Enzymes vs. Probiotics: What are the Differences You Need to Know?

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Are you frustrated with trying to figure out the differences between enzyme and probiotic supplements? And whether either really matters for gut health?

Your gastrointestinal (GI) tract has 2 functions:  

  1. Its first function is to change the food we eat into a usable source of nutrition. This is to maintain and rebuild the body.
  2.  The second function is to provide an environment for multiple strains of bacteria. These bacteria support the immune system. 

Both functions are dependent on each other. We can control them to some extent by our own actions.

What is digestion?

Digestion is the process of converting food to its most basic units: 

  • proteins to amino acids
  • starches to simple sugars
  • fats to short-chain fatty acids

The process also converts food into a form that can be absorbed by the intestinal tract. This action then provides energy for all bodily functions.

This breakdown of food also feeds the bacteria residing in the lower regions of the GI tract, specifically the colon. The food you eat can also change the bacterial population for better or worse.

Diet is a primary manipulator of your gut’s environment — known as the microbiome. Changes in gut bacteria species may cause changes in the immune system.

What do enzymes do for you?

Enzymes act as little workers brought in to help with food digestion.

Enzyme supplements will break down food into smaller building blocks, just like the description above of your body’s own digestive process: 

  • protease enzymes break down proteins to amino acids
  • carbohydrase enzymes break down starches to simple sugars
  • lipase enzymes break down fats to short-chain fatty acids

Most food-grade enzyme supplements are derived from fungal and plant sources and can survive stomach acid

This resistance to acid allows the enzymes to begin the breakdown of food in the stomach. This gets the process started much sooner than would occur normally.

The enzymes will continue to work on the food as it moves through the intestinal tract. Doing so adds additional help to your own pancreatic and intestinal wall enzymes. 

An early start to food breakdown helps prevent production of certain protein fragments that can be absorbed from the gut. Enzymes also start the breakdown of carbs and starches earlier which helps to modulate release of sugars over a longer period of time.  

The enzymes will continue to work on the food as it moves through the intestinal tract. Doing so adds additional help to your own pancreatic and intestinal wall enzymes. 

What do probiotics do for you?

Probiotic supplements act differently from enzyme supplements. 

Most probiotics are sensitive to the acidity of your stomach. The probiotics may require some means of protection such as treated capsules. 

The treated capsules protect the probiotics from being destroyed by your stomach acid. This type of capsule won’t dissolve until well past the stomach.

Probiotics therefore don’t contribute much to the breakdown of foods.

Probiotics must also quickly multiply once in the colon. Once established, the bacteria will produce some enzymes that help with specialized food breakdown, such as fiber. 

 But the primary importance of bacteria is to produce factors that affect your resistance to disease.

Some probiotic species thrive better than others for a number of reasons. And what flourishes in one individual’s gut may not do so in another’s. 

The better the host environment for probiotic bacteria, the better chance it has to thrive.

Enzymes can help the probiotics by keeping the gut “clean” and free of excess undigested material that may pollute the gut environment.


Both enzyme supplements and probiotic supplements can help with GI health. Enzymes enhance the digestion of foods, while probiotics help support the immune functions of the gut.

While enzymes and probiotics support gut health - each needs the other for your gut to function at its best.


Posted in Digestion;