Shawn Peters, Naturopathic Medical Student
There are many digestive enzyme supplements available on the store shelves and it can be confusing to choose the right one for yourself or your customer. Through my time at working at various health food stores, here are some helpful tips to weed through the confusion.
From what I can see, two main confusing elements exist when selecting a digestive enzyme supplement; one is selecting the right formula and two is comparing different formulas.
Selecting the Right Formula
In most stores, there are generally two types of enzyme supplements and it is important to select the right type for the right job. One formula tends to be made to reduce inflammation and one tends to aid digestion of foods.
Generally speaking, if an enzyme formula has as a majority, or is solely made up of, enzymes such as papain, bromelain, pancreatin or “proteolytic” enzymes (which break down proteins), then you are looking at an enzyme formula to reduce inflammation.
On the other hand, a digestive enzyme formula will generally contain enzymes such as protease, lipase, amylase, cellulase, lactase, etc. to help with the breakdown of various food components (protease for proteins, lipase for fats, amylase for carbohydrates, etc.). These ingredients are indications that you are looking at a formula to assist with digestion of food.
Comparing Different Formulas
Comparing enzyme supplements with each other is difficult for one primary reason; there is not a general standardized method for listing enzymes on a label. Companies can list either the amount (weight measurement, such as milligrams (mg)) of each enzyme per capsule or they can list the activity (units of activity) of each enzyme per capsule. In Canada, manufacturers are required to list the mg of each enzyme and they may list the activity of each enzyme. The confusion stems from the fact that an enzyme’s efficacy is measured by its activity, not by its weight. To make a good comparison, we need to know a supplement’s enzyme’s activity.
It makes it difficult to compare different supplements because one, we want to know the activity of the enzyme, and two because some brands don’t list the activity.
Furthermore, when comparing activity of different supplements, different brands use different enzyme activity measurement units (FCC vs USP). Thus, it is important to be able to convert between the different units in order to compare properly.
How to Choose
I have been unable, as of yet, to find a complete source for comparison, nor a fully reliable one. In the meantime, see the link below for a starting point to help you in your decision making. http://rnblog.rockwellnutrition.com/enzymes-standards-of-measurement/
See the references listed below for more information on enzymes, enzyme supplements, and comparing different formulas.
With an interest in nutrition, I both attended and instructed at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition in Calgary. I practised natural nutrition and worked in health food stores for the better part of a decade before I decided to actively pursue naturopathic medicine. The Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine was a natural choice for me and I am loving it. I am deeply passionate about environmental stewardship, intentional communities, and philosophy, including animal rights.
- A brief overview of digestive enzyme facts [Pamphlet]. (2000). Thornhill, ON: NaturPharm.
- Cichoke, A. J. (1999). The complete book of enzyme therapy. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Pub.
- Haas, E. M., & Levin, B. (2006). Staying healthy with nutrition: The complete guide to diet and nutritional medicine. Berkeley: Celestial Arts.
- 2011, January 27). Rockwell Nutrition Blog. Retrieved March 12, 2016, from http://rnblog.rockwellnutrition.com/enzymes-standards-of-measurement