Digestive Enzymes & Fiber

Close-up of a bowl of breakfast cereal
Replace refined foods with whole grain to increase fiber in your diet. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

If you find you have bloating, bowel growls and stomach discomfort after eating, you could be lacking in digestive enzymes. While fiber is good for digestion, too much can cause some stomach discomfort. Fibrous foods, such as beans and certain vegetables, are known to cause digestive issues. By taking a digestive enzyme supplement, you could ease some of the symptoms that come with increasing fiber in your diet.

Role of Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzymes are proteins that break down nutrients from food into smaller particles for absorption. There are digestive enzymes in the mouth, stomach and small intestines. Enzymes called amylases convert starchy food into sugars, proteases yield amino acids from protein and lipases break down fat, which is absorbed in the small intestines. Fiber is composed of molecules that resist digestion; therefore, they pass through the digestive system without being broken down by enzymes.

Fiber Can Cause Digestive Issues

Dietary fiber comes in two varieties -- soluble and insoluble. Most fibrous foods contain both forms of fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance in the digestive tract. Insoluble fiber on the other hand does not dissolve in water; rather, it helps move food out of your body. Soluble fiber is more likely to cause gastrointestinal issues such as gas because it ferments with the bacteria in the gut. However, foods such as beans and lentils contain oligosaccharides that come from insoluble fiber. Oligosaccharides, such as raffinose, are fermented by gut bacteria that cause gas and bloating.

Digestive Enzymes for Fiber

Vegetarians and vegans are more likely to have gastrointestinal issues, due to diets high in beans and vegetables. These fibrous foods are healthy, but difficult for your digestive system to process. Digestive enzyme supplements containing alpha-galactosidase could help you break down the fiber that causes digestive issues, according to dietitian Tamara Duker Freuman. Taking these digestive enzymes with a meal can alleviate digestive problems such as gas and flatulence.

Breaking Down Cellulose

Cellulose is a type of dietary fiber found in some vegetables, such as broccoli. It remains undigested in the digestive tract, then is broken down into molecules and fermented by microbial activity in the large intestines. The process of fermentation retains fluid in the bowel that causes digestive symptoms similar to those found with other types of fiber, such as gas and bloating. Because humans don’t have the enzymes to digest these foods, supplements that contain cellulose-digesting enzymes can help ease your digestive symptoms.

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