5 Types of Digestive Supplements & What They Do
Today I am answering the question "What digestive enzyme do you recommend?"
Like most topics in nutrition and natural health, it depends! Not everyone is going to need digestive enzymes or digestive supplements and different formulas are helpful for different reasons.
These are digestive supports that I often use in practice, depending on what my client's specific needs are. Not all of these products are necessary for everyone — it's really important to work with a professional who can make recommendations here for what will be best for you. This information is for educational purposes only and does not replace medical advice.
1. HCl (Hydrochloric Acid - Betaine Hydrochloride with Pepsin Enzyme)
Who it's for: People with low stomach acid.
What it does: Taking supplemental hydrochloric acid (HCl) can assist in lowering the stomach pH, which assists in the proper breakdown of food and increases absorption. Proper gastric acidity triggers the necessary cascade of events that are critical for maintaining proper digestive function and, in effect, “sterilizes” the contents of your meal.
How to use it: When it comes to HCl, it's really important to find your optimal dose of supplemental HCl. The goal is to determine the amount you tolerate before provoking symptoms of excess acid. Start with 1 capsule per meal and increase slowly.
When to avoid: If you have H. pylori (or haven't ruled that out), gastritis, or feel worse when you take HCl. Never take it without food!
It's really important to work with a practitioner on this one to understand the dosage you need, and to help you gain an understanding of what the root cause of your low stomach acid might be.
2. Ox Bile
Who it's for: People with gallbladder issues, who have had their gallbladder removed, or need extra support digesting fats.
What it does: Ox bile is bile that is derived from a bovine source and is used to help digest fats and absorb fat-soluble vitamins. The gallbladder plays an important role in digestion, ox bile can be a really great way to replace its actions.
How to use it: If your gallbladder has been removed, you'll have to replace its actions for life. Because your gallbladder’s job is to release bile when it senses you’ve got food incoming, that bile will no longer be available at mealtimes. Taking ox bile with meals will help emulsify the fats by replacing the actions of your gallbladder.
When to avoid: If you still have your gallbladder, taking supplemental bile regularly can reduce the amount that your body makes on it's own, so it's best for short-term use only.
3. Targeted Enzymes
Who it's for: People with pancreatic insufficiency or who need support digesting a specific food.
What it does: Targeted enzymes are a replacement for pancreatic enzymes or specific enzymes to help with the digestion of specific foods, like dairy or beans. For example, a lactase supplement will help break down the lactose in dairy products.
How to use it: With pancreatic insufficiency, pancreatic enzymes should be taken with each meal. Otherwise, take targeted enzymes only when eating the food you need extra support digesting.
When to avoid: While generally safe, these enzymes are only helpful in specific situations and are not beneficial for everyone.
4. Digestive Enzyme Formulas
Who it's for: People who need comprehensive digestion support or for larger meals/eating out or eating foods you don't normally eat.
What it does: These are comprehensive formulas that include digestive enzymes, HCl and ox bile together. This supplement provides full-spectrum digestive support, and helps in the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Many formulas contain specific enzymes to help with digesting foods like dairy, gluten, and beans.
How to use it: Take with meals when needed.
When to avoid: Same considerations as ox bile and HCl only supplements.
5. Digestive Bitters
Who it's for: Anyone who wants to support their digestive function without replacing specific enzymes.
What it does: Digestive bitters are a tincture made with a variety of bitter herbs, generally including gentian, dandelion, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, artichoke, black walnut and chamomile. They are helpful for stimulating gastric juice secretions. It helps to signal the release of stomach acid, bile and digestive enzymes. As soon as you taste it, your salivary glands will go into overdrive and you will feel a warming in your stomach. They're also helpful for supporting liver and gallbladder health.
How to use it: Take 1-2 mL 15-20 minutes before meals. These can be used daily, long-term as they support and strengthen digestive function.
When to avoid: If you have sensitivity to any of the herbs, liver disease, gastritis or are pregnant.
If you are experiencing some common digestive symptoms like bloating, indigestion, acid reflux, irregular bowel movements, malabsorption, etc. and want to see how these types of functional support may be of use to you, then I'm here to help! Check out my Gut Reset Program and Gut Rehab Intensive.