When it comes to digestive health, probiotics tend to the steal the show with fancy commercials and specially fortified foods.
However, digestive enzymes, both the ones produced naturally by our bodies and the ones in supplements, play a huge role in breaking down the food we eat to absorb better and use the nutrients.
If your body isn’t absorbing nutrients efficiently, you could eat a varied diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and still not be “healthy,” because your body isn’t getting all the right stuff from what you’re eating.
This is particularly the case for people with digestive issues that reduce or prevent the absorption of nutrients in food, like leaky gut or celiac disease.
There are digestive supplements out there that are completely in line with a vegan lifestyle, but before we can jump into the products themselves – what’s even in a digestive enzyme supplement, anyway?
Quick NavigationFAQ – Are Digestive Enzymes Vegan?What’s In a Digestive Enzyme Supplement?Who Should Take Digestive Enzymes?Are Digestive Enzymes Safe?List of Vegan Digestive Enzyme BrandsDigestive Enzymes in a Vegan Diet
FAQ – Are Digestive Enzymes Vegan?
Because enzymes are technically proteins, vegans and vegetarians may be worried about the source of these proteins, and whether or not they come from animals. It’s important to read the label on any digestive enzyme supplement to find out the source of your proteins.
Digestive enzymes can come from three main sources: fruit, animals, and plants.
Fruit enzymes, usually sourced from pineapple or papaya, work well for treating some people’s symptoms, but are considered a gentler, weaker digestive enzyme supplement, and may not be powerful enough for people who need stronger support, or have more serious gastrointestinal issues.
Plant-sourced digestive enzymes come from fungus, and are the most stable of all the enzymes, survive all stages of the GI tract and digestion well, and have a broad spectrum of functions.
These are considered gentle enough for even sensitive stomachs, but powerful and potent enough to support even people without a gallbladder, IBS, or other autoimmune conditions.
Animal-sourced digestive enzymes are usually listed as pancreatin and are sourced from the pancreatic tissue of pigs.
Clearly, vegans and vegetarians will want to avoid products that list pancreatin or animal-sourced enzymes as an ingredient.
Those on a plant-based diet will want to choose products whose enzymes are sourced from fruits and fungi.
What’s In a Digestive Enzyme Supplement?
Let’s take a quick Biology 101 refresher here: Enzymes are the proteins that help carry out chemical reactions in our bodies.
There are three major types of enzymes, each of which has specific functions: amylases break starches down into sugar molecules, proteases break down proteins into amino acids, and lipases break fats down into their component parts.
Each process turns our food into smaller, digestible nutrients that our bodies can efficiently use.
In addition to the efficiency of use, the proper breakdown of food particles in the stomach reduce the chances of irritation and inflammation of gut lining.
In addition to breaking food down and making it easy for our body to use, digestive enzymes can also help your body weed itself of pathogens that may contribute to GI issues like leaky gut – this is because protease can break down bacteria and parasites, which are made of protein, and can then be removed from the body.
Experts note that while digestive enzymes are beneficial to many groups, we should conceptualize them like we would vitamins. It’s hard to distinguish whether taking “vitamins” are beneficial, but we know that vegans benefit from specific supplements of vitamin B12.
Just as we can’t make broad, generalized statements about whether or not “digestive enzymes” are beneficial, we need to be more specific about which enzyme, for which population.
But which groups of people can benefit from which types of digestive enzymes?
Who Should Take Digestive Enzymes?
1. New vegans and vegetarians
New vegans and vegetarians can also benefit from digestive enzymes, especially if they are eating much more vegetables than they did before adopting a plant-based lifestyle.
While the inclusion of more veggies gets a big thumbs up in the health department, one of the more common complaints of new vegans and vegetarians is the uncomfortable gas and bloating that can come from the huge increase in fiber consumption.
Help from the enzyme alpha-galactosidase, derived from a fungus, can help break down the fiber found in foods that contribute to gassiness, like beans, broccoli, and cauliflower.
Taking this digestive enzyme with a plant-based meal high in these types of foods can help minimize any symptoms that follow.
2. Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
People with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency have a pancreas that produces less than normal amounts of digestive enzymes into the intestine, which leads to poor digestion of nutrients – especially fats.
In addition to eating a varied diet rich in nutrients, people with EPI (which can come in tandem with other conditions like chronic pancreatitis and cystic fibrosis) should take digestive enzyme supplements to help break foods down into nutrients for better and more efficient absorption.
3. Leaky Gut Sufferers
Some people with leaky gut tout the benefits of digestive enzyme supplements in handling their condition.
Leaky gut syndrome occurs when the intestinal “gates” of your intestines malfunction, and allow toxins, microbes, and undigested food particles to enter the bloodstream, which causes inflammation and can lead to a laundry list of other health issues.
Digestive enzymes can help with the utilization and absorption of nutrients, repair gut lining, and contribute to reducing and stopping leaky gut itself.
Are Digestive Enzymes Safe?
In a lot of ways, digestive enzymes are kind of like vitamins – if you don’t need them, they won’t help you all that much, but if you want to take them just in case, they’re not likely to hurt you.
Any excess will usually just get digested in the stomach, however, because they are proteins, the more digestive enzymes you take, the more likely it is that you may run into one that your body reacts poorly to or causes an allergic reaction.
Pay special attention to your body when taking digestive enzymes, as allergic reactions are uncommon, but can happen.
Now that we know the groups of people who might benefit from a little extra boost of enzymes, which brands out there are the best for your needs?
Which products are safe for an animal-friendly, vegan lifestyle?
To take the guesswork out of purchasing your vegan digestive enzymes, we’ve rounded up a list of our favorite brands below.
List of Vegan Digestive Enzyme Brands
Our Top Pick!
Enzymedica’s advanced enzyme formula contains digestive enzymes to break down fats, carbohydrates, fiber, and proteins, so you have everything you need in one convenient little capsule.
The company uses multiple strains of lipase, amylase, cellulase, and protease to ensure these vegan enzymes are activated at multiple pH levels and have a better chance of working within your digestive system.
The enzymes in this blend are three times more potent and work six times as quickly as the leading digestive enzyme supplement.
Users should take one capsule before each meal to alleviate symptoms of malabsorption and better utilize nutrients in the food.
What We Love
With thousands of reviews on Amazon, Enzymedica’s digestive enzyme blend has received consistently stellar ratings.
Reviewers note their stomach pain, gas, and discomfort after meals have been greatly reduced since taking these potent capsules, and some reviewers even saw improvements in conditions like eczema and weight gain.
The capsules are gentle enough for everyday use, but effective enough to efficiently digest fats in people whose gallbladder has been removed. One vegan reviewer noted that these are a miracle for helping digest cooked beans, which can cause stomach discomfort, especially if not soaked before cooking.
Some users have expressed concern and frustration at the recent formula change this product has gone through. The addition of ATPro seems to have caused stomach trouble in some users, so monitor your body closely while taking this supplement.Check Price on Amazon
Zenwise Labs digestive enzyme supplement with pre- and probiotics contains all the necessary aids for digestives in a single capsule.
This formula combines plant-based enzymes with a variety of multi-strain probiotics to support healthy intestines.
The supplement assists in the digestion of fats, proteins, carbohydrates, plant fiber, and even gluten, which can cause bloating and digestive discomfort.
The inclusion of ginger and apple pectin can alleviate gas, bloating, and other symptoms of a variety of digestive disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and the capsules decrease body fatigue since your digestive system spends less energy digesting and processing your food.
The capsules are completely free of gluten and animal products.
What We Love
In the thousands of user reviews on Amazon, people are singing the praises of the pre- and probiotics included in these capsules.
Users report feeling a difference in less than 24 hours, seeing huge differences in bloating and indigestion.
Users with diverticulitis and Parkinson’s disease have described this supplement as “life-changing,” seeing differences not only in symptoms after eating, but also in the return of their appetites, which had disappeared due to slow, inefficient digestion.
