Digestive Enzymes Glossary

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Digestive Enzymes Glossary


Picture courtesy of Karimian

Picture courtesy of Karimian

Amylase is a digestive enzyme that helps break down carbohydrates into smaller particles.

Amylase is mainly produced in the pancreas, however, small amounts of amylase is also produced by the salivary glands in your mouth. Although most carbohydrate digestion occurs in the small intestine by the pancreatic amylase, small amounts of dietary carbohydrates are digested in the mouth by the salivary amylase. If you chew carbohydrate-containing foods, such as bread, long enough without swallowing, you may notice a sweet taste. This is caused by the breakdown of long carbohydrates into smaller disaccharide units, known as maltose.

Amylase can also be found in certain plant-based foods, such as wheat and barley.


Bromelain is a mixture of protein-digesting enzymes found in fresh pineapples.

Its medical uses include reducing swelling from injuries and surgery, reducing blood clots and pain relief from arthritis. This may also help reduce knee pain, treat second- and third-degree burns, as well as reduce swelling and inflammation from hay fever.

Bromelain is available in capsule and tablet form as a diet supplement. There is also a topical variety used for burns.

Pineapples are the only food source of bromelain. Although supplementary bromelain comes from the stems of the pineapple, all the parts of the fruit have this enzyme, from the skin to the juice. Canned pineapples lose their bromelain because of heat treatment.


Catalase is an enzyme whose strongest attribute is its ability to act as an antioxidant. Catalase takes the byproduct of Hydrogen Peroxide, which is released from the cells, and converts it into water and oxygen. Catalase also has the extreme ability to oxidize harmful toxins in the body before they invade the cells.

This enzyme works to aid in immune responses and protects the cells by constantly working to balance the overload of Hydrogen Peroxide that is produced in cell metabolism.

Since Catalase can only be produced in the body or formed from Aspergillis Niger (a fungus), a supplement form must be taken if Catalase levels are low.


Cellulase is an enzyme that splits cellulose, a common substance that is contained in all plant tissues.

The body’s digestive system cannot break down cellulose, and it is regarded as roughage. Cellulase makes cellulose soluble, breaking it down into beta-glucose (blood sugar) and improving digestibility of plant-based foods.

It is used in combination with other enzymes to manufacture juice and other beverages, and in the production of wine and other alcoholic drinks.

Although contained naturally in all plants, cellulase must go through a fermentation process with a variety of fungi and bacteria to be usable as a supplement or in food manufacturing.


Hemicellulase is an enzyme that helps break down indigestible fiber.

Hemicellulase is vital for breaking down certain foods we eat like, grains, fruits and vegetables. Hemicellulase is quite a complex enzyme, and there are different variations of hemicellulase. Different variations of this enzyme have been used for different purposes.

Research suggests that an increase in this enzyme can help prevent and reduce yeast infestations such as Candida and improve your health. This enzyme has been known to help support our intestines by reducing bloating and gas.

Hemicellulase is found in cake mixes, baked goods and fruit juices.


Chymotrypsin is a digestive enzyme that speeds up chemical reactions in the body.

It is produced in the pancreas, where it breaks down proteins and polypeptides. It is used for a number of medical purposes and infection treatment.

Chymotrypsin supplementation can be taken orally or by injection, and can be inhaled or applied to the skin. It reduces inflammation and swelling from abscesses, and it can be used as a topical antibiotic. Chymotrypsin is effective in treating burn patients, both to reduce liver damage and to promote repair of burn wounds.

It is not naturally found in any foods and must be chemically activated in a laboratory.


Galactosidase refers to a group of enzymes that catalyze the hydrolysis of a galactoside. It occurs in two forms: alpha and beta, both essential to metabolizing glucose in the body.

Beta-galactosidase is used in genetics and life sciences, and it is activated when glucose levels are low or in the presence of lactose.

Alpha-galactosidase is also related to glucose function, and is implicated in Fabry’s disease, which causes body pain, kidney failure, and dermatological symptoms.

Galactosidase is synthetically derived from a fungus. When taken as a supplement, Alpha-galactosidase helps break down proteins and fats that are difficult to digest, such as those contained in gas-producing foods, and is useful in treating complex carbohydrate intolerance.


Alpha-Galactosidase is an enzyme that breaks down complex carbohydrates in the intestinal tract.

