Digestive Enzymes vs. Probiotics: What’s the Difference?

Digestive Enzymes vs. Probiotics: What’s the Difference?

Alex Kinejara
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Metabolizing the food you eat is a complicated process. So complicated, in fact, that it can be likened to a biological tightrope act—a complex feat that requires a perfect balance between good bacteria and digestive enzymes.

These two components are each vital to helping you maintain a healthy gut, but they function in different ways. While probiotics help to support intestinal and gastrointestinal health, digestive enzymes help to improve digestion by breaking down the food that’s making its way through your digestive system.

In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about digestive enzymes vs probiotics to ensure your gut is functioning properly.

How Does Digestion Work?

Simply put, digestion is what happens when enzymes break down (metabolize) large food molecule into smaller molecules.1 There are enzymes present throughout the entire digestive tract, from the mouth to the pancreas. 

Yep—even saliva contains digestive enzyme, so digestion starts the moment you take a bite of food. 

It sounds fairly simple, but optimal digestion requires a specific set of physical conditions to work properly. 

Digestive Enzymes vs Probiotics: A Balancing Act

Let’s get back up on the wire. Imagine a tightrope walker performing high above the ground. Think of everything that needs to go right in order for their act to be a success:

  • The walker must keep their balance
  • The wire must be properly strung and maintained
  • The environment must be controlled and predictable
  • The walker may even need help getting up to the tightrope to start the act

Enzymes and probiotics both serve important roles in the delicate game of digestion. Enzymes are like the tightrope walker. They perform the actual act—the chemical processes of digestion. And probiotics can be likened to the safety measures and support staff that keep the tightrope walker steadily in the air.

Definitions

Now, let’s establish a base understanding of how enzymes and probiotics function:

  • Enzymes2 – Enzymes are substances in the body that catalyze chemical conversion. Enzymes are not alive. Rather, they are built out of proteins. There are many kinds of enzymes in the body, including a set of digestive enzymes present in the gut. Enzymes exist within in all living things, and they also have industrial uses, such as alcohol production.

  • Probiotics3 – Probiotics are living microorganisms (mostly bacteria) that are used as a dietary supplement. The bacteria used in probiotics are considered “good” bacteria and may support gut health. In addition to gut-friendly foods like yogurt and cheese, you can also get probiotics in a variety of supplement forms, such as the Bio-K+® Extra Drinkable Vegan Probiotic. Bio-K+ Extra Drinkable Vegan Probiotics have also been mixed with different active ingredients such as lemon balm to enjoy their benefits as well. 

  • But how exactly do digestive enzymes and probiotics work together to improve digestion and gut health? Let’s dive in.

    Enzymes and Their Functions

    Biological functions are driven by chemical reactions. Enzymes are the diligent workers that make these chemical reactions happen (or in some instances, make them happen more efficiently). 

    Enzymes enact chemical reactions by removing the energy barrier that exists around all complex compounds. Once this barrier is broken, the complex compounds can begin to break down into their core components without expending too much volatile heat and energy.

    Enzymes are built to work with specific categories of complex compounds, known as substrates. Here are a few enzyme/substrate pairs found in the gut that might be familiar to you:

    • Lactase is an enzyme that breaks down lactose, found in dairy products.
    • Lipase is an enzyme that breaks down lipids, macronutrient found in fats.
    • Amylase is an enzyme that breaks down starches.
    • Maltase is an enzyme that breaks down sugar.

    In a balanced digestive system, the function of digestive enzymes is supported by the colony of microorganisms living in the gut, also known as the microbiota.

    The Microbiota: The Gut’s Big-Top Tent4

    If digestion is a tightrope walk, the microbiota is the circus itself. The microorganisms that comprise the microbiota create an environment that can either support intestinal and gastrointestinal health. These microorganisms are separated into three categories:5

  • Bacteria – Bacteria encompasses a wide category of microorganisms that share certain characteristics in their DNA. They are the oldest known organisms on the planet. (There are possible fossil records of bacteria dated to over 3.5 billion years ago.) Bacteria can be useful or harmful to humans, depending upon their biological functions. ‘’Good’’ bacteria, like probiotics, can help to support digestive functions. Plus, it is also one of the ways that could help with brain fog. 

  • Archaea – These are microbes that were, until recently, classified as a type of gut bacteria. But, during the 1970s, advanced scientific methods were able to distinguish archaea as their own class of organism. Archaea are the most resilient microbes, able to thrive in the harshest environments on earth, like deep-sea volcanic vents. They’re naturally occurring within gut microbiota and improve digestion efficiency.

  • Eukarya – These are organisms whose cells include a nucleus. This category includes plants, animals, fungi and protists (eukaryotic microorganisms). The only eukarya present in the gut microbiome are protists and fungi, of course.6 Anything larger would definitely upset the delicate balance of the gut!

