No Place to Go But Up
The market for digestive enzymes is alive and well, according to Sam Michini, vice president of marketing & strategy, Deerland Probiotics & Enzymes, who said the U.S. dominates sales in North America.
“The U.S. is driving the worldwide market for digestive enzymes, which has been estimated at approximately $928 million, a number that is expected to expand greatly to reach $1.6 billion by 2025. The U.S. currently captures approximately 90% of the North American enzyme revenue,” he said.
However, Michini has also observed a surge in global demand for digestive enzyme products. “Many smaller countries across Asia, South America, and Africa have begun to adopt digestive enzyme technologies and many of these markets require cost-effective pricing structures and straightforward/easily marketable (and translatable) formulations. Asia is the region with the highest expected growth of more than 8% by 2025,” he said.
Citing data from Global Market Insights, Shaheen Majeed, president worldwide, Sabinsa, said the most-used enzymes include carbohydrase, protease, lipase, polymerase, and nuclease. Of these, carbohydrase is used the most.
“In North America last year, carbohydrase accounted for nearly half of the market share. Its use includes ingredient and processing aids in the food and beverage industries, but the largest amount of market growth is predicted to be from use for digestive and nutritional benefits in nutraceuticals, foods, and beverages,” Majeed said, adding, “by 2024, the U.S. dietary supplements market is projected to generate around $57 billion, of which nearly $2 billion will be generated by enzymes.”
Digestive Health: The Mainstay Category
Nutritional enzymes offer benefits in many areas, although they generally fall under two categories: digestive and systemic, according to Tom Laaman, PhD, director of technical sales, Specialty Enzymes & Probiotics. But digestive health has long been the strongest segment of the enzyme category, becoming even more so as consumers continue to grapple with stomach issues.
“Indigestion, gas, heartburn, and bloating are common digestive issues, which can be caused by stress, overeating, smoking, alcohol, disease states, genetic predisposition, and aging,” Laaman explained. “When the body is not producing an adequate amount of digestive enzymes to digest the food one eats, taking enzyme supplements can significantly improve how food is digested and nutrients are absorbed.”
He went on to explain this is true even for people with food sensitivities and difficulties digesting specific foods, such as dairy and gluten. He said enzyme blends with DPP IV (dipeptidyl peptidase IV) activity promote healthy digestion of gluten, while lactase promotes lactose digestion.
Deerland’s Michini said while digestive support remains top of mind when consumers think of enzymes, the key is educating the public about how stress affects digestive function, especially since there is a distinct relationship between stress hormones and digestive disturbances, as well as immune function.
To that end, formulations that combine digestive enzymes, probiotics, and prebiotics for complete digestive health will have a secondary benefit for immunity as well.
“Digestion and immunity have an intimate relationship and supporting the body’s enzyme content will improve digestive function and immunity,” Michini explained. “Considering 80% of the immune system is in the digestive tract, maintaining a healthy gut is a major focal point in the pursuit to support immunity.”
Having a poorly functioning digestive system can put the body in a very vulnerable position. “The body produces its own enzymes, approximately half of which is used for digestion. Because the body places such a high priority on digestion, an inadequate digestive system resulting from insufficient enzymes will ‘steal’ enzymes from the immune system to operate, in turn weakening immune function,” Michini continued. “The body can be weakened to the point that it can no longer protect against outside invaders.”
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), gallbladder surgery—also called a cholecystectomy—is one of the most common surgeries, affecting more than 1 million people in the U.S. As a result, Sabinsa’s Majeed said this health issue could bring with it disruption in digestive function before and after the surgery that digestive enzymes may help alleviate.
“The gallbladder’s function in digestion of fatty foods is important, because it collects and stores the bile produced by the liver, to be released when needed to digest fatty substances. With that interrupted, people often have difficulty digesting fatty foods and tend to experience some pretty uncomfortable effects,” Majeed explained. “Digestive enzymes work very well in this situation by helping to break down
Lactose intolerance is also a common digestive problem that affects millions of people worldwide. According to the NIH, about 65% of the human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy. The problem in adulthood is most prevalent in people of East Asian descent, affecting more than 90% of adults in some of these communities. Lactose intolerance is also very common in people of West African, Arab, Jewish, Greek, and Italian descent.
Majeed said enzyme supplements that help people digest lactose have been very successful for many people.
Keep an Eye on Systemic Enzymes
Laaman of Specialty Enzymes believes systemic enzymes are the ones to watch, because he said they offer benefits for a broader range of areas, including cardiovascular, joint, and respiratory health.
“[Systemic enzymes] are the cutting edge in enzyme therapy. Numerous studies demonstrate that they promote a healthy response to inflammation, and have strong fibrinolytic activity, which benefits cardiovascular and respiratory health,” Laaman explained. “Systemic enzymes are primarily proteases. There was a time when systemic enzymes from animal sources were popular. Then came plant-sourced enzymes such as bromelain and papain. And while they are still popular, the strongest, most potent and effective systemic enzymes are serrapeptase and nattokinase.”
Another important trend that Laaman highlighted is the increasing interest in specialized diets ranging from vegan to high protein for sports/bodybuilding to keto. “These diets can strain the body’s natural digestive system, but enzymes offer a way to comfortably eat the foods we consider most healthy or advantageous,” he said.
For example, supplementing with microbial proteases for bodybuilders, or cellulases and hemicellulases for vegans, allow their bodies to more easily handle specific diets.
Recent Research Snapshot
A 2017 double-blind, placebo-controlled study of Deerland’s multi-enzyme compound ProHydrolase combined with whey protein showed improved digestion and absorption of amino acids along with reduction of the immunogenic responses associated with whey protein consumption, compared to whey protein alone.
