Digestive enzymes break down particles of food for the body to use as energy. The liver and pancreas are responsible for producing digestive enzymes, according to clinical nurse consultant Phyllis Balch's "Prescription for Nutritional Healing." People with digestion and gallbladder disorders may wish to take supplemental digestive enzymes to improve the absorption of food nutrients and ease indigestion. Plant-based enzymes differ from other digestive enzymes in that they are not derived from an animal source.
The papaya fruit contains an enzyme called papain. According to Balch, papain breaks down fats, carbohydrates and protein molecules. Papain aids in gall bladder health and digestive health. The gallbladder is responsible for storing the bile produced by the liver. People who have gallbladder disorders or who no longer have a gallbladder may not have enough stored bile to digest fats easily. Papain helps to digest fats and reduces the work of the gallbladder. This enzyme is available in chewable tablets taken with each meal.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the enzyme bromelain is found in pineapples and is often used to treat indigestion in South and Central America. Bromelain is a proteolytic enzyme, meaning it breaks down protein molecules. The benefits bromelain provides for aiding heartburn and digestive upset are enhanced when it is combined with a digestive blend. Since bromelain does not digest fats, it has little benefit to those with gallbladder diseases. However, bromelain may help to reduce inflammation throughout the body when it is taken on an empty stomach. Bromelain is available in capsule form in health food stores.
Lipase and other isolated enzymes were often sold from animal-derived sources but are now commonly made from plant sources, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Supplementing your diet with lipase is especially helpful for those who have a limited or non-functioning gallbladder or for those with coeliac or Crohn's disease. Lipase is available in capsule and tablet forms. Children should not supplement with lipase or the following enzymes unless directed by a qualified health practitioner.
The digestive enzyme amylase is normally released in the mouth and intestines. It is responsible for breaking down carbohydrates. Supplementing with plant-based amylase allows food to be predigested in the stomach for easier absorption in the intestinal tract. Amylase improves digestion of meals that are high in carbohydrates such as breads, pasta, rice or sugar. Amylase is often found in digestive enzyme blends and must be taken with meals to aid in digestion.
Protease breaks down proteins and is essential to continued digestive health, according to Balch. Undigested protein in the intestinal tract is associated with leaky gut syndrome, which allows food particles to escape the intestines and enter the bloodstream. Protease is available in isolated form and in digestive enzyme blends.