Vegetarian vs. animal derived enzymes

Many of the digestive and systemic products on the market today contain enzymes derived from animal sources, such as the pancreatic tissue of pigs. However, microbial or vegetarian enzymes have several distinct advantages when compared to animal enzymes.

Vegetarian enzyme supplements can provide greater digestive or systemic activity per capsule or tablet than animal enzyme supplements. Vegetarian enzymes can be concentrated more than animal enzymes, so more activity can be included in each capsule or tablet. This means vegetarian enzymes require fewer capsules or tablets than animal enzymes to provide equivalent digestive or systemic action, which results in better patient compliance. This is particularly significant for systemic use of proteolytic enzymes where large numbers of pancreatin-based tablets are often recommended.1

Vegetarian enzymes function throughout the entire digestive tract. Pepsin only functions in the high acidity of the lower stomach and pancreatin, trypsin and chymotrypsin can only digest food in the alkaline pH of the intestines.

Vegetarian enzymes can help relieve the body of some of its digestive burden, whereas, most animal enzymes work too late in the digestive process. The most commonly used animal enzymes – pancreatin, trypsin and chymotrypsin – don’t begin working until the alkaline environment of the small intestine, after the body has already been required to produce excess acid and pancreatic enzymes to complete digestion.2 Vegetarian enzymes, on the other hand, are active over a broad pH range, from acidic to alkaline, so they are able to begin digesting food almost immediately after it enters the stomach.3

Since the body makes acid and enzymes in response to the food composition and state of digestion, the pre-digestion of the food in the first 45 minutes to 1 hour after ingestion will signal the body to produce less acid and fewer digestive enzymes. This means less energy and materials will be expended by the body on the digestive process. This extra energy is then used by the body for maintenance and repair.2 In addition, vegetarian enzymes continue to assist in digestion through most of the digestive tract.3 Taking a vegetarian enzyme supplement at the beginning of each meal can dramatically reduce the enzyme-producing load on the digestive organs.

In other words, better digestion equals greater nutrient availability, while less digestive enzyme demand equals lower stress and over all better quality of life.

Vegetarian enzymes are stable in the upper stomach and some of the proteases are even active in the acidic pH of the lower stomach. The most commonly used animal enzymes (pancreatin, trypsin and chymotrypsin) may be destroyed in the acid conditions of the stomach before ever reaching the small intestine. For this reason, many products containing animal enzymes enteric-coat either the enzymes themselves or the entire tablet. This process makes the product resistant to stomach acids with the intention that the coating will dissolve off in the alkaline pH of the small intestines. However, some people, particularly those producing too much stomach acid or taking HCL supplements, may never reach the alkaline pH required to release the enzymes from the enteric coating or reach it (too late to have any real benefit) after the food is well past the optimum absorption sites in the small intestine.1 Of equal concern, the primary ingredients in most, if not all, of these enteric-coatings are synthetic polymers similar to those used in the plastics industry.4

Vegetarian enzyme supplements usually provide a broader spectrum of digestive enzymes that act on all of the main food components (protein, carbohydrates, fat and fiber)3, whereas, animal enzymes focus predominantly on digesting proteins with minimal carbohydrate and fat-digestion provided by pancreatin and none provided by pepsin, trypsin and chymotrypsin. Please note: The carbohydrate-digesting activity is limited to starch breakdown since animal enzymes provide no fiber or sugar-digesting activity.5

Vegetarian enzymes are cultivated in a controlled environment, free of contaminants including pesticides. Animal enzymes are commercially obtained from slaughterhouse animals, usually pigs, which have received steroids, antibiotics, etc. and have been fed pesticide-containing, genetically-altered feed.

When choosing a digestive enzyme supplement, guarantee efficacy by choosing vegetarian over animal enzymes.

References:

  1. 1. Griffin, SM. et al. Acid resistant lipase as replacement therapy in chronic pancreatic exocrine insufficiency: a study in dogs. Gut 1989;30:1012-15.
  2. 2. Howell, E. Enzyme Nutrition, The Food Enzyme Concept. 1985. Avery Publishing Group, New Jersey.
  3. 3. Rachman, B. Unique Features and application of non-animal derives enzymes. Clinical Nutrition Insights, vol.5 no.10, 1997.
  4. 4. Preparation of enteric coated digestive enzyme compositions. Patent number: 4079125, March 14, 1978.
  5. 5. Guyton AC and Hall JE Textbook of Medical Physiology, 9th ed.,1996, pg.824- 826. W.B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia, PA.
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