The researchers in this study gave 20 volunteers (aged 19 to 35 with normal healthy body mass index) whey protein with ProHydrolase for nine days and whey protein by itself for nine days. At the end of the study, the researchers found that total amino acid concentrations increased significantly (by 55 mg) after taking the whey protein and ProHydrolase supplement than after just the whey protein-only supplement. In other words, taking whey and ProHydrolase provided 20% more amino acids than whey protein by itself.
Another interesting area is sports nutrition. According to Majeed, Sabinsa’s DigeZyme was found to be beneficial in a study on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) post exercise in a 2016 study published in Sports Nutrition Therapies. A significant reduction in McGill pain scores was observed with the multi- enzyme complex.
In a 2018 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study, the safety and efficacy of Sabinsa’s multi-enzyme complex DigeZyme was also evaluated as a dietary supplement in Functional dyspepsia (FD) patients. Forty subjects received either 50 mg of DigeZyme three times a day or placebo for 60 days.
Supplementation with DigeZyme was associated with statistically significant differences in all efficacy parameters compared with placebo. The between-group comparison also revealed that DigeZyme had a significantly greater effect versus placebo.
No product-related adverse effects were reported. Further, there were no clinically significant abnormalities in physical findings and no statistically significant changes in biochemical and hematological parameters, vital signs, body weight, and body mass index observed between the two groups at baseline and follow-up visits.
The authors of this study concluded that DigeZyme supplementation represents an effective and safe alternative to manage dyspepsia symptoms in FD patients.
An emerging area of interest includes microbial proteases, which seem to be more versatile compared to other enzymes. “Due to perpetual shortages of animal and plant proteases, more research is being done (much of it proprietary) to find microbial proteases that can substitute and provide improved functionality,” said Specialty Enzymes’ Laaman. “Microbial proteases are more multidimensional and have broader ranges of pH stability, making them highly effective substitutes for animal and plant proteases.”
There is also a lot of research activity around using probiotics in combination with and instead of enzymes to solve digestive challenges. “Probiotics can produce enzymes the body needs when ingested. Long term, probiotics can provide a method for making desired enzymes since they are synthesized inside a person’s body,” Laaman explained.
“When expertly used together, however, there is a true symbiosis between enzymes and probiotics. Enzymes break down desired targets, both dietary and systemic, and probiotics bring in needed beneficial bacteria to help the digestive system function better in the long-term, and improve overall gut microbiome health,” he added.
Established & Emerging Applications
Beyond capsules, stick packs are gaining ground and consumer use, according to Deerland’s Michini, who believes this supplement delivery form is very attractive due to its dosing convenience (the consumer doesn’t have to count or measure), and ease of use.
“Brands can choose from a wide variety of sizes and configurations—such as a small pouch, packet, or tube made from flexible film. Enzyme powders or even liquids can be made into stick packs so the consumer can carry it, and easily mix and consume it when and where they want to,” Michini pointed out, adding, “Another attribute of using stick packs is that a single product can be made in an assortment of flavors for variety.”
This application may be particularly appealing to the sports nutrition market, Michini said, because athletes are looking for enhanced digestion benefits as a result of the more extreme diets they are on, relative to healthy non-athletes.
“Athletes and fitness enthusiasts consume more protein to help muscles strengthen, define, and grow, with whey being the king of proteins. Unfortunately, whey is somewhat cumbersome for the digestive system to efficiently break down and assimilate, a process that requires specific enzymes (proteases). Typical whey proteins are bound together in a peptide complex that needs to be broken down for effective utilization.
“Ideally, for whey to help promote muscle growth and strength, it should be digested to at least the tetra-peptide level within 90 minutes to be used by the body,” Michini continued. “Absorption takes place in the small intestines. Larger protein fragments cannot be absorbed and become food for the microflora in the large intestine, which can contribute to unpleasant gas and bloating issues.”
ProHydrolase is Deerland’s enzyme solution for these issues, as it helps pre-digest whey protein, allowing for the release of the full content of the essential amino acids for building muscle and improving muscle recovery.
Meal replacement shakes and protein powders have also become important categories for consumers of enzyme products. In this vein, Laaman said the addition of the right enzyme blend, such as Specialty Enzymes’ Prohydroxy P in meal replacement shakes can enhance digestion and increase the nutritional value of the meal.
“In sports and bodybuilding nutrition, protease enzymes help athletes digest and utilize the larger amounts of protein they are consuming in their diet. Typically, adults can only digest about 2 ounces of protein at a time. Athletes and bodybuilders often consume more in order to reduce catabolism of muscle tissue,” Laaman said. “Our Pepzyme AG is a powerful blend of protease enzymes designed specifically to increase digestion of protein and absorption of the resulting amino acids.”
Combination products are also becoming very popular, Laaman noted. “There is growing demand for blends combining enzymes and probiotics for use as standalone supplements and in various forms of cleanse products. Some of our most effective and popular proprietary blends are expertly calibrated enzyme and probiotics blends.”
Touching on some of the newer delivery systems, Sabinsa’s Majeed regards gummies, soft chews, melts (sticks or tablets), and liquids as up-and-comers for enzyme delivery. In the meantime, he said cereals, nutritional bars, and flavored beverages are also being potentiated with combinations of probiotics, prebiotics, and enzymes to support the natural digestive process for a range of demographics, from older adults to athletes, who are choosing digestive wellness-promoting foods.
Becky Wright has 20 years of experience in the nutritional field as a writer and marketer. She previously worked for companies such as OmniActive Health Technologies, Aker BioMarine, and Rodman Media. She currently runs Wright On Marketing & Communications, a small independent agency that offers related services to clients. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.