Reviewers with sensitive stomachs noted that these supplements were simply not compatible with their digestive systems – they reported experiencing worse stomach issues and bouts of nausea after taking this supplement.Check Price on Amazon
Named the #1 remedy for indigestion, Source Naturals Daily Essential Enzymes help break down carbohydrates, protein, fat, and fiber, and function in all pH levels in the gastrointestinal tract.
Each capsule contains 500mg of a broad spectrum of digestive enzymes for vegans – free of yeast, dairy, egg, gluten, soy, wheat, sugar, salt, and preservatives.
Vegans will want to make sure to purchase only the “240 Vegetarian Capsules” option on Amazon, as the other size options contain gelatin.
The pills are easy to swallow, and should be taken with a meal.
What We Love
Users with indigestion, poor digestion from gallbladder removal, celiac disease, and acid reflux disease sing the praises of this supplement.
Reviewers note their IBS flares happen less frequently, and they are able to stop taking medication for acid reflux.
Some reviewers even noticed tremendous improvements in their skin, clearing up even painful cystic acne and smoothing out overall skin tone.
Some users noted stomach discomfort after taking the Source Naturals brand that they didn’t get from other brands, namely stomach gurgling and cramping.
Additionally, while acid reflux sufferers seem to find relief through these supplements, pregnant women seem to find that this supplement exacerbates some of the negative, uncomfortable side effects that come with pregnancy.Check Price on Amazon
Naturenetics DigestWise supplement includes 10 specially formulated plant-based vegan enzymes that help your body digest proteins, fats, carbohydrates, sugar, and fiber.
Working in all pH levels within the GI tract, it is effective at all stages of digestion and breaks down food quickly, leaving your body with more energy.
The capsules contain no wheat, gluten, milk, egg, soybeans, fish, peanuts, or tree nuts, and the best part is the company offers a “no risk, no charge” money back guarantee if you try the supplement and don’t feel a difference.
The capsules should be taken with water at the beginning of each meal.
What We Love
This vegan enzyme has helped users on a wide spectrum of severity, from those who suffer from a little gas and bloating to people with Parkinsons and autoimmune disease related digestive problems.
Reviewers seem to notice a difference in symptoms within about three days of use, and they note that this has reduced bloating, gas, and discomfort after eating.
These supplements are super effective, but also don’t include HCL, which can cause unpleasant side effects like heartburn.
While the product gets positive reviews, some users reported difficulty with the fulfillment aspect of their order. A few reviewers noted that they received an expired item, and were unable to try the supplement itself.Check Price on Amazon
A well-known brand for plant-based supplements, Rainbow Light’s digestive enzymes are made from a rapid-release formula containing enzymes and botanicals to support the digestive system and help absorb energy without indigestion, gas, and bloating.
In addition to the enzymes that help break down proteins, fats, fiber, and complex carbohydrates, the capsules include gentle herbs like peppermint and ginger to soothe upset stomachs.
The pills are non-GMO, made without gluten, soy, or dairy, and are easy to swallow.
What We Love
Reviewers on Amazon with everything from IBS and Crohn’s to MS love that these supplements are a completely natural blend of herbs and enzymes, and contain easy-to-pronounce ingredients.
Users write about being able to finally enjoy food again after years of dealing with uncomfortable and embarrassing bloating, gas, and poor digestion after starting to take these supplements regularly.
While these capsules are fairly budget-friendly, some reviewers note that they were not potent enough to notice any real effects on their digestive problems.
While there are few very negative reviews, some people voted these a strong “eh” – it did not eliminate issues, but it did reduce them.Check Price on Amazon
Digestive Enzymes in a Vegan Diet
While there still isn’t clear consensus on just how effective digestive enzymes are to the general population, there’s no denying that certain groups, vegans, and vegetarians included, can reduce the discomfort of digestion with the inclusion of safe and convenient digestive enzyme supplements.
By choosing one of the supplements included in our roundup list, you can rest assured that you are purchasing a product that is 100% animal-friendly and well-received by sufferers of digestive issues, gas, and bloating.
Including a few small, safe, and convenient capsules along with your meal can take a great deal of the discomfort and embarrassment out of the digestion process.
Especially as you’re taking in more vegetables, fruits, and grains, it can’t hurt to have a little help in easy capsule form!