How Digestive Enzymes Support Your Health

by Robin Thomas

I think most of us understand the benefits of eating a balanced and healthy diet filled with fresh vegetables, fruits, fiber and healthy fats. And many of us have begun to add probiotics, live microorganisms, that support our gut microbiome.* This dietary lifestyle leads to a healthier digestive system, which in turn supports a range of health benefits from an improved immune system to better resilience to stress. 

But sometimes when we are actively changing our lifestyle through dietary measures, or if we overeat at a meal, we find ourselves a little gassy or bloated. If your body doesn’t make enough digestive enzymes, it can’t digest food well. That can mean stomachaches, diarrhea, gas, or other painful symptoms.

A cohort of digestive enzymes handles the arduous task of transforming chunks of chewed up nutrition into more useful forms. Digestive enzymes’ work goes undetected while it’s happening—because it occurs on a microscopic scale. Enzymes are specialized proteins throughout your body that support the activity of various important chemical reactions. These enzyme-driven reactions happen all the time without you knowing. But you feel the absence if your digestive enzymes aren’t sufficient.

These enzymes are working all through digestion to help break down food, helping you feel less bloated and less full. But that’s only one of the ways digestive enzymes support your health. Your body can’t use what it can’t absorb. Creating smaller molecules out of your food’s macronutrients is key for maintaining optimal whole-body nourishment. After enzyme-aided reactions occur, your dietary nutrition is able to be absorbed by the small intestine—and eventually spread to the cells of your body.

Follow the Digestive Journey 

The Mouth: It Starts with Saliva 

Dinner is cooking and it smells good! Your mouth begins to water at the anticipation of a delicious meal. This is an important step that delivers the digestive enzymes that kick off digestion.

Your salivary glands are responsible for producing several enzymes carried in saliva and mixed with food as you chew. These specific digestive enzymes—including amylase—start the process of breaking down carbohydrates into simpler sugars.

The Stomach: More than Acid

Your stomach growls, rumbles, and expands if it gets too full. Along with stomach acid, a protease called pepsin—released by the cells of your stomach wall—combines with fat- and carb-crunching enzymes to disassemble macronutrients. That’s how the fats, carbs, and protein of your diet are churned, mixed, and deconstructed into a liquid called chyme.

The Pancreas: A Powerful Enzyme-
Secreting Organ

Located between your stomach and small intestine, the pancreas produces enzymes that take turns breaking down your food further. These enzymes enter through ducts into the duodenum—located in the very upper portion of your small intestine.

The digestive enzymes that are secreted disassemble proteins into amino acids or peptides, and fats into their component fatty acids and glycerol. Carbohydrates are also further broken down.

Although not a digestive enzyme, bile from the liver is also key at this stage to helping support the breakdown of the fats that you eat.

The Small Intestine: Enzymes at the Site of Absorption

You wouldn’t recognize that apple or sandwich you ate by the time it reaches your small intestine. It’s been chewed up and broken down.

But there’s one more set of digestive enzymes needed to finish the job and make final preparations for absorption. These enzymes finish the job of simplifying carbohydrates into glucose or fructose and further deconstructing proteins into their base building blocks—amino acids.

Only now are your food’s nutrients ready to be absorbed by your body to help maintain your energy and overall health.**

Robin Thomas founded Living Well Connections, a community for people whose passion is healthy living. Learn more at

* People with compromised immunity are frequently advised to avoid probiotic foods and supplements. Studies have found that using probiotics in severely ill or immunocompromised individuals can increase the risk of adverse effects such as infections.

** These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration.