You may have heard that your digestive woes -- constipation or diarrhea, digestive discomfort or heartburn -- are all related to digestive enzyme insufficiencies, and that you can treat them with supplemental enzymes. The fact is that digestive enzyme deficiencies are very rare. Constipation, for instance, has nothing to do with your digestive enzymes.
Constipation is the inability to produce a regular bowel movement, often coupled with hard to pass, very solid, or painful stools. There are many reasons you might become constipated. These include intestinal disorders, pregnancy, and -- more commonly -- insufficient consumption of fiber and water. You're considered constipated if you have fewer than three bowel movements a week, and if those stools you do pass are particularly dry or hard.
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Digestive enzymes are proteins that your digestive tract secretes to help break down the large nutrient molecules in the food you eat into smaller building block molecules that you then absorb into the bloodstream. Without digestive enzymes, you can't take up the nutrients from your food. Digestive enzyme deficiencies can cause nutrient deficiency, and can also cause symptoms including diarrhea and gas. You won't get constipated due to insufficient digestive enzymes, however, so supplements won't help you.
Digestive enzyme deficiencies are very rare, for the most part. Lactose intolerance is relatively common, but it's an isolated example. Other digestive enzyme deficiencies are so rare as to occur in no more than one out of every several thousand individuals. For instance, sucrase-isomaltase deficiency is among the more common of the rare disorders, and occurs in 1 out of 5000 individuals, according to the Genetics Home Reference. While digestive enzyme supplements are very popular as alternative remedies, there's simply no cause for them in most cases. If you're lactose intolerant, you'll benefit from supplements of lactase enzyme, but lactose intolerance isn't associated with constipation.
If you're constipated, you may need to see a doctor to ensure that there's not an underlying cause such as an intestinal disorder. If you check out with regard to health, however, you may simply need more water and fiber in your diet. Fiber is an indigestible molecule that helps increase the bulk in your intestine and also helps keep you producing stools regularly.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.