FODMAP Intolerances: How to choose the right digestive enzyme

Marlee Hamilton, RD

Written by: Marlee Hamilton, RD

Updated: December 7th, 2023

While digestive enzymes have been around for a while, they’ve recently been gaining popularity, especially for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other digestive disorders. However, there is a lot of misinformation out there about digestive enzymes as well. So, are they worth it? And how can digestive enzymes help those who have intolerances to high FODMAP foods? I’m Marlee Hamilton, a registered dietitian who specializes in gut health and IBS. Let’s review the facts about digestive enzymes!

For starters, it’s important to understand what digestive enzymes do. Digestive enzymes are proteins that help to initiate digestion (ie. the breakdown of food) in the body. All humans make digestive enzymes naturally and these are found in almost every part of our GI tract including our salivary glands, stomach, pancreas, and small intestine.

A few examples of common digestive enzymes include lipase, protease, amylase, and lactase. And there are many more! Each unique enzyme in the GI tract has a different function – some help with digesting carbohydrates, while others help with digesting proteins or fats.

FODMAP Intolerance: An Overview

FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) are specific types of non-digestible carbohydrates in certain foods we eat. These carbohydrates go through the digestive system without being absorbed and eventually end up in the large intestine. Once the FODMAPs arrive there, the bacteria in our gut microbiome start to ferment them. Despite these fermentable fibres being good for us, they can cause some digestive problems like abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and often diarrhea.

It’s important to note IBS is not caused by a lack of digestive enzymes. Therefore, it’s not as simple as saying “enzymes will cure IBS!” However, specific digestive enzymes may help to make certain FODMAP-containing foods less distressing for those with IBS. Ultimately, choosing the right digestive enzymes can help to provide relief and improve quality of life for those with digestive issues.

Specific Enzymes for High FODMAP Foods

While there are many digestive enzyme products floating around on the market, they are not all created equal. Many digestive enzyme supplements are blends of multiple enzymes and will have varying amounts of lipase, protease, amylase, sucrase, etc. In general, many of these products are lacking evidence and often target food components that aren’t actually causing digestive distress. In particular, it is difficult to know whether certain enzyme preparations will help with certain health conditions.

However, there are some exceptions to this! For example, we know that the lactase enzyme is helpful for people with lactose intolerance.1 And lactose is a FODMAP, so this could be helpful for those who have this specific FODMAP intolerance! But what about other FODMAPs? Are there enzymes on the market that can help with digesting them?

Well – yes! Researchers have developed a scientifically-backed digestive enzyme blend called FODZYME that specifically targets three of the most common FODMAP triggers. The enzymes in FODZYME are lactase, alpha-galactosidase, and fructan hydrolase to break down lactose, galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), and fructans respectively.2

These FODMAPs can be found in the following foods:

The FODZYME team is also working on a novel polyol-targeting enzyme to help support tolerance to another FODMAP group called polyols. Their mission with this novel enzyme is to transform them into more easily tolerated carbohydrates, which would be more readily absorbed in the gut.2

Who would benefit from using FODZYME?

As a digestive health dietitian, I work with a lot of people who struggle to feel normal. With IBS and GI issues in general, it is difficult to feel like you can participate in activities where food is involved – because “what if it bothers my gut?” While IBS is not caused by a lack of digestive enzymes, adding extra FODMAP-targeting enzymes to high FODMAP meals can allow people to have peace of mind and dietary freedom to enjoy the food they love!

While the low FODMAP diet is well researched and can be a great way to manage the symptoms of IBS, it isn’t appropriate for everyone. The elimination phase in particular is very restrictive. With those who have busy lifestyles, families to feed, or a history of disordered eating/eating disorders, cutting out foods isn’t ideal. In fact, elimination diets can sometimes increase food fear and anxiety, especially at restaurants or social engagements. FODZYME can be a great option for those who can’t follow a strict low FODMAP diet.

Additionally, for those who have completed the low FODMAP diet, FODZYME can be used following the third phase – after someone has identified or suspects that fructans, lactose, and/or GOS are trigger foods for their symptoms.

How to Take FODZYME for FODMAP Intolerances

Compared to other digestive enzymes that come in a capsule, FODZYME works a bit differently. Instead, it comes in a powder format that is sprinkled directly onto food. It’s recommended to add this specifically to foods that may contain fructans, GOS, and/or lactose. The powder does not have a taste, so is very easy to tolerate! By mixing it directly with food, the enzymes come into contact with the FODMAPs, helping to most effectively break them down into more digestible carbohydrates.2

You may be wondering about the best dose to take. FODZYME comes in small 1 gram stick packs and this specific dose has been shown to break down about 90% of a 3 gram dose of fructans2 (equivalent to about 6 cloves of garlic!) So, it can cover quite a bit of ground! However, this mechanism only works for about 30 minutes after ingesting the powder mixed with food. If you’re participating in a slow, multi-course meal, you may need to take a second dose.

Why Eating FODMAPs Can Be Beneficial

While you may think it’s best to just avoid high FODMAP foods that trigger digestive symptoms, there are actually benefits to eating foods rich in FODMAPs. Many high FODMAP foods are sources of prebiotics, which are non-digestible carbohydrates that play a beneficial role in maintaining a healthy gut microbiota.3

Using FODZYME can enable those with FODMAP sensitivities to consume a greater variety of plant-based, high-fiber foods. When limiting high FODMAP foods, it can be challenging to consume enough fibre in the diet, making FODZYME a great addition. Overall, I encourage patients to have the most liberal diet they can, as this promotes a better relationship with food, and reduces incidence of nutrient deficiencies. And it may just help to support your gut microbiome in the long-term if you avoid being on a restrictive diet! If FODZYME. can help achieve these goals AND reduce food anxiety, it’s a win-win!

Want to try FODZYME? Take 15% off with code THECDHF and 10% of the proceeds will be donated to CDHF. Or, use this link and the discount and donation will be automatically applied: https://partners.fodzyme.com/THECDHF

Conclusion

If you feel sensitive to FODMAP-rich foods and have been considering trying digestive enzymes, don’t just pick up any old supplement. It’s best to understand which types of enzymes are designed to target high FODMAP foods. At this point in time, there are enzymes to help with digesting lactose, galacto-oligosaccharides, and fructans – all of which can be found in the product FODZYME . If you need help finding options that work for you, work with a registered dietitian.

References:

  1. Baijal, J. & Tandon, R.K. (2021). Effect of lactase on symptoms and hydrogen breath levels in lactose intolerance: A crossover placebo‐controlled study. Journal of gastroenterology and hepatology, 5(1): 143–148. doi: 10.1002/jgh3.12463
  2. FODZYME. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://care.fodzyme.com/en/articles/6672080-fodzyme-clinical-brief
  3. Kaur et. al. (2021). Plant prebiotics and their role in the amelioration of diseases. Biomolecules, 11(3): 440. doi: 10.3390/biom11030440

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