What’s the Difference Between Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics?

by JJ Virgin on November 15, 2022

Among its many duties, your gut supports a healthy immune system, produces nutrients like vitamin K, and digests food. But equally important is what this hardworking, multitasking organ keeps out. 

“The gut is in continuous contact with nutrients, as well as all types of toxins, food additives, microbes, and drugs that may pass through your digestive tract on a daily basis,” says Vincent Pedre, MD, in Happy Gut. “As gatekeeper, your gut has a huge task to not only serve as a porous filter for the building blocks of life, but also to keep out all the detrimental substances you may be exposed to.” 

Digestive enzymes and probiotic supplements can help assist the many roles that your gut continuously performs. While both supplements support the digestive process, they play different roles within the gut.  

Read on to learn how digestive enzymes and probiotics function along with their benefits. 

Digestive Enzymes Optimize Food Breakdown and Nutrient Absorption 

What are digestive enzymes? 

Your digestive system breaks down food into its simplest forms, including:  

  • Glucose (from carbohydrates) 
  • Amino acids (from protein) 
  • Fatty acids (from fat) 

Once these foods are broken down, the nutrients are absorbed into your bloodstream and carried to cells throughout the body.1

Digestive enzymes support this process by breaking food down. Digesting food well means you increase the availability of nutrients, minimize the risk of food intolerance, and reduce the formation of toxins and irritants within the gut.  

Unfortunately, many of us don’t break down food well. We eat too fast, don’t properly chew, and drink too much liquid with meals (which can dilute the stomach enzymes that break down protein).  

What’s more, as we age, we produce fewer digestive enzymes. Conditions like chronic stress further impair how well they function.  

That’s where a digestive-enzyme supplement can help.  

“By ‘activating’ digestion through digestive-enzyme supplementation, we improve the breakdown of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates,” says Pedre. 

What are the benefits of taking digestive enzymes? 

Research shows that digestive-enzyme supplements can help manage various digestive disorders, including lactose intolerance and cystic fibrosis.2 

 A well-designed, comprehensive digestive-enzyme formula should supply ingredients like: 

  • Amylases, proteases, and lipases: enzymes that break down carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, respectively 
  • Betaine HCl, a source of hydrochloric acid (HCl) that helps break down protein in your stomach 
  • Ox bile extract, which helps excrete harmful substances and eliminates excess cholesterol  
  • Additional digestive enzymes that break down problematic foods such as gluten, casein, soy, and lactose 

Who can benefit from taking a digestive enzyme supplement? 

If you struggle with after-meal discomfort, digestive enzymes can help. When your gut doesn’t completely digest food, you may experience problems like bloating, diarrhea, stomach pain, and cramps.3

But I’ve found that almost everyone benefits from digestive enzymes, especially if you’re under a lot of stress (and who among us isn’t?). Likewise, the body’s ability to break down food—especially hydrochloric acid secretion, which breaks down protein—slows down around age 30. 

I have food intolerance. Are there digestive enzymes that help support breaking down hard-to-digest foods? 

Even under the best circumstances, traveling, dining out, and cross-contact of foods mean that you may be exposed to potential food sensitivities.  

If you’re over 30 and/ or have chronic stress, you may not be making sufficient digestive enzymes… which means you’re not breaking down and absorbing food as well as you need to be. We’ve combined digestive enzymes and select botanicals in Protein First Enzymes, a digestive enzyme that helps you break down carbs, protein, and fat like a rock star.

Order Protein First Enzymes here. 

Probiotics Create Microbiome Harmony 

What are probiotics? 

Your gut houses trillions of bacteria that: 

  • Metabolize nutrients 
  • Manage exposure to drugs, environmental toxins, and other problematic compounds 
  • Help maintain a strong gut wall  
  • Promote a healthy immune system 
  • Protect against pathogens or foreign invaders4 

To create harmony, you want the correct bacterial amounts and a diverse variety of bacteria. Taking a probiotic supplement creates a favorable bacterial balance, creating the optimal quality and quantity among those trillions of gut bacteria. 

What are the benefits of taking a probiotic supplement? 

“Probiotics help normalize your gut flora; tending your inner garden is one of the best ways to reduce inflammation, improve digestion, and even reverse diabesity and carbohydrate intolerance,” says Mark Hyman, MD, in Eat Fat, Get Thin. 

Research also shows that probiotic supplements help: 

  • Support your immune system 
  • Maintain healthy cholesterol levels 
  • Manage irritable bowel-associated diarrhea 
  • Promote skin health 
  • Promote oral health 
  • Alleviate mood disorders, including anxiety and depression5

Who should take a probiotic supplement? 

For anyone who shows signs of dysbiosis or gut imbalances, a probiotic supplement can support the harmony of those trillions of gut bacteria.

Learn more about dysbiosis in this blog. 

Probiotic supplements are especially ideal if you: 

  • Struggle with occasional constipation and diarrhea  
  • Have gut-related conditions including irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, candidiasis, and dysbiosis  
  • Have been on an antibiotic treatment 
  • Want to support a strong immune system 
  • Struggle with mood disorders, including anxiety or depression  

What are some of the obstacles to taking probiotic supplements? 

Probiotics face numerous barriers before they reach your intestines, including shelf life (some supplements sit on shelves for months or years!) and proper transit through a harsh, acidic stomach environment.  

Many probiotic supplements can’t survive those barriers, making them mostly ineffective. What’s more, many only contain one or two strains of bacteria: hardly enough to adequately repopulate your gut. They’re often too low in overall quantity, too. You want a supplement that contains billions, not millions, of colony-forming units (CFUs). 

The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern. The information here is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or condition. Statements contained here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. 


  1. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/digestive-system 
  2. Ianiro G, Pecere S, Giorgio V, Gasbarrini A, Cammarota G. Digestive Enzyme Supplementation in Gastrointestinal Diseases. Curr Drug Metab. 2016;17(2):187-93. doi: 10.2174/138920021702160114150137. PMID: 26806042; PMCID: PMC4923703. 
  3. Quinten T, Philippart JM, De Beer T, Vervarcke S, Van Den Driessche M. Can the supplementation of a digestive enzyme complex offer a solution for common digestive problems? Arch Public Health. 2014 Jun 6;72(Suppl 1):P7. doi: 10.1186/2049-3258-72-S1-P7. PMCID: PMC4094108. 
  4. Jandhyala SM, Talukdar R, Subramanyam C, Vuyyuru H, Sasikala M, Nageshwar Reddy D. Role of the normal gut microbiota. World J Gastroenterol. 2015 Aug 7;21(29):8787-803. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v21.i29.8787. PMID: 26269668; PMCID: PMC4528021. 
  5. Shi LH, Balakrishnan K, Thiagarajah K, Mohd Ismail NI, Yin OS. Beneficial Properties of Probiotics. Trop Life Sci Res. 2016 Aug;27(2):73-90. doi: 10.21315/tlsr2016.27.2.6. PMID: 27688852; PMCID: PMC5031164.