Digestive Enzymes vs Digestive Bitters – Which Should You Choose?

Digestive Enzymes or Digestive Bitters

Is your digestion system working optimally? Even though we eat every day, most of us do not know what normal digestive function looks like. How do you know if your symptoms are a result of your body digesting food, or the opposite?

Digestion is the process of breaking down food so that your body can used the nutrients for various organ functions. When you eat, the food travels from your mouth through the esophagus, and into the stomach. It will move through the small intestine and large intestine (colon) before exiting via the anus. But that’s not all – your pancreas, liver and gallbladder all play important roles in your ability to digest and absorb the nutrients properly. When digestion issues occur, it may be a sign that one of these organs need extra support.

Normal Digestive Sensations

  • Having 1-3 easy bowel movements per day
  • Bloat or gas after eating foods high in sulfur (ex: onions, beans, garlic, lentils, asparagus)
  • Feeling fullness after a large meal

Abnormal Digestive Sensations

  • Feeling bloated after only a few bites of foods
  • Nausea after eating
  • Bloat or gas after every meal
  • Acid reflux
  • Stomach pain or cramping
  • Mushy or lumpy stool

Solving Abnormal Digestive Symptoms

If you are experiencing abnormal digestive symptoms on a regular basis, you may want to consider supporting your digestive system strategically. From a holistic perspective, taking digestive bitters and digestive enzymes before meals are popular options.

Digestive Bitters

Digestive bitters are a blend of herbs that will simulate digestion – everything from the production of stomach acid, to stimulating the liver, to producing your own digestive enzymes to break down food. Our bodies have bitter receptors in the mouth, so when you taste these herbs, digestive juices and enzymes receive a kickstart and run more smoothly. As a result, symptoms like bloating, gas and indigestion can be eased.

These tinctures consist of bitter herbs soaked into organic alcohol, creating a potent extract. You only need 1-2mL of this tincture before meals to experience amazing effects! Unlike digestive enzymes, digestive bitters can be taken long term because the body will not become dependent on them.

Digestive bitter blends: St. Francis Canadian Bitters 100mL, Botanica Digestive Bitters 50mL

Bitter herbs: dandelion, artichoke, chicory root, gentian root, licorice, burdock

Digestive Enzymes

While digestive bitters encourage your body to make its own digestive enzymes, you may choose to supplement directly with a blend of digestive enzymes. Enzymes are responsible for chemically breaking down food in the digestive tract in order to be fully absorbed. The pancreas makes many of these enzymes naturally and sends them to the intestines, where most of the absorption occurs. However, certain health conditions such chronic pancreatitis, can interfere with this production. Without sufficient enzymes, you cannot absorb nutrients, even if you have a healthy diet.

For those who have poor digestion or malnutrition, digestive enzymes can be supplemented to help your own enzymes. The main types of enzymes are amylase, lipase and proteases, which break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins, respectively. Some blends may also include hydrochloric acid (HCl), making it a great option for those that experience heartburn due to low stomach acid. Digestive enzyme formulas can also contain ox bile, which is needed to break down fats. People who have had their gallbladder removed will have difficulty storing bile, and may want to supplement with a digestive enzyme containing extra bile. There are many formulas available – finding the perfect one will depend on your specific digestive needs.

It is important to take digestive enzymes before or right after eating, so that they have time to break down the food. It is not recommended to take these enzymes long-term, as it can affect your body’s ability to produce its own. Instead, use them when digestive symptoms are flaring up, or to combat a deficiency caused by a specific health condition.

Digestive enzyme formulas: Enzymedica Digest Gold 45 Capsules, NOW Super Enzymes 180 Capsules

A Permanent Solution?

While both digestive bitters and digestive enzymes offer relief from digestive issues, they are not a primary treatment. They can be used to boost the digestive process, but if symptoms persist, please consult your primary health practitioner.

Author

Grace Tien is a dietetics and holistic nutrition grad. She creates sustainable, delicious meal plans to help clients with their health goals. Grace specializes in nutrition for healthy periods, you can find out more at @gracetien.ca on Instagram.

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