Digestive enzymes are often used to support healthy digestion and increase nutrient absorption.
In addition, many people wonder if digestive enzymes could help them lose more weight.
This article reviews whether digestive enzymes can promote weight loss.
What are digestive enzymes?
Digestive enzymes are compounds that help break down foods into smaller components that your body can absorb (
The three main types are:
- Protease: breaks down proteins into amino acids
- Lipase: breaks down lipids into glycerol and fatty acids
- Amylase: breaks down complex carbs and starches into simple sugars
Your body naturally produces digestive enzymes, but they’re also available in supplement form.
Digestive enzymes help break down proteins, fats, and carbs into smaller components. They’re produced naturally by your body and are also found in supplement form.
May affect gut bacteria
In one study, administering digestive enzymes to mice promoted the colonization of beneficial gut bacteria (
Plus, a test-tube study showed that pairing a probiotic supplement with digestive enzymes could help protect against changes in the gut microbiome caused by chemotherapy and a type of antibiotic (
Interestingly, some studies have found that the gut microbiome may play a role in weight control (
In fact, one review of 21 studies reported that enhancing the beneficial bacteria in your gut may reduce body mass index, fat mass, and body weight (
That said, more studies on the effects of digestive enzyme supplements on weight control in humans are needed.
Some test-tube and animal studies show that digestive enzymes may improve the health of your beneficial gut bacteria — bacteria that may be involved in weight control.
Effects of lipase
Lipase is a digestive enzyme that boosts the absorption of fat in your body by breaking it down into glycerol and free fatty acids (
For example, one study in 16 adults found that those taking a lipase supplement before consuming a high fat meal reported significantly decreased stomach fullness after 1 hour, compared with a control group (
On the other hand, lipase inhibitors — which decrease lipase levels — have long been used to promote weight control by increasing the excretion of fat (
While more research is needed, increasing your lipase levels by taking digestive enzyme supplements could potentially increase fat absorption, thus contributing to weight gain.
Lipase may decrease feelings of fullness. On the other hand, decreasing lipase levels can promote weight loss by reducing fat absorption.
Although research shows that digestive enzymes may or may not directly increase weight loss, they could improve gut health and digestion.
Most digestive enzyme supplements contain a combination of lipase, amylase, and protease. Some types also contain other specific enzymes that can be beneficial if you have difficulty digesting certain ingredients.
Other common enzymes found in digestive enzyme supplements include:
- Lactase: improves the digestion of lactose, a type of sugar found in dairy
- Alpha-galactosidase: helps break down complex carbs in beans, vegetables, and grains
- Phytase: supports the digestion of phytic acid in grains, nuts, and legumes
- Cellulase: converts cellulose, a type of plant fiber, into beta-glucose
Supplements are derived from microbial or animal sources. Although animal-based digestive enzymes are more common, microbial-based supplements may be an effective, vegan-friendly alternative (
To ensure quality, check the ingredients label and steer clear of supplements high in fillers, additives, and preservatives. Plus, opt for supplements that have undergone third-party testing and are certified by organizations like the United States Pharmacopeia (USP).
Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before taking a new supplement, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking any medications.
Additionally, note that you should always take digestive enzymes with food to maximize their effectiveness.
Most digestive enzymes contain a combination of protease, lipase, and amylase, but they may also contain other specific enzymes to promote healthy digestion. Supplements are derived from both animal-based and microbial sources.
Enzyme inhibitors could support weight loss
While digestive enzymes may not directly boost weight loss, research shows that enzyme inhibitors might.
Digestive enzyme inhibitors decrease the absorption of certain macronutrients and are sometimes used in the treatment of obesity to increase weight loss (
According to a review of 14 studies, supplementing with an amylase inhibitor extracted from white beans may increase both weight loss and fat loss in humans (
In particular, the lipase inhibitor called orlistat may reduce fat absorption by 30%. It does this by decreasing the production of lipase in the stomach and pancreas, resulting in weight loss (
One study in 40 women with obesity also found that long-term use of orlistat increased levels of certain hormones that suppress hunger and appetite (
Aside from potentially affecting hormone levels, other common side effects of lipase inhibitors include diarrhea, stomach pain, and fat in the stools (
Enzyme inhibitors block the activity of digestive enzymes, which could promote weight loss and fat loss. However, studies have had contradicting results.
The bottom line
Digestive enzymes are substances that help break down macronutrients into smaller compounds to promote their absorption.
Some test-tube and animal studies show that they could improve the health of your gut microbiome, which may affect weight control.
On the other hand, digestive enzyme inhibitors have been shown to reduce food intake and increase weight loss and fat loss.
While digestive enzyme supplements may or may not directly boost weight loss, they could promote healthy digestion and regularity, especially for those with certain gastrointestinal conditions.