Enzymes are specialized proteins that catalyze important processes in the body. Enzymes bind with other molecules in a “lock and key” fashion: just as a specific key is required to open a door, specific enzymes are required to catalyze any given metabolic process. 

For example, lactase is an enzyme required to break down lactose, a sugar in milk products. People who are lactose intolerant get an upset stomach when they consume milk products as their body does not make enough lactase to digest the lactose in these products. These people can take lactase supplements to help their bodies break down the lactose and avoid pain. 

Lactase is, of course, just one enzyme. There are thousands of enzymes that play crucial roles in our body.  They promote metabolism, digestion, nerve transmission, and respiratory, heart and immune function. 

How Do Enzyme Supplements Work?

Enzyme supplements work to support normal, healthy function in your body.  They can improve problems that arise from infections, inflammation, enzymatic insufficiency or other lifestyle factors. 

Just as there are many different types of enzymes, there are many different types of enzyme supplements.  They typically fall into one of two categories: digestive or systemic. 

Digestive Enzyme Supplements

Digestive enzymes are usually taken to support healthy digestion. They can improve tolerance to certain foods and can help support healthy gut bacteria.

The gut microbiome — the community of bacteria naturally existing within the gastrointestinal tract — is highly involved in immunity and digestion. Changes in the microbiome arise from our environment, diet and other lifestyle factors. Antibiotic use, poor diet, smoking, stress and insufficient physical activity all destroy the microbiome, allowing “bad” bacteria to grow. This can be bad for digestion and immune health.

Enzymes, along with probiotics, can help maintain a healthy gut microbiome and improve digestion and immunity.

Systemic Enzyme Supplements

Systemic enzymes are usually taken to help support the brain, lungs, kidneys, heart and overall health. They may improve energy levels and prevent illness.

The human body is a hardworking system of tissues that can become tired due to the wear and tear of stress, illness or other lifestyle factors. Systemic enzyme supplements can help by strengthening the body against undue strain in these conditions. They can help support metabolism, lung health, and help your body deal with injury and infections.

Systemic enzymes are taken on an empty stomach. They are absorbed in the intestine and enter the bloodstream to catalyze reactions in your cells, tissues and organs. 

Where do enzymes come from?

Enzymes come from plants, animals, and microbial sources Our bodies also make enzymes naturally. 

However, sometimes we don’t produce enough. Common causes of reduced enzyme production are poor diet, age, and illness. 

When it comes to supplements, most enzymes are made in powder form, blended together in ways that enhance their function, and encapsulated. 

What makes a good enzyme?

There are a few different components to consider when choosing an enzyme supplement.  

  • Source

The enzyme source material needs to be high quality. If the enzymes come from plants, the plants must be grown in fertile soil with few added chemicals. If the enzymes come from microbes, the microbes must be free of contamination. The materials and processes should be certified at all steps of production. 

  • Strength/activity

Unlike other supplements, the weight (mg) of an enzyme supplement carries no significance. Enzymes are measured by activity, not milligrams.  The higher the activity, the stronger the enzyme. 

  • Enteric coating

The enteric coating allows these sensitive enzymes to survive the acidic conditions of the stomach, thus allowing them to pass into the blood at higher levels. If an enzyme formula is not enteric-coated, it may be a waste of money.

  • Capsule vs Tablet

Enzymes in capsule form are more available to the body than tablets. Tablets often have binding agents and a protective coating that make it difficult for the body to absorb the enzymes. 

  • Certification (NSF, GMP)

If an enzyme manufacturer has these or similar certifications, you know you are getting a good quality product.


Incorporating enzymes into your daily regimen may help maintain health and prevent illness. Choosing a high-quality enzyme is essential to receiving maximum benefits to support your overall health. 

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