The Pancreas, Digestion, and Best Enzymes to Supplement

By Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

August 26, 2023

The Pancreas, Digestion, and Best Enzymes to Supplement

Eating at a restaurant or enjoying a home cooked meal is a simple pleasure. However, it can sometimes become worrisome or stressful when you regularly experience discomfort or digestive issues like indigestion, nausea, smelly gas, or diarrhea after a meal. You might even notice poor nutrient absorption despite maintaining a good diet. Many factors contribute to these concerns, including the functional capacity of your pancreas.

How the Pancreas Works

The pancreas sits under the lower tip of your breastbone, nestled next to the stomach. It connects to the first section of the small intestine. The pancreas is both an endocrine and exocrine organ.

As an endocrine organ, it produces and secretes various hormones, including insulin, which is required for managing blood sugar.

As an exocrine support organ, it produces digestive enzymes such as lipase, protease, and amylase. These enzymes mix with water and bicarbonate, forming pancreatic juices that are released into the small intestine through small ducts and valves. This release is triggered by the presence of food moving down the gastrointestinal tract.

The release of pancreatic enzymes is primarily stimulated by dietary proteins/amino acids, fats/fatty acids, and adequate stomach/gastric acid. The vagus nerve, the gut enteric nervous system, and hormones in the stomach and intestinal tract also play important roles in stimulating the release of pancreatic enzymes.

Healthy pancreatic function is required for digestion of foods and beverages and the absorption of nutrients. It also secretes insulin that affects your blood sugar, satiety, energy, and weight management.

A Decline in Digestive Power

When pancreatic enzyme production is limited or stressed, you may experience bloating, nausea, indigestion, abdominal discomfort, and potentially oily or foul-smelling stools.

Changes in these digestive juices can also impact blood sugar management. This can lead to challenges in managing your blood sugar and hemoglobin A1C levels.

Tests such as fecal elastase can measure pancreatic enzyme levels.

Factors that Contribute to Insufficient Enzyme Levels

Eating while stressed, not adequately chewing food, and consuming highly processed food products can hinder digestion, increasing the need for more enzymes. Furthermore, the long-term consumption of white flour, white sugar, and processed foods may diminish pancreatic bicarbonate production and increase oxidative stress in the pancreas.

These stress factors also add to the requirements for pancreatic enzymes, as there is more digestive work to do. Over time, the combination of increased oxidative stress and sustained demand on the pancreas results in reduced enzyme production, giving rise to symptoms like bloating and indigestion. High stress hormones also affect the vagus nerve and the enteric nervous system tone and blood flow to the pancreas. Chronic alcohol use is highly damaging to pancreatic function. These concerns further undermine natural enzyme production.

Individuals with celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, bariatric/gastric bypass surgery, other autoimmune disorders, chronic alcohol use, smoking, and increased oxidative stress face a higher risk of reduced pancreatic enzyme production.

Nutrients Depleted from Insufficient Enzymes

Insufficient enzyme production has far-reaching nutritional consequences. Poor absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K and minerals including magnesium, calcium, selenium, zinc, iron, and copper can lead to malnourishment.

Additionally, nutrient transport compounds like retinol transport protein, prealbumin, osteocalcin, and serum ferritin may become insufficient.

Conversely, low dietary intake of antioxidants, glutathione, vitamin B12 and folate places oxidative stress on pancreatic function, creating additional pancreatic enzyme deficits.

Changes in pancreatic enzyme levels and resultant nutrient malabsorption can ultimately disturb the function and structure of all body tissues. Occasional or chronic indigestion may signify a silent nutrient deficiency, affecting bone density, muscle strength, physical and mental vitality, thyroid health, and overall well-being.

Pancreatic Enzymes: Lipase, Amylase, Protease

During times of stress or insufficient production, providing digestive support can be beneficial. Wellness Resources Digestive Helper provides a blend of plant-based enzymes (lipase, amylase, protease, etc) with other cofactors that aid digestion. These enzymes provide essential support for breakdown of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.


Lipase is an enzyme crucial for fat digestion. It is considered the most important enzyme due to its effect on digestion of fats and fat-soluble vitamins. Lipase also supports gallbladder function.

Amylase and Other Carbohydrate Digesting Enzymes

Amylase, diastase, and glucoamylase aid digestion of carbohydrates as they move down the gastrointestinal tract. These enzymes break down starchy foods into smaller particles that turn into glucose.

Other enzymes such as lactase, invertase, and cellulase break down specific types of carbohydrates. Lactase breaks the lactose, the sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Invertase helps breakdown refined sugars, commonly found in modern diets. Cellulase enzymes break down the cell walls of plant-based foods and releases nutrients from grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables into the digestive tract.

Protease and DPP-IV

Protease enzymes break down proteins into much smaller particles, including amino acids and polypeptide fragments. Digestive Helper provides a blend of acid, neutral, and alkaline proteases and peptidase that work in a wide range of pH levels (3.0, 4.5, 6.0) throughout the digestive tract. This helps reduce the allergic potential of proteins.

DPP-IV for Gluten and Casein

DPP-IV, or dipeptidyl peptidase IV, is a type of protease enzyme that breaks down common components found in gluten and casein containing foods. Gluten is found in white flour, wheat, rye, barley, and sometimes oats. Casein is found in dairy products. We offer BioCore DPP-IV, an enzyme blend formulated to assist the digestion of cereal grains and casein.

Individuals with celiac disease and wheat allergy should still abide by dietary abstinence of gluten as DPP-IV does not remove all immune reactions to gluten. It may assist with reduction of digestive challenges from accidental exposure.

Help Your Digestion

Whether you grab a quick bite to eat on the go or overeat, the resulting indigestion or bloating makes you feel uncomfortable. Consider adding 1-2 capsules of Digestive Helper to your meal-time routine. It is commonly taken at the beginning of the meal, but an extra capsule after eating may be helpful too. Digestive Helper may be used with every meal or as needed.

The process of digestion and absorption of your food influences all aspects of your well-being. Good digestion with a healthy diet leads to strong bones, ligaments, teeth, nails, lustrous hair, soft, supple skin, ample physical energy, sharp mental acuity, balanced mood, and more.

It’s essential not to overlook moments of indigestion and discomfort. If you experience persistent digestive issues, it may be essential to supplement with extra vitamins and minerals. Give your digestive juices some tender loving care and extra support!

More information may be found in the articles:

Diabetes and Pancreatic Insufficiency: An Often Neglected Connection

A1C Made Simple: Your Guide to Keeping Blood Sugar in Check

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