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Do Enzymes Cause Constipation?

Devin Houston, Ph.D.

Some who take enzymes often complain of being constipated after a few days' use and wonder if the enzymes are the cause. Since enzymes do have an effect on the quantity and form of stools, the question of constipation is valid.

In most cases, what one sees with enzyme use is not really constipation in a pure definition of the term.

Constipation implies a slow-down in gut motility such that the stools dry out or become impacted. Enzymes don't affect gut motility. They can affect the size of the stools and this may be what most are actually seeing.

Enzymes, at some dose, will break foods down more thoroughly such that more of the food is absorbed into the body and not passed out as feces. Also, that matter which is passed will be considerably less in amount and more rounded, about marble-sized. We become accustomed to having a certain amount of bulk go through and out the GI tract and it can be distracting when we don't "go" as much or on our usual schedule, so we think we are "constipated" when actually we are not.

True constipation in a child will present with pain, a sense of fullness, and possibly distension of the abdomen if impaction is occurring. If a child has had any distension of the colon perhaps through having large stools over an extended period in the past, then the enlarged colon may have difficulty pushing smaller feces through. In this case, it is possible for the small rounded fecal matter to become impacted.

It is important when using enzymes to include plenty of water and fiber in the diet. This helps maintain bulk in the stools for easier passage.

If one does have trouble with having fewer and smaller stools, simply lower the dose of enzymes or use them for only 1 or 2 meals per day. Certain enzymes, like xylanase and glucanase, tend to soften stools, while the starch-degrading enzymes like amylase firm up stools. But this will also depend on the diet. High amylase and other carbohydrase enzymes taken with high-carb/starch meals will likely result in firmer stools unless the enzyme dosing has been optimized. Proteins usually don't contribute much to the bulk of stools so high-protease enzyme products should not contribute much to firming stools.

If constipation is already a problem with your child, consult your enzyme company for specifics that can prevent making the problem worse. Other supplements, like fish oil, flaxseed, vitamin C and magnesium can also help counter the stool-firming effects of enzymes.

- Devin Houston
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