Digestive Enzymes For IBS: Which Are The Best?


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Living with IBS can be very difficult. When the symptoms flare up, it’s natural to start looking for any and all possible solutions.

IBS might cause painful cramps, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation, as the body struggles to digest food. 

Digestive enzymes are natural proteins that break down food, making it easier to digest. Because of this, they’re often suggested as a potential remedy for IBS.

If you’re struggling to cope with the effects of IBS, then you might find yourself wondering if digestive enzymes can actually help. There are many other medications for IBS, but digestive enzymes have been becoming more common.

In this guide, we take a look at what you need to know about digestive enzymes and IBS, including the science behind the usage.

We also consider the all important question – do digestive enzymes actually work to alleviate IBS?

All About Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzymes are produced naturally by several organs in the body, but are primarily created by the pancreas. They can also be produced by the small intestine, stomach, liver, and salivary glands.

The enzymes work to break down food into tiny molecules, which can then be absorbed by the bloodstream. The enzymes themselves are complex proteins.

There are several types of digestive enzymes, and they’re named according to what they break down. There are carbohydrases, which break down carbohydrates.

The lipases break down fats. And proteases that help break down proteins. 

Digestive enzyme supplements are often sold over the counter, in pill or chewable tablet form. They were originally created to aid those with pancreatic insufficiency, as the pancreas is responsible for much of the digestive enzymes in the human body.

Using digestive enzymes aids the body in the natural digestive process, which is why there’s significant interest in using them to treat IBS.

Research is underway, but it’s not yet conclusive.

For many people, digestive enzymes are not needed to treat IBS. If you’re curious about using them, check with your doctor or pharmacist beforehand.

What Digestive Enzymes Might Be Good For IBS?

Alpha-Galactosidase And IBS

A FODMAP is a short-chain carbohydrate that the body struggles to absorb. FODMAPs are often found in wheat, beans, garlic, and onions – foods that many IBS sufferers will have learned to avoid.

Alpha-galactosidase fights against oligosaccharides, which are sugar molecules and a FODMAP.

As many people who suffer with IBS struggle with digesting oligosaccharides, it’s thought the Alpha-Galactosidase may offer a solution.  

This has been studied in a very small number of patients, but the results are promising.  However, with limited data, this should be used with caution.

Beano

Beano is an over the counter alpha-galactosidase, which is typically used by people experiencing issues like gas and bloating from a high fiber diet. 

Research into how Beano might benefit those who suffer from IBS is currently ongoing. A recent trial monitored a group of individuals who were treated with Beano after a meal, versus those given a placebo after the same meal.

Those treated with Beano had less flatulence in the 6 hours that followed. There were, however, no changes in the amount of bloating or pain that followed the meal. 

So, potentially, Beano could benefit those who experience gut gas. This is an early test, so more research is definitely needed. It’s also important to note that Beano contains mannitol. This is a sweetener that the intestine struggles to absorb, and can exacerbate IBS in some.

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Vitacost Gas Enzyme

The chewable tablets of Vicacost Gas Enzyme alpha-galactosidase were used in a clinical trial investigating their effect on those struggling with IBS. Although this is only a single study, the results did appear to be good.

The trial was focused on the effects of galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), and how it might cause flare-ups in those suffering from IBS. GOS are a type of FODMAP, which has been shown to trigger gastrointestinal symptoms. The trial tested the effects of a placebo on those consuming a high GOS diet, versus those using an Alpha-Galactosidase. 

In those who were sensitive to GOS, a full dose of the enzyme was shown to reduce the symptoms and bloating caused by the FODMAP foods. In comparison to those taking the placebo, Vitacost seemed to make a difference.

So, for those struggling with sensitivity to high FODMAP foods, Vitacost could be helpful. It’s important to note that the patients who reported a difference were given the full dose of the enzyme.

Lactase And IBS

Lactose intolerance and IBS are strongly linked. Lactose intolerance occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose. This can lead to bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

Lactose is a sugar that’s found in dairy, and people with an intolerance will often feel unwell after eating cheese, milk, yogurt, or other dairy products. This can also be seen in many who suffer from IBS. In some, lactose intolerance is only a temporary issue (often during and after a “GI bug”). However, others will find that it’s a permanent condition.

The vast majority of people with lactose intolerance are African American or Asian, but it also becomes more common with age.

The lactase enzyme that’s used to break down lactose is often prescribed to those suffering with an intolerance. Lactase has been proven effective at fighting the effects of lactose intolerance, breaking down the sugar so it’s easier to digest.

Digestive enzymes containing lactase in a pill or drop form can be either proscribed or bought over the counter. Those suffering with IBS caused by an inability to digest lactose can often benefit from taking lactase enzymes when consuming dairy products. 

There is a significant overlap between those with a lactose intolerance and those with IBS. If you think consuming dairy is triggering your IBS, then discuss with your doctor the possibility of using lactase as a treatment.  If needed, there is formal testing for lactose intolerance, but in most cases, a trial of using lactase is sufficient to make the diagnosis.

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Glutenase And IBS

intolerance might find the prospect of glutenase incredibly exciting. It could, potentially, enable you to eat a much less strictly monitored diet.

However, glutenase has not yet been proven effective in the human body. If you see any claims about the benefits of glutenase, they are false until further testing is carried out. Those who have Celiac disease should continue to eat a gluten-free diet.

Disappointing, but not the end. Hopefully, future research will lead to a safe and effective glutenase to help those with Celiac disease and gluten intolerance.

For those with a wheat intolerance, glutenase offers no potential benefits. A wheat intolerance is a reaction to the fructans in the wheat, and isn’t related to gluten.

How To Use Digestive Enzymes For IBS

When IBS symptoms start to flare, many of us will consider doing whatever we can to reduce the symptoms. The potential of a digestive enzyme often sounds incredibly appealing, as it appears to negate all the problems associated with IBS.

However, it isn’t quite as simple as that. For a start, a digestive enzyme needs to specifically target the food that you’re struggling to digest.

If you’re having a negative reaction to lactose, any old digestive enzyme won’t make any difference. 

Instead, doing so can actually make it more difficult to find the root cause of your IBS. Treating IBS often means being aware of what specific foods exacerbate symptoms.

Then, the best solution is generally to remove these foods from your diet. A digestive enzyme will only work if you’ve successfully identified the cause.

To feel the effects of digestive enzymes, they need to be used correctly. First, that means ensuring that you take them at the correct time. Many tablets are taken at the start of the meal.

This allows them to break down the food that’s causing the problem. 

Dosage has also been proven important. The dosage of enzymes is directly related to how much and what kind of food you’re eating.

Your own personal body chemistry comes into play as well. Supplements work alongside the natural enzymes your body already produces. Finding the correct dosage is often a case of trial and error.

If you intend to use digestive enzymes, be sure to thoroughly read the instructions.

Final Thoughts

Outside of a few examples, the effectiveness of digestive enzyme supplements is still up for debate. However, in many cases the results do look promising.

Although digestive enzymes can’t be considered a cure just yet, they may have future potential.

If you’re just figuring out how to deal with your IBS, then avoid digestive enzymes. Take some time working with the FODMAP diet to try and figure out which foods may trigger symptoms.

Taking digestive enzymes at random can muddy the waters, and make it difficult to get an accurate diagnosis. Instead, work with your doctor to construct a low FODMAP diet plan. 

Once you have a greater understanding of what is triggering your IBS, digestive enzymes may be worth considering.

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