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Improve Your Gastrointestinal Health with Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes

Two different types of supplements offer gut support for those with liver concerns.

The liver is an integral part of the body’s gastrointestinal system. As such, it is no surprise that those with chronic liver issues frequently have digestive difficulties. Many people find relief from common gastrointestinal complaints by supplementing with digestive enzymes and probiotics; however, few realize that the two are distinct types of substances.

The Liver and Digestion

We eat food, but our digestive system doesn’t absorb food – it absorbs nutrients. The food we eat must be distilled into nutrients which are then refined and detoxified by the liver. As such, the nutrients we get from food are crucial to our liver’s well being.

Up to 90 percent of the blood that leaves the stomach and intestines carries important nutrients to the liver where they are converted into substances the body can use. The liver performs many metabolic tasks to process carbohydrates, proteins, fats and minerals that are used in maintaining normal body functions.

One of the ways the liver is involved in digestion is through its production of bile:

  • Cells in the liver produce bile.
  • The bile passes through the bile ducts to be stored in the gallbladder.
  • Bile is released into the duodenum to emulsify large masses of fat.
  • The bile turns the large masses of fat into smaller pieces that are easier for the body to digest.

Those with impaired liver function may suffer with some degree of malnutrition. One of the most common of these is cirrhosis, where liver cells are replaced by scar tissue. Thus, the goal for helping these individuals is to support full digestion and absorption of food’s nutrients.

Whether or not a person has liver disease, supporting healthy digestion and nutrient absorption can be addressed by taking probiotic and digestive enzyme supplements.

About Probiotics

Essential to good health, probiotics are bacteria found in the digestive tract that:

  • inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria
  • promote digestive health
  • boost immune function

The delicate intestinal flora balance in the gut can be disrupted by many factors, including:

  • Chlorine and fluoride (in most tap water)
  • Antibiotics (which kill beneficial bacteria in addition to harmful bacteria)
  • Birth control pills
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Stress

When our gut’s beneficial bacteria are destroyed by any of these factors, it allows the harmful bacteria to multiply. Common symptoms of such an imbalance may include fatigue, frequent illness, gas, bloating, bad breath, excessively stinky stool, constipation, diarrhea and poor absorption of nutrients. Supplementing with viable probiotics can restore intestinal bacterial balance.

About Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzymes are chemicals produced by our bodies in the pancreas, small intestine, salivary glands and stomach. When we eat food, our digestive system requires the food to be broken down into nutrients before absorption can occur. Most experts believe that digestive enzyme production slows down after the age of 30 – so that even those eating a pristine diet may have trouble getting adequate nutrition.

Digestive enzymes are specialized proteins designed to break apart a specific type of food; lipases break down fat, amylases break down carbohydrates and proteases break down protein. For those who have had their gallbladder removed, many health professionals recommend taking lipase on a regular basis to help the liver break down fat – a job previous done by the gallbladder.

Some indications that breaking food down into its nutrients with supplemental enzymes might be helpful, include:

  • Gas and bloating after meals
  • Feeling like a rock is in your stomach after meals
  • Feeling full after eating a few bites of food
  • Undigested food in your stool
  • Consistent, floating stools or an “oil slick” in the toilet bowl

Supplementing with digestive enzymes helps many people with the metabolic portion of digestion, providing the body with the nutrients needed to thrive.

In addition, digestive enzymes may also reduce thickening of the blood from fibrin deposits – unclogging the body’s microcirculation system. This effect has a positive impact on supporting the liver’s ability to process and detoxify.

Enzymes or Probiotics?

Because there are so many similarities, choosing between enzymes or probiotics can be confusing:

  1. Those with digestive problems who have recently been on antibiotics, or find they are under extreme stress, or are falling ill frequently, may particularly benefit from probiotic supplementation.
  2. Those with digestive problems who have troubles after eating, have undigested food in their stool, or are clearly malnourished despite eating healthy, may particularly benefit from digestive enzyme supplementation.

Nonetheless, many with gastrointestinal complaints and chronic liver disease benefit from taking digestive enzymes and probiotics together. Although these substances are very different, their use frequently runs parallel. For those wanting to improve their gut health while managing chronic liver disease, supporting the liver and digestive systems simultaneously with different approaches (like probiotics and digestive enzymes) tends to yield superior results., The Difference Between Enzymes vs Probiotics, Retrieved November 6, 2014, Tru Health, 2014., Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Digestive Enzymes, Retrieved November 8, 2014, Whole9, 2014., What’s the Difference Between a Probiotic and Digestive Enzyme?, Dr. David Williams, Retrieved November 6, 2014,, 2014., Liver, Tim Taylor, Retrieved November 8, 2014,, 2014., The Differences Between Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes, Kristin Hendrickson, Retrieved November 6, 2014, Demand Media Inc., 2014., Digestive Enzymes are Important for Health and Longevity, Tony Isaacs, Retrieved November 8, 2014, Natural News Network, 2014., Anatomy & Physiology of the Liver, Retrieved November 8, 2014, National Liver Foundation, 2014., Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes, Retrieved November 6, 2014,, 2014.


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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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