If you eat mostly organic fruits and vegetables, take probiotics and meditate on the regular, and say no to unnecessary antibiotics, your digestive tract should be operating like a Ferrari, right? Not necessarily.
Celeb nutritionist Keri Glassman says many of her clients who seem to be ticking all of the healthy lifestyle boxes are still battling belly bloat, low energy, and skin issues. (Let’s be honest… who isn’t?)
So much so she’s come to suspect that a lack of sufficient digestive enzymes—the proteins that help our bodies break down food—is to blame.
Your digestion is like a Jimmy Choo sample sale
“Imagine you save up for a year to spend all this money at a massive sale,” says Glassman, who spoke about the topic at a recent editors’ lunch in Los Angeles held by digestive enzyme supplement brand Enzymedica.
“You get there when it first opens but they’re like, ‘Sorry, we just can’t get the door open for you.’”
Glassman argues it’s a similar situation in many of our digestive systems, except instead of Jimmy Choos, you may be missing out on the vitamin A in your kale salad.
“You can do everything right, but without proper enzymes, you’re not going to be able to absorb the nutrients in your food properly,” she says.
Your body’s own digestive enzymes might not be enough
Our bodies naturally decrease production of the eight main digestive enzymes—including proteases, carbohydrases, and lipases—as we age, Glassman says. (And that slowdown is more dramatic in some people than in others—for instance, those who all but stop producing lactase become lactose intolerant.)
And although there are no tests that can determine a digestive enzyme deficiency, Glassman has been known to recommend supplements—like Enzymedica’s Digest Gold, which breaks down a full range of carbs, fats, and proteins—for her otherwise-healthy clients based on nagging symptoms like lethargy and, pardon us for saying it, excess gas.
“I look at what’s going on in their diet and what’s going on in their bodies, and once we know it’s not [a serious medical condition], it might indicate they’re a little low on enzymes.”
Even though there are very few independent studies involving digestive enzyme supplements, the results for most people who take them are generally very positive (particularly for those with known gluten or lactose sensitivity)—and side effects are basically non-existent, Glassman says.
So if you’re experiencing any of the following buzz-killing scenarios, Glassman says, an over-the-counter digestive enzyme supplement may be worth a try:
1. Your digestive tract can’t tolerate entire families of foods. If a client were to get gassy with, say, every bite of a cruciferous veggie—kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli included—Glassman would likely recommend taking an enzyme right before eating them. “You want to get those nutrients in. It’s not that you shouldn’t be eating any of those foods—you might just be having a tough time digesting and absorbing them.”
2. You’re on the frail side or fatigued. If someone is chronically underweight or tired—and no other medical problems are to blame—it might be because they aren’t properly assimilating all of the nutrients they’re ingesting.
3. You’re quick to bloat, get gassy, or often have that full belly feeling. Glassman thinks enzymes can contribute to a reduction in constipation, gas, and abdominal bloating. “Maybe a person I’m working with…could cut back on sugar, and is also not getting enough fiber into their diet, and maybe they’re a little low on enzymes—those three things together might be what’s going to make them more regular,” she says. “It’s about a combination of many healthy lifestyle choices done consistently.” —Erin Magner