Digestive Enzymes – The Hidden Dangers

If you are taking digestive enzymes, you may have noticed two things: first, you digest way better when taking them and second, you begin to realize that you are becoming dependent on them.

You may think, Am I going to need to take digestive enzymes for the rest of my life? Contrary to what you might have heard, the answer is no.

After 28 years of practice, it still amazes me how many people are taking digestive enzymes. We are told by an arsenal of pundits that the ability to make enzymes decreases with age, and that we all must take digestive enzymes in order to digest our food properly.

I am a firm believer that we can all have the digestive strength of an 18 year old, even as we age, without the help of pills or powders.

If you are dependent on enzymes for digestion, please join me as I share with you some digestive reset strategies.

Cleansing Casualties

A few years ago, I was honored to lecture with one of the most brilliant natural medicine doctors of our time, Bernard Jensen. He was in his nineties and, after writing 50 books, developing Iridology and numerous colon cleansing therapies, I was shocked to find out that he was taking 17 digestive enzymes with every meal.

I had so much respect for this man; I just could not believe he was on digestive enzymes, let alone 17 with each meal. Interestingly, he had developed the first bentonite clay intestinal cleanse, which I did when I was 18, and the Colema Board, a slant board enema system.

When I heard he was on so many enzymes, I immediately thought of the hundreds of patients I have seen over the years that I’ve called “cleansing casualties” – folks who have cleansed themselves into having a digestive system that only works if they keep cleansing it.

It became painfully obvious in my practice that you can cleanse out the gut and feel great for a spell, but getting the gut to continue functioning on its own long after such a cleanse was the real test.

I was also struck by the completely opposite approach Ayurveda uses to clean the colon. Rather than hosing the gut down with water, which can dry it out, Ayurveda suggests soaking the gut in herbalized oils that have a soothing and lubricating effect.

I also noticed that Dr. Jensen’s belly was largely distended and bloated – a telltale sign that the villi inside the gut, and the lymph directly outside the gut, were congested and inflamed.

How Can Cleansing Your Colon Turn Off Digestive Strength?

The intestinal wall is dependent on a very delicate balance of not being too wet or too dry. We have all experienced dry skin after a shower. In the same way that water can dry out the outer skin, water enemas may slowly dry out the villi, forcing them to become dry or produce reactive mucus. As a result, your stools may become constipated, loose, or both.

This intestinal irritation will congest the villi and force toxins through a default route back to the liver for a second chance to detoxify. The toxins build up and slowly congest the liver. Thick bile slowly congests the gallbladder and bile ducts. Bile flow may become blocked on its path from the liver to the gallbladder and then to the intestines.

Just before the bile duct reaches the small intestine, it joins with the pancreatic duct. Thick bile will block bile flow, as well as the flow of pancreatic (digestive) enzymes. Bile helps break down fat, scrubs the villi, escorts toxins out and much more. The pancreas produces those famous digestive enzymes. In one study, 46% of patients who had Pancreatitis had thick or viscous bile, indicating that thick bile will affect the function of the pancreas.

Digestive Enzyme Summary

1.  Irritated intestinal villi: stools that are too dry or too loose
2.  Toxins drain from the gut to the liver
3.  The bile in the liver becomes congested
4.  The bile becomes too thick to flow through the bile ducts
5.  The gallbladder becomes congested
6.  The thick bile congests the bile duct and pancreatic duct
7.  Digestive enzymes cannot pass with the bile into the small intestine

Alternatives to Digestive Enzymes

Now that you understand why we are lacking in these enzymes for digestion, you may ask, why not just decongest the bile and pancreatic ducts and improve the bile flow?

My sentiments exactly! Here’s how:

Step 1: Eat more raw beets and leafy greens. Greens should make up 2/3 of your plate. The cellulose in greens will attach to the toxic bile and escort it to the toilet like a non-stop flight!

Step 2: Drink fenugreek tea. It acts as a decongestant for the bile ducts and helps support normal bile flow.

Step 3: Have cinnamon with every meal. Cinnamon supports healthy blood sugar levels while supporting normal bile flow.

Step 4: Mix 1-2 tbsp of olive oil with 1-2 tsp of lemon juice. Shake and drink every morning OR night on an empty stomach for 1 month. This will exercise the liver and gallbladder, while supporting healthy bile flow in the bile and pancreatic ducts.

Step 5: Drink a big glass of water 15-20 minutes before each meal. This will super-hydrate your stomach, encouraging it to produce more hydrochloric acid and increasing the flow of bile and pancreatic enzymes.

Step 6: Consider regular detoxification of the liver and fat cells, which store toxins that are processed through the liver. Regular cleansing can help one achieve optimal digestion.


    • Nicole says

      Wendy, I think he is referring to synthetic enzymes that are being taken through capsules or others forms. These synthetic enzymes will, over time, inhibit the bodies own natural ability to produce it’s own enzymes. He is saying this is dangerous because the body is depending on a outside source of enzymes and the body is not producing them. Overtime as the body breaks down and depends on an outside source of enzymes, it will lose, somewhat, it’s own ability to produce these enzymes. This can be dangerous.

    • John Douillard says

      Hi Wendy,
      It is not that the enzymes themselves are necessarily dangerous, it is that they are not healing the root cause of the digestive weakness. While enzyme supplements can provide quick fix, the source of the issue still needs to be addressed. The body’s ability to digest food is an indication of how well it can detoxify – which is vitally important.
      Also, as Nicole said, there is the concern of increased dependency on enzyme supplements and weakened digestion over time.
      I hope that helps to clear things up.

  1. Saba says

    Thank you for writing this article! I began searching on the internet to find an article that discusses pros and cons of digestive supplement, and I found yours. I have a couple of concerns: I think I may need synthetic supplements because I am unable to digest leafy greens and basically most skins of fruits/vegetables. These foods give me really bad indigestion and I can see them come out in whole pieces in my stool. You mention leafy greens in your article as a natural way to cure digestive issues, but since I can’t digest greens, I feel like eating them to aid with my digestion is counter intuitive. What are your thoughts on this? I should also mention that I got my gallbladder taken out when I was 10 years old and have had progressively worse digestion and stomach issues ever since. I am now 25 and cannot eat most foods without having some sort of distress :(

  2. Rosalind Signorino says

    Please Help I have Major Gastroparesis.. Dr’s have done 3 endoscopy’s’ on me ..I’ve had pet scan, cat scans..fluoroscopy. .you name it I’ve tried it.. What is the best way for me to stop this excruciating Pain from this disease? Had it now for 10+ years I’ve tried everything. . I see take half t. olive oil with half of lemon juice 1 hr after waking on empty stomach in am and @ night..
    Please Help! Dr’s say maybe gastro pace maker oh my!
    Sincerley! Thanks

    • Mary Dragoset says

      Hello Rosalind,
      I’ve had gastroparesis for some time. After all the oscopies (upper and lower) the doctor told me the only thing they KNOW that causes it is “some synthetic chemicals, in particular, BPA and red food coloring.” I have stayed away from food coloring for years and now I use glass jars for most of my food storage and I use glass or stainless steel for water bottles. I believe (though I’ve never had a doctor admit it) that gastroparesis can also be caused by destruction of intestinal flora through use of antibiotics. I took many courses of antibiotics due to chronic bladder infections after the C-section delivery of my son. It took me 17 years to find a natural solution to the infections but the harm had been done. Anyway, the GI doctor said the only thing they KNOW that helps this condition is probiotics. He recommended a cup of kefir every day and Align or Floraster every day. I take both Align and Floraster plus other probiotics and I took the kefir (unflavored, unsweetened) every day and was slowly improving for six months. Then I started getting worse. I have now cut out all dairy, including the kefir (I long ago cut out all grains and legumes, realizing they definitely caused gastroparesis about 72 hours after ingestion). Anyway, I’m three weeks into no dairy and am learning to make water kefir and have added more probiotic supplements. It will be awhile before I know if dairy was a problem. I hope my story can help you.

  3. claire says

    Interesting…i have a hard time digesting fat because of liver fibrosis caused by 25 years hepatitis…maybe in my case enzymes supplement would be beneficial?

  4. Lauren says

    May I use Coconut Oil in place of Olive Oil for the Oil-Lemon shot each morning? Ive been using the Olive oil. Just wondering what the difference is.


    • John Douillard says

      Hi Lauren,
      Coconut oil bypasses the gallbladder so you will miss out that cleansing if you use it instead of olive oil. That said, coconut oil has many other beneficial properties and may be a worthwhile addition to your diet.

  5. Karolina says

    Hello, very informative article :) I wanted to ask : all my digestive enzymes work fine with the exception of protease, so what can I do to help it specifically (I’m not even sure If I have a protease deficiency or it just doesn’t do its job well). Thanks in advance!

  6. stefany says

    I had my gallbladder taken this past March. It was full of stones and slush which I was told was caused my my back to back pregnancies and fast weight loss post partum. Now, I have read everywhere to take digestive enzymes and bile supplements to aid for the missing gallbladder. But I do not want to become dependant or mess me over in the long run. Can I still take the steps you have suggested and not necessarily have to take digestive enzymes?

    • John Douillard says

      Hi Stefany,
      All of the steps should be fine except for #4 – the olive oil and lemon might be too much. Let me know how it goes. The apple cider vinegar that Kathie mentioned in the comments here might be a good addition as well if you need more of a digestive boost for awhile.

    • John Douillard says

      Hi Kathie,
      Yes, organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar is excellent to use for a cleanse – the malic acid in it is especially cleansing for the liver.
      Apple cider vinegar is also beneficial for weak digestion. When taken in water 15 minutes before a meal, it naturally stimulates digestive fluids so that your body can break down food more effectively.

  7. K S NAYA says

    dear mr.douillard
    i am 49 year old man. i am suffering from bloating, indigestion, belching for the last 4 years. ihave lost 10 kgs within a period of 6 months in 2011.but remained stable since then 15 60 kgs.my height is 5’11. i feel gas in upper stomach especially in left side. no pain.appetite is good.i feel irritated, angered, stressed, confused. kindly advise me a natural diet/enzymes

  8. Laura says

    I had an endoscopy a few weeks ago and was told I have severe gastritis and esophagitis. I had my gallbladder removed back in 2011. I have taken all kinds of PPIs and none work. They put me back on Prilosec since my endoscopy. I feel sick to my stomach. I have been battling stomach issues for years. I am only 38. Please help me!

  9. Bec says

    Thank you for supplying this information.

    May I ask, how can I “cleanse” my liver?

    I am not nor ally a fussy eater at all, but for some reason, I just cannot stand to drink organic apple cider vinegar in water.

    Are there other alternatives you might suggest? The more suggestions/options the better :-) I’m happy to try them all.

    Again, thank you for your time and information.

    • John Douillard says

      Hi Bec,
      You can use water with fresh squeezed lemon juice (1/2 a lemon in hot, warm or room temperature water) in place of apple cider vinegar. For many people, that is a more palatable option.
      Hope that helps.

  10. K S NAYA says

    HI MR JO
    thanks for your immediate response. i have started the protocol suggested by you.
    i am doing the undernoted on daily routine:
    i dring 4 glass of water soaked with fennugreek seed and in copper utensil.at 6.30 am
    in the morning i take half lemon alongwih 2 tsp of olive oil.at 8.00 am
    i also take isabgol just before breakfast
    for break fast i take poridge alongwith upma, powa etc. at 9.00 am

    i take lunch at 2.00 pm just before that i take one beetroot raw with lemon squeezed on it.
    for lunch i take 4 rotis , dal and vegetable

    at 5.00 i take some fruits like anar (pomogranate)
    at night i take 4 rotis alongwith vegetable before that i take one beetroot.

    i also take liv52 for liver cleansing.
    kindly advise me whether this will improve my digestion condition or should i change any of the above routine or take enzyme supplement for a brief period for weight gain.

  11. Brenda says

    Hi John,
    As a lifetime IBS sufferer, I avoid certain trigger foods, try to be aware of FODMAPS, and mostly live each day ‘normally’ – as normal as we types get! However, in a very bad flare, often with upper right pain and with the usual list of pain, bloating, wind, elimination problems etc – I am robbed of all energy and feel really sick; this can last for hours, or for days. I reduce my foods to very small, bland tolerated items. I rush to swallow one or some of the ‘fix-it’ things. The relief range I have on hand includes calcium carbonate, simethicone, Bis pectin, Ural, codeine. This approach helps dramatically! So dramatically that I know I am not ‘sick’ just not functioning. The there is the next level of help – taken diligently and for longer – slippery elm, ACV + water, lemon + water, and digestive enzymes. The digestive enzymes are the most dramatic of all. A life saver right now actually, after three bad weeks. But as you said, one cannot live on them. CAN one do it without pills and potions in the long run? Thank you, John.

  12. K S Nayak says

    Thanks jo for your valuable advice, I am feeling the difference just after 2 days of following the new pre protocol suggested by you. I will continue this for a month and then start the protocol of furnace heating, will need your advice then again, regards

  13. musthafa says

    Sir I have since 20 years stomach pain. The bigging I feel like some heavy load in my stomach doing endoscopy barium xray .blood test all are normal. And I have some anxiety also. Body weak and weight loss. Food not eating. Little eat feel my stomach full. And abdomen pain also started. Now I eat something it is more time staying my stomach and. Minimum 4 hours I can’t eating nothing. And night I can’t sleep. Very few some 4 hours. I feel always something in my stomach. Tired.some fruits eating my stool withdrawith same the fruits which I eat. Please help

  14. AJ Nichols says

    Hi Dr. John,

    Ijust stumbled upon this webpage while researching digestive enzymes because I have been taking them for about a month now. I am 21 and was diagnosed with IBS about a year ago. My main problem is that every morning when I wake up, my stomach is upset and crampy in my lower abdominal region, I am constipated for up to an hour, and then after I pass a solid movement, it is followed over the next hour or so by a series of quick bursts of undigested diarrhea. Can you help me? I took the probiotic VsL3 all year and then read some things online about lactobassilus being a neurotoxin and producing too much lactic acid in your body, potentially causing chronic fatigue which I HAVE been struggling with. I stopped taking it about a month ago and switched to high potency digestive enzymes. Should I stop taking these too? What are your reccomendations for becoming better? I have been in and out of many illnesses this year because of my weak digestive system and I have been having strange bodily aches and pains all over like short stabbing or pinching sometimes in my hands, feet, arms, legs, or chest. My doctor has found “nothing wrong with me” and thinks it is all in my head but it is NOT. I am in pain every day. Help please!!

  15. Mike says

    I had digestive problems for years, which progressed to urticaria swollen tongue etc, after a couple of visits to an allergy clinic I was diagnosed with a salicylate intolerance. After three days of avoidance I had a dramatic improvement. Since then I have had to manage my food. I tried high levels of fish oil which worked well but I felt as though I was oozing oil from every pore. I now combine a certain level of avoidance, along with taking xyalanse to break down phenols, plus a backup of antihistamines if needed. The most important thing is a correct diagnosis. That said a quick and easy point in the right direction is to take resting heart beat before eating and then resting heart beat half an hour after food. If your heart is 10 beats / minute faster then you have reacted to something you have just eaten. It then becomes a matter of narrowing it down to a food type.

  16. Rachel says

    Hello I have had a problem at night early hours of the morning. I get woken up with tummy pain. Only at night time only when I get up and eat and drink does it help. Whats wrong.

  17. barbara barnhart says

    i’ve had a hysterectomy and a nephrourtorectomy in past years which caused adhesions which caused bowel obrstuction which was operated on 7/14. Since then my bowel movements float most of the time. I went off daury for 20 days with no effect. Have had more than my share of antibiotics over the years. I read that the bowel problem indicates i am not properly digesting fats – any suggestions?


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