  • How Your Microbiota Affects Your Health

    Your diet, your environment, and even the way you were raised all have an effect on the composition of your microbiota. The microbiota can be thrown out of alignment by each of these factors, too. 

    As such, it’s important to maintain a healthy gut, considering your microbiota can have an effect on the following:

    • The body’s ability to protect itself against pathogens
    • Immune function
    • The integrity of the intestinal barrier
    • The body’s nutrient absorption rate

    So, how can you keep your microbiota operating smoothly? Probiotics may provide an answer.

    Probiotics, the Protectors of the Microbiota

    Some things are out of our control. Without the proper protections in place, a storm could very well blow through and collapse our circus tent—a situation that doesn’t bode well for the performers inside. 

    The microbiota, like many of our bodies’ systems, is delicate. Its optimal functioning and support of digestion can be upset by many factors, such as:

    • Accidental consumption of spoiled food
    • Accidental consumption of chemicals, like agricultural pesticides
    • A natural lack of certain enzymes in the body (i.e. lactase in lactose intolerance)
    • Any change in diet

    Probiotics may be able to assist in preventing any digestive issue from developing, or alleviating their associated symptoms.  

    How Probiotics Work7

    Probiotics can achieve a variety of outcomes, not only in the gut but in other areas of the body as well. Studies have linked them to the alleviation of many symptoms, including both digestive and respiratory infections. 

    The science also says that probiotics might be able to help you prevent weight gain and may lessen the emotional effects of depression and anxiety.

    However, it’s important to note that not every probiotic will be compatible with every person’s unique body. You might want to consider consulting with your healthcare team before starting a probiotic supplement, especially if you have a chronic condition or other health concerns.

    Probiotics and their interactions with human biology are still being studied. Here are some of the positive physical effects of probiotics we’ve observed:

  • They process otherwise non-digestible substances – Some probiotics have been shown to metabolize certain fibers that can’t be digested by human enzymes. They can convert these fibers into beneficial fatty acids.

  • They produce antimicrobial compounds – Certain strains of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus produce substances that can reduce harmful bacteria in the gut.

  • They modulate to the immune system – Some strains of Lactobacillus plantarum possess genes that can stimulate the creation of cytokines, which are proteins that are used for immune signaling.

  • Why Gut Health Matters

    Over 70 million people in the United States suffer from poor gut health.9 And it’s clear why—the gut is one of the largest “interfaces” in the human body.4 It’s often the body’s first line of defense against outside invaders. 

    The food and drink that we consume come along with all kinds of hangers-on, including pathogens and other microorganisms that can pose a threat to our health.

    Luckily, a diversed and well-balanced gut has no problem defending the body and providing it with nutrients. The key word here is balance. Like with any other biological system, your gut may need a little help to function efficiently. 

    Bio-K+®: The Best Ringmaster for the Digestive Circus

    Digestive enzymes and probiotics each ensure that your digestive system is functioning properly. While digestive enzymes are the main act, working to break down food and drink particles, probiotics help to support intestinal and gastrointestinal health and promote a favorable gut microbiota.

    In the circus of digestion, let Bio-K+® serve as its ringmaster.

    We offer a variety of probiotic products to help support your overall health and wellness. Our drinkable probiotics from the Extra Line are each crafted with active ingredients scientifically support for their effect on immune function, cognitive performance and on restlessness and nervousness. They’re even vegan, so you can support your gut ‘’health.’’ 

    Support full-body wellness with our science-backed probiotics in hand—and in gut.


    Sources: 

    1. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Digestion. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 29, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/science/digestion-biology/Digestion
    2. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Enzyme. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 30, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/science/enzyme
    3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Probiotics: What you need to know. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Retrieved March 30, 2022, from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics-what-you-need-to-know
    4. Thursby, E., & Juge, N. (2017, May 16). Introduction to the human gut microbiota. The Biochemical journal. Retrieved March 29, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5433529/
    5. UCMP. UCMP phylogeny wing: the phylogeny of life. https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/alllife/threedomains.html
    6. Parfrey, L. W., Walters, W. A., & Knight, R. (2011, July 11). Microbial eukaryotes in the human microbiome: Ecology, evolution, and Future Directions. Frontiers in microbiology. Retrieved March 30, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3135866/
    7. Marco, M. (2021, April 20). How do probiotics work? Kerry Health And Nutrition Institute. Retrieved March 30, 2022, from https://khni.kerry.com/news/how-do-probiotics-work/
    8. Null. (2019, July 22). What is 'gut health' and why is it important? news. Retrieved March 29, 2022, from https://health.ucdavis.edu/news/headlines/what-is-gut-health-and-why-is-it-important/2019/07
    9. National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Opportunities and Challenges in Digestive Diseases Research: Recommendations of the National Commission on Digestive Diseases. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health; 2009. NIH Publication 08–6514.













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