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Can digestive enzymes really help ease IBS symptoms?

Can digestive enzymes really help ease IBS symptoms?

People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) need relief, but it can be hard to find.

Misunderstanding and stigma surrounding the condition make many hesitate to reach out for help. Instead, they try multiple home remedies in their attempt to learn how to ease IBS symptoms. Can digestive enzymes for IBS be the answer?

They may be for some. IBS results from various causes, but many suspect issues with digestion or intestinal motility may produce or worsen symptoms. Understanding how digestive enzymes work and when to take them could bring the relief you seek.

What causes IBS?

Researchers remain unsure exactly what causes IBS, as several factors may contribute to your symptoms. Think of how either allergies or a mild viral infection can produce the same runny nose. Some suspected causes of IBS symptoms include the following:

  • Motility issues: Problems with how your muscles contract and move food through your digestive tract.
  • Sensitivity: Some people have more sensitive nerves in their digestive tract.
  • Gut bacteria: Your intestinal microbiome, or colonies of beneficial bacteria, do everything from helping you digest to making neurotransmitters. When certain types get too low or proliferate too much, stomach symptoms strike.
  • Infections: Some people develop IBS after a severe illness.
  • Food intolerances: Sensitivities to certain foods can produce debilitating symptoms, even if they cause no lasting damage.
  • Stress: IBS is more common in those who have had adverse childhood experiences. While doctors disagree that stress causes IBS, it can worsen symptoms.

Multiple factors may combine to produce IBS symptoms. For example, those with food intolerances may sometimes consume minuscule amounts of a problematic substance and barely notice any distress beyond mild bloating. However, problems could flare up if they recently finished a course of antibiotics that disrupted their gut bacteria and are under pressure at work.

What are digestive enzymes?

Digestive enzymes are proteins that help break down the food that you eat. Some people don’t produce enough of the right type to digest certain foods, which may contribute to IBS. What spurs symptoms depends on what you lack, as these enzymes come in three main varieties:

  • Amylase metabolizes carbohydrates into sugar.
  • Lipase dissolves triglycerides into fatty acids and glycerol.
  • Protease breaks down proteins into amino acids.

Your pancreas makes these enzymes, and trouble with this organ can cause issues. Although anyone can experience a shortage in a particular enzyme, problems occur more frequently in those with other underlying conditions, including:

  • Pancreatitis
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Celiac disease
  • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.

Digestive enzymes for IBS

Digestive enzymes for IBS often work best for individuals in whom food sensitivity lies at the heart of their symptoms. The issue may not be an allergy to the substance but the lack of sufficient enzymes to digest it.

A classic example is lactose intolerance — taking a lactase supplement can let such individuals enjoy the occasional ice cream or diary product. Other digestive enzymes produce similar results once you find the right one for your needs.

When to use digestive enzymes for IBS

The best time to take a digestive enzyme to ease IBS symptoms is right before your meal. According to Dr Rudolph Bedford, a gastroenterologist at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, you may need a second dose halfway through a particularly large feast.

Can digestive enzymes really help ease IBS symptoms?

Digestive enzymes could help ease IBS symptoms.

How to ease IBS symptoms: 5 holistic techniques

Learning how to ease IBS symptoms often requires a multifaceted approach. The following five techniques can help you find relief:

1. Identify your triggers

Start keeping a food diary if you don’t already, tracking what you eat and when symptoms appear. Although many people experience discomfort after eating unhealthy, ultra-processed or fatty meals, healthy foods can also trigger IBS symptoms. For example, some people have nightshade sensitivities, which produces intolerance to tomatoes, potatoes and peppers.

Use an elimination diet approach or try a low FODMAP diet to discover your triggers. Once you identify suspects, strike that category of foods from your diet for four to six weeks before adding them back in one at a time until you narrow down the problem. Tune into your body, noticing if your symptoms disappear when you eliminate foods and when they reoccur.

2. Modify your diet

Avoiding the foods that trigger symptoms is the easiest way to ease your symptoms. However, eliminating entire groups of food can lead to deficiencies, so ensure that you obtain the nutrients you miss from eliminating foods from alternative sources.

For example, those who struggle to digest meat can get 13 per cent of their RDA of protein from a single egg — for just 70 calories. A two-egg breakfast contains more than a quarter of your daily requirement, along with other important nutrients like folic acid, vitamin B12 and calcium. Those sensitive to nightshades can skip goji berries and substitute raspberries for the same phytonutrients without the associated pain.

3. Try a supplement

Eating does more than fuel your body — it delights your taste buds and spurs positive emotions. Feeling deprived does the opposite. If you discover you’re sensitive to a food you love, see if a digestive enzyme supplement lets you enjoy it in moderation.

You may have to experiment with several brands to find the right formulation, but scores of people devour their ice cream cones with the help of a lactaid dose.

4. Engage in moderate physical activities

Many doctors believe that regular, moderate exercise improves gut motility by toning your muscles. Although the smooth muscles of your digestive tract don’t respond to biceps curls, they theorise that training surrounding tissues could improve how fast food moves through your body.

Recent research suggests that exercise’s beneficial effects come not from motility but from improvements in your intestinal microbiome. They found that regular activity increased the abundance of specific bacteria that may aid digestion.

5. Manage your stress

Finally, managing stress can ease IBS symptoms. The fight-or-flight system ingrained in human evolution may not work as effectively in the face of modern stressors as it did in primitive times. However, you can use the following techniques to tame your tension amid ongoing pressure:

Digestive enzymes for IBS

Discovering how to ease IBS symptoms isn’t always easy in a society that tells you to ‘toughen up’ and downplays your experience. The stigma can prevent you from seeking relief, but over-the-counter and holistic measures may ease your stomach ache.

Digestive enzymes for IBS are one possible intervention. They bring some sufferers considerable relief, especially when combined with other holistic techniques.

Of course, always be sure to consult with a doctor or gut specialist before taking any new supplements or medications to ensure it is the right approach for your health.

Beth Rush - Writer - SHE DEFINED

Beth Rush

This article was written by Beth Rush.

Beth is the nutrition editor at Body+Mind and has more than 5 years of experience writing about how to sample global cuisines sustainably. You can find Beth on Twitter @bodymindmag. Subscribe to Body+Mind for more posts by Beth Rush!