Probiotics vs. Digestive Enzymes: Benefits and Uses Compared

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 12/07/2023

Probiotics are live microorganisms that support a healthy digestive tract, and digestive enzymes 

help speed up digestion by breaking down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.

Evidence suggests that certain beneficial gut bacteria can produce probiotic enzymes, which can enhance digestive function and may help manage food sensitivities and gut issues.

Let's look at the importance of probiotics and digestive enzymes for a healthy digestive system and discover if you may benefit from taking digestive enzymes and probiotics.

Woman touching her lower abdomen

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms that naturally reside in the human digestive tract and form the gut microbiome, a synergistic community of friendly gut microbes. 

Probiotics are crucial in maintaining gastrointestinal health, supporting the immune system, and regulating various metabolic processes. 

Research published by The Harvard School of Public Health suggests that a balanced and diverse microbiome competes with potentially harmful microbes for space and nutrients, which protects the host from microbial overgrowth and infection.

Probiotics are naturally found in fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, natto, kefir, yogurt, and apple cider vinegar, or can be taken in supplemental form. 

Probiotic supplements are widely available and typically contain various strains of good bacteria and yeasts, including Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces boulardii. 

Probiotic and enzyme supplements on a wooden spoon

What are digestive enzymes?

Digestive enzymes are a group of proteins that speed up digestion by breaking down food into smaller molecules that the body can easily absorb and utilize.  

These enzymes are produced by many parts of the digestive system, including the salivary and gastric glands, pancreas, and small intestine, where they facilitate the digestion of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.

Digestive enzymes fall into three main main groups: 

  • Amylases break down carbohydrates into glucose 

  • Proteases, including pepsin and trypsin, break down protein into amino acids  

  • Lipases break down dietary fats into fatty acids and glycerol 

Without adequate digestive enzyme concentrations, the digestive process slows down, and your body can’t absorb essential nutrients. This can lead to malnutrition, nutrient deficiencies, digestive issues, and other health problems.

The pancreas produces the most important digestive enzymes, and individuals with poor pancreatic function often don’t make enough digestive enzymes.

People with enzyme deficiency may benefit from eating certain raw foods such as ginger, spinach, tomatoes, and some fermented foods that contain natural digestive enzymes.

However, heat destabilizes most enzymes, which explains why raw plant foods contain more enzymes than cooked foods.

Evidence published in Life Science suggests that digestive enzyme supplementation is an effective strategy to aid digestion and enhance your digestive health.


Watch the video below to learn more about what enzymes are and how they support healthy digestion. 

What are Enzymes and How do They Work?

Probiotics vs. digestive enzymes: benefits compared

While both probiotics and digestive enzymes are crucial for optimal digestion and a healthy gut, they have distinct functions and benefits.

There are many benefits of probiotics for digestive processes, immune function, and metabolic health, and taking probiotics can lower the risk of autoimmune diseases, gastrointestinal issues, and obesity.

Research published in the Journal of Microbial and Biochemical Technology investigated the effects of probiotics on overall health and concluded, “Probiotics are associated with a range of health benefits including stimulation of the immune system, protection against diarrheal diseases and respiratory tract infections, lowering the risk of inflammatory diseases and anticancer effects.”

In contrast, digestive enzymes help the body absorb nutrients, which is vital for maintaining normal physiological functions, including energy-making processes, hormone synthesis, brain function, bone health, and weight management. 

Probiotics and digestive enzymes work in synergy, and combining a digestive enzyme supplement with probiotics can significantly enhance their health benefits.

“Digestive enzymes break down food into smaller particles, thereby releasing prebiotic fibers,” explains Dr. Berg. “Probiotic microbes ferment prebiotic fiber to generate energy and nutrients, which promotes a diverse and balanced gut microbiota.” 

In exchange, probiotics support optional digestion by maintaining a slightly acidic pH in the gastrointestinal tract, which increases the activity of digestive enzymes and enhances their ability to break down and digest foods.

Woman holding dietary supplements

When to use probiotics or digestive enzymes

Most people benefit from regularly consuming natural sources of probiotics and digestive enzymes to support optimal digestion, boost immune defenses, and promote good gut health.   

Factors such as antibiotic use, regular alcohol consumption, chronic stress, and a diet high in carbs, sugars, and processed foods can negatively impact microbial diversity.

Here are common signs and symptoms of microbial imbalance:

  • Frequent infections 

  • Digestive problems

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

  • Yeast or candida infections 

  • Recurring urinary tract infections (UTIs)

  • Food sensitivities 

  • Constipation or diarrhea

  • Mood disorders 

  • Unexplained weight gain 

  • Fatigue

  • Skin conditions, including psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis 

Probiotic supplements are a safe and effective strategy to increase gut bacteria diversity and promote the growth and proliferation of beneficial gut microbes.

Digestive enzyme supplements can be particularly beneficial for individuals with digestive enzyme insufficiency linked to chronic pancreatitis and cystic fibrosis.

In addition, factors such as stress, regular alcohol consumption, and intestinal permeability can impair the enzymatic breakdown of food, and taking digestive enzyme supplements offers a convenient way to enhance digestive processes and nutrient absorption.

Here are common symptoms indicative of enzyme deficiency:

  • Gas and bloating

  • Abdominal pain

  • Diarrhea or constipation

  • Difficulties digesting protein-rich or fatty foods

  • Weight loss of difficulty gaining weight

  • Nutrient deficiencies

  • Pale colored stools

  • Fatigue 

Taking probiotics in combination with digestive enzyme supplements can help enhance various aspects of digestive and overall health.

A study published in Current Drug Metabolism confirms the benefits of combining probiotic and digestive enzyme supplementation and recommends this approach for the management of various gastrointestinal conditions, including celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, lactose intolerance, and bile acid deficiency.

Blue paper and exclamation mark

Who shouldn’t take probiotics or enzymes

People with compromised immune systems and those undergoing chemotherapy or taking immunosuppressant drugs have an increased risk of microbial infection and shouldn’t take probiotic supplements.

While digestive enzyme supplements are generally considered safe, individuals with stomach ulcers, intestinal bleeding, or acute pancreatitis should avoid supplements containing digestive enzymes.

Certain enzymes can interact with blood thinners, proton pump inhibitors, and anti-platelet drugs. It’s crucial to discuss the use of digestive enzymes with a healthcare provider if you are taking prescription drugs or have underlying health issues to minimize the risk of side effects.

Intestinal bacteria illustration

Can probiotics produce enzymes?

Evidence published in Enzyme and Microbial Technology found that probiotic strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, and Lactobacillus casei produce various digestive enzymes, including lactase, proteases, peptidases, and amylases.

These probiotic enzymes promote the breakdown of food within the gastrointestinal tract and enhance nutrient digestibility linked to overall health and well-being.

It’s believed that certain probiotic enzymes can break down lactose, a type of carbohydrate found in milk and other dairy products, which can benefit individuals who are lactose intolerant.

However, the rate of probiotic enzyme production appears to be highly individual and linked to microbial diversity and dietary habits, and relying on probiotics for digestive enzyme support may not be sufficient for individuals with poor digestive health or enzyme deficiency.

Woman holding probiotic supplement

Key takeaways

Probiotics and digestive enzymes work in synergy to promote a healthy gastrointestinal tract and facilitate the digestion of foods, and some beneficial gut bacteria can produce probiotic enzymes, which may enhance nutrient digestibility.

Taking probiotics in combination with digestive enzymes can benefit individuals with sluggish digestion and those affected by celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and other gastrointestinal issues. 

Additional Probiotics Resources


1. What are the benefits of digestive enzymes vs. probiotics?

Digestive enzymes work by breaking down carbohydrates, proteins, and fats into smaller particles that the body can easily absorb and use.

Probiotics, on the other hand, promote a balanced gut microbiota, enhance overall gastrointestinal health, and help strengthen immune defenses.

2. How do I know if I need enzymes or probiotics?

You may benefit from a digestive enzyme supplement if you experience digestive symptoms like bloating, gas, pale-colored stools, or nutrient deficiencies despite a nutritious diet.

If you are prone to recurring infections, poor gut health, fatigue, or food sensitivities and have a history of antibiotic use, stress, or excessive alcohol consumption, probiotics may help restore a diverse gut microbiota, which is crucial for overall health and well-being.

3. What are the symptoms of low digestive enzymes?

Common symptoms of low digestive enzymes include gas and bloating, abdominal pain, sluggish digestion, difficulty gaining weight, acid reflux, nutrient deficiencies, fatigue, and pale-colored stools.

4. Who shouldn't take digestive enzymes?

Individuals with acute pancreatitis and those with gastrointestinal bleeding or obstructions should avoid digestive enzymes.

In addition, many digestive enzymes can interact with blood thinners and anti-platelet drugs, and it’s crucial to discuss the use of digestive enzymes with a healthcare provider if you are taking prescription medication or have underlying health issues.

5. What enzymes do probiotics produce?

Evidence suggests that certain probiotic microbes can produce digestive enzymes, including lactase, proteases, peptidases, and amylases.

Probiotic enzymes may benefit individuals with lactose intolerance who don’t produce enough lactase, a crucial enzyme needed to break down and digest lactose.

6. Is it safe to take digestive enzymes every day?

Taking digestive enzymes daily is generally considered safe for most adults if taken in appropriate dosages.

7. Do digestive enzymes help with gut issues?

Yes, taking digestive enzyme supplementation can help ease gut issues linked to poor digestive processes, such as bloating, gas, constipation, or diarrhea.

8. Can probiotics and digestive enzymes support weight loss?

Probiotics have been found to promote weight loss by regulating hormonal and metabolic balance. At the same time, digestive enzymes can support weight management by optimizing nutrient absorption, which can enhance the body’s ability to convert food into energy.

9. How long does it take for digestive enzymes to work?

Most people notice improved digestive functions and improved gastrointestinal symptoms within a few days of starting digestive enzyme supplementation.

However, individuals with more severe gastrointestinal issues such as Crohn’s disease, chronic pancreatitis, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may require several weeks of consistent digestive enzyme supplementation to improve gut health.

10. Can probiotics produce probiotic enzymes?

Yes, certain Lactobacillus strains have been found to produce several digestive enzymes, including lactose, protease, amylase, and peptidase.







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