and bond-forming processes take place more readily.How many enzymes are in the human body? ›
Enzymes are protein chemicals, which carry a vital energy factor needed for every chemical action, and reaction that occurs in our body. There are approximately 1300 different enzymes found in the human cell.What contains digestive enzymes in a cell? ›
A lysosome is a membrane-bound cell organelle that contains digestive enzymes. Lysosomes are involved with various cell processes. They break down excess or worn-out cell parts. They may be used to destroy invading viruses and bacteria.What is the function of pepsin? ›
Pepsin is a stomach enzyme that serves to digest proteins found in ingested food. Gastric chief cells secrete pepsin as an inactive zymogen called pepsinogen. Parietal cells within the stomach lining secrete hydrochloric acid that lowers the pH of the stomach. A low pH (1.5 to 2) activates pepsin.What is the function of lipase? ›
Lipase is an enzyme the body uses to break down fats in food so they can be absorbed in the intestines. Lipase is produced in the pancreas, mouth, and stomach.What is the function of trypsin amylase and lipase? ›
Amylase digests carbohydrates, lipase digests fats, and trypsin digests proteins. The pancreas also secretes large amounts of sodium bicarbonate, which protects the duodenum by neutralizing the acid that comes from the stomach.What are the types of digestion? ›
Digestion is a form of catabolism or breaking down of substances that involves two separate processes: mechanical digestion and chemical digestion. Mechanical digestion involves physically breaking down food substances into smaller particles to more efficiently undergo chemical digestion.What are the characteristics of digestive enzyme? ›
Digestive enzymes all belong to the hydrolase class, and their action is one of splitting up large food molecules into their 'building block' components. Another unique property is that they are extracellular enzymes that mix with food as it passes through the gut.
Enzymes create chemical reactions in the body, and can actually speed up the rate of a chemical reaction to help support life. Enzymes are produced naturally in the body and help with important tasks, including: building muscle. destroying toxins.