Complex carbohydrates are found in beans, grains and vegetables, and contain sugars such as polysaccharides, and oligosaccharides. These can’t be metabolized without being reduced to simple sugars, like glucose and galactose.

With enough Alpha-Galactosidase the sugars are hydrolyzed (broken down with the use of water molecules).

Without enough, the complex sugars pass undigested into the large intestine where intestinal microorganisms digest them, causing fermentation and producing gases. Alpha-Galactosidase prevents this fermentation process.

The body produces this enzyme, though sometimes not enough, and it can’t be obtained through diet. Supplements containing Alpha-Galactosidase are plentiful as over-the-counter medications and can be helpful in preventing excess gas.


Beta-Galactosidase is a digestive enzyme found in the intestines of mammals.

Essential for the digestion of milk products, its main function is hydrolyzing lactose (milk sugar) into two simple sugars, glucose and galactose. These simple sugars can then be metabolized by the body. An inadequate amount of Beta-Galactose results in lactose intolerance.

Severe hereditary deficiencies of the enzyme produce serious defects that usually become noticeable shortly after birth, with poor outcomes.

There are no food sources to boost Beta-Galactosidase, but lactose content in dairy products can be reduced by its addition to them, thus reducing symptoms.

Recent research has led to synthesizing the enzyme for pills to treat lactose intolerance.


Glucanase is a digestive enzyme that breaks down cellulose in natural plant fibers known as glucans. It occurs in two forms: alpha and beta. Glucans are integral to the binding of cholesterol and toxins in the body before elimination. However, without glucanase, fibrous substances become viscous in the intestine, causing bloating and other abdominal problems by slowing down peristalsis.

The digestive enzyme glucanase also aids in the breakdown of the cell wall of certain types of fungi that can cause infection in the intestine.

The human body cannot naturally produce glucanase, therefore it has to be incorporated in the diet through foods or supplements. This enzyme is naturally found in yeasts, some mushrooms and grains.


Alpha-Glucanase is a digestive enzyme that when taken as directed, can assist in the alleviation of irritable bowel syndrome and various stomach discomforts.

There are various probiotic supplements that contain the combination of Alpha-Glucanase and ox bile extract, which is a natural fat emulsifier that assists with proper digestion. Probiotics and digestive enzymes work by balancing the delicate flora of the digestive tract, and many vitamin supplements in today’s health world contain some type of probiotic combination.

Glucanase works well for individuals that suffer from Chron’s disease, a chronic disorder of the gastrointestinal tract.


Beta-glucanase are enzymes that help the human body break down the beta glucans in cereals like wheat, barley and rye. These beta glucans work to keep the body healthy by reducing high cholesterol levels and keeping bowel movements regular.

Beta glucans can also help anyone concerned with diabetes keep even blood sugar levels. With the CDC estimating that over 79 million Americans over the age of 20 have prediabetes, this is a very important function.

To get enough beta-glucanase in their systems, people can eat grains, mushrooms and foods containing yeast. For those who enjoy a more leisurely lifestyle, coffee also has beta-glucanase activity.

Glucose Oxidase

Glucose Oxidase is an antioxidant with an antibacterial effect that prevents food spoilage. It is used in combination with catalese to preserve egg products in mayonnaise and in baked goods. Catalese splits the hydrogen peroxide and glucose oxidase converts the glucose sugar into gluconic acid.

This enzyme is also used to improve the stability and elasticity of dough and to remove oxygen in wine or beer manufacturing. It has potential for use in diabetes as a glucose sensor. The antiseptic and antibiotic properties of Glucose Oxidase contribute to a range of health benefits, including upper respiratory tract infections and cancer treatment.

Glucose Oxidase is derived from fungus and mold cultures and is commonly found in honey and bee pollen.


Invertase, also known as beta-fructofuranosidase, is an enzyme that helps break down sucrose, or table sugar. It is essential to the body’s ability to digest sugar.

Invertase is usually derived from yeast, but it is also contained in honey and produced in a number of other microorganisms.

Invertase is used in the food industry as fructose, an alternative to sucrose, and it is useful for keeping baked goods and candy moist. In particular, it is used to make liquid centers in candy.

Invertase has a protective function against a number of metals poisonous to the body, such as lead and mercury. It has antioxidant, antibacterial, and antiseptic properties and is a natural immune booster.


