Generally, digestive supplements are encapsulated versions of substances that are found naturally within a person’s body and that aid in proper digestion. Digestive supplements come in two basic types: probiotics and enzymes. Both of these types of supplements are intended to complement a person’s regular diet and help with the breakdown of food and the absorption of nutrients. Other vitamins and supplements, such as vitamin C and fiber, are often referred to as digestive supplements because they can aid in proper digestion. The difference is that true digestive supplements replicate substances produced primarily by the body itself, as opposed to vitamins, minerals and other nutrients obtained by the body through the foods a person consumes.
Probiotics, one type of digestive supplements, are actually live microorganisms considered to be “friendly” bacteria. Acidophilus and bifidobacteria are two of the most common probiotics, and they often can be found not only in capsule form but also added to foods such as yogurt. Some people might consider the idea of ingesting bacteria to be unusual, but probiotics are already naturally existent in the human body. This good type of bacteria actually helps a person's body to digest food and to keep harmful bacteria at bay. Studies suggest that people who suffer from digestive problems, such as diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome, might not have enough good bacteria in their system, and taking probiotic digestive supplements can help ease their digestive issues.
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Enzymes, another type of digestive supplement, are also naturally secreted within the digestive tract. Over time, the amount of enzymes produced within the body can decrease. Age, illness, pregnancy and even stress can all work to decrease a person’s production of enzymes.
At the same time, many of the foods that people consume are cooked and processed, which destroys the natural enzymes in them. Consequently, a person might experience difficulty in properly breaking down and digesting the food he or she eats. This can lead to a number of problematic issues, such gastro-intestinal distress, weight gain and bloating.
Enzymatic digestive supplements are designed to help a person's body break down food and better absorb nutrients. Three of the most popular enzymes that assist with digestion are protease, amylase and lipase. Protease helps a person digest protein, amylase assists with the digestion of carbohydrates, and lipase helps in the digestion of fat.
Most enzyme supplements will include a combination of these three enzymes. Certain brands of supplements derive their enzymes from animal sources, and other brands obtain enzymes from plants. For a variety of reasons, many believe that enzymes derived from plants are better for the body and should be preferred over animal enzymes.