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Can't digest enough. Digestive Enzymes?

Blog Forums Raising Metabolism Can't digest enough. Digestive Enzymes?

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  • #10706

    I want so badly to eat more, but I can’t because my digestion is so slugish. Just eating a small amount of anything is so uncomfortable regardless of what it is or how it is prepared. Even trying to eat the softest/fiber-free most calorie dense foods is an epic failure.

    Theirs only one thing left that I can think of atm to try that I haven’t and that is digestive enzymes. I’m just not sure…. I want to try to solve this problem for good, not just in the moment. I have heard mixed reviews