Lactase is an enzyme that digests lactose in milk. Lactose is the sugar found in the milk, and lactase breaks it down to simpler sugars, galactose and glucose.

Without lactase the body cannot digest milk; this condition is called lactose intolerance. Infants produce plenty of lactase as they depend on milk for nourishment. Most adults have little to no lactase production and have problems digesting milk.

There is no natural food source for lactase, however, the beneficial bacteria found in raw milk (unpasteurized) can help the body produce this enzyme.

Commercially produced lactase come from yeast and fungi, and work best under different conditions. Some yeast, called dairy yeasts, have been used for centuries in making fermented food products, like yogurt.


Lipase is a fat-splitting digestive enzyme that the body needs to efficiently digest and absorb fats from food.

Produced primarily by the pancreas, lipase is also found in the mouth and stomach. There are no known food sources of this digestive enzyme, however, animal-sourced supplements are available in capsule form.

While most people generate enough lipase on their own, those with digestive disorders like celiac and Crohn’s disease may be lipase-deficient.

This can lead to serious nutritional deficiencies caused by poor absorption of lipids, the tiny molecules needed to help the body process fats. A simple fasting blood test can be done to check lipase levels within the body and determine if supplementation is needed.


Maltase is a digestive enzyme that is found in the small intestines. It is formed through the mucus membrane of the cell lining.

This enzyme helps to break down large molecules into smaller molecules so that they can be absorbed by the body. It is designed to break down the maltose molecules from food into glucose, which can then be used by the body for energy.

When Maltase enzymes become lowered in the body through poor diet, antibiotics, and other medications, it is imperative that supplemental Maltase is given.

Since Maltase can only be produced through a fungus, there are no foods that contain this enzyme. Supplements must be given to combat medical issues that may arise from a lack of the enzyme in the body.


Nattokinase is a powerful anti-clotting enzyme that is effective in preventing heart attack and stroke by normalizing blood pressure and dissolving blood clots.

It is extracted from a traditional Japanese soy cheese food called Natto and has been used in traditional folk treatments for hundreds of years. Nattokinase is created when the bacterium Bacillus natto is added to boiled soybeans to initiate the fermentation process. It is not found in any other food, so many people take it via supplements.

Research has found Nattokinase effective for a number of cardiovascular conditions, as well as in pain treatment and for diseases such as endometriosis, cancer, and beriberi.


Pancreatin is comprised of three different enzymes that are produced in the Pancreas: Amylase, Lipase, and Protease. This combination forms the Pancreatic acid or ‘Pancreatic juice’, as it is often called.

Pancreatin is essential for the body, to aid in the digestion of foods, especially fats. This enzyme is often used in the treatment of cancers, immune disorders, and food allergies. If the body is lacking Pancreatin, this often is a result of Pancreatic disorders or disease.

Pancreatin supplements are essential when the body is low on these important enzymes. Since Pancreatin is not found in any food source, supplements must be created from natural sources to aid those who lack the enzyme.


Papain is a digestive enzyme present in papaya. It is also known as papaya proteinase I.

Papain has some known health benefits, and eating papaya, or taking papain supplements may help improve your digestion. In addition, papain is sometimes used to treat skin conditions, such as irritations and wounds.

Some scientific studies have found that papain may have blood thinning effects. People who take warfarin or other blood-thinning medications should avoid foods or supplements that contain papain, or only take them under the supervision of a doctor.


Pectinase, also known as pectinolytic enzyme, is a digestive enzyme that breaks down pectin. Pectin is a carbohydrate found in plants cell walls. As pectinase breaks down pectin, it leads to weakening of the cell wall. When this process happens during ripening, it makes fruits and vegetables softer.

Plants and microbes produce pectinase, and both are commonly used to obtain the enzyme for industrial use. Pectinase is used in the food industry for several purposes, including to clarify fruit juices, extract juice and oil, and ferment coffee and tea.

In addition, pectinase is often fed to livestock to help them digest food better. Some human digestive aid supplements also contain pectinase.


Pepsin is the main digestive enzyme found in the stomach. This is where the term ‘peptic ulcers’ comes from.

Pepsin is responsible for the beginning process of the breakdown of proteins in the body. It starts the process in the stomach so that other enzymes can take over once the food reaches the intestines.

Pepsin has the unique title of being the first enzyme to be discovered in the human body. Pepsin production is often halted due to the ingestion of antacids. When Pepsin is low, the absorption of proteins is delayed due to the process not being able to start in the stomach, where it should.

Pepsin is found in large quantities in raw meat, but it is not recommended that humans consume meat that has not been cooked.

If Pepsin levels are low in the body, supplements must be taken to increase the levels.


Phytase is an enzyme that breaks down phytate to release phosphorus.

Corn and soybean have higher levels of the enzyme, but it is also contained in wheat, and other cereal grains.

Phytase is generally manufactured with the aid of mold cultures. It is used most commonly for non-ruminant animal feed (pigs, poultry) to aid with digestion and reduce the phosphate content of manure, minimizing environmental consequences.

In humans, phytase is an essential digestive enzyme that breaks down phytic acid to aid absorption and improve the nutritional quality of corn, grains, seeds and legumes. It reduces mineral deficiencies and is also important for bone health.


Protease is an enzyme that helps to break down proteins in the body to form amino acids, which then make them useful to the body and allow them to enter the bloodstream.

Protease is useful in the body by helping to fight infection, parasites, and bacteria. It is used in the treatment of arthritis, cancer, and immune disorders.

A deficiency in Protease can cause a host of problems, such as constipation, hypoglycemia, digestion problems, and even high blood pressure. When Protease is limited in the body, a supplement must be taken to increase the levels.

Protease is found in these foods:

  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Cheese


Serrapeptase is an enzyme that helps to digest non-living tissues. It helps to consume dead cells, blood clots, inflammation, and plaque that forms in the arteries.

This amazing enzyme can help to prevent heart attacks by removing the fatty deposits and plaque that are in the arteries. It is also beneficial in the healing of wounds, because it dissolves blood clots and helps to remove bruising and scabbing that is no longer needed by the body.

It has been clinically used for over 25 years in both Europe and Asia.

The supplement form of Serrapeptase helps many illnesses and medical conditions.


Sucrase is a group of several enzymes that help to break down sucrose into both fructose and glucose in the human body. It is produced by the epithelium of the small intestines.

These enzymes allow the body to break down sucrose into other usable forms to produce energy for the body. Because this enzyme cannot be produced in mass amounts by the body, many people need to take a supplement, or better yet, improve their eating habits to have a healthier lifestyle.

When these enzymes become lessened or wiped out completely, digestive irritation, pain, and food sensitivities can occur.

Superoxide dismutase (SOD)

Superoxide dismutase (SOD) is a powerful antioxidant which appears naturally in melons such as cantaloupe and honeydew, and in wheat, corn, and soy sprouts.

The enzyme helps to manage levels of superoxide in the body by converting it to hydrogen peroxide, which can then be neutralized by catalase.

Stomach acids can destroy the SOD molecule, so it is often taken as a supplement. The absorption of SOD is increased by eating foods rich in copper, zinc, and manganese, such as liver, spinach, lettuce greens, and strawberries. In addition to melons, other foods containing Superoxide Dismutase include:

  • brussel sprouts
  • barley grass
  • wheatgrass
  • cabbage
  • broccoli


Trypsin is a digestive enzyme that is secreted by the Pancreas and aids in the breakdown of food in the digestive tract.

One of its primary functions is to help to break down large proteins into smaller proteins so that they can then be broken down into amino acids and allowed to enter the blood stream.

Trypsin is used in many forms in food production and in biotechnology. Since it is found in mass amounts in the pancreas, it can be easily extracted for use.

Foods that contain Trypsin:

  • It is used in many baking products to allow for easier dough manipulation.
  • It is used in dairy products, such as milk and cheese.


Xylanase is a member of the pentosanases, which is an enzyme group responsible for breaking down the cell wall matrix of plants.

It breaks down the fibrous component xylan, also called wood gum, which is present in all plants at different concentrations. Wheat has a high xylan level. Xylanase is produced from genetically modified micro-organisms extracted from fungi and bacteria cultures.

Xylanase is generally used in combination with other enzymes in several ways:

  • to improve the workability and quality of dough and to stabilize it when baking
  • to reduce intestinal discomfort from fibrous and hard-to-digest foods
  • as an animal feed additive
  • to produce starch for papermaking


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