Gut reaction: A limited role for digestive enzyme supplements

There's little evidence to support their use for common digestive distress like heartburn.


Image: © Julia_Kuleshova/Getty Images

Digestive enzyme supplements promise to fix everything from bloating and flatulence to heartburn and gut health. The supplements are so popular that global sales are expected to reach $1.6 billion by 2025, according to recent marketing research. But don't be too quick to reach for them. "Some of them are clearly beneficial, in certain situations. But enzyme supplements also are often used in situations where there is little evidence that they do any good," says Dr. Kyle Staller, a gastroenterologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

What are digestive enzymes?

Naturally occurring digestive enzymes help break down food so we can soak up nutrients. Your mouth, stomach, and small intestine make some digestive enzymes. However, the majority come from your pancreas, which floods the small intestine (when food arrives there) with enzymes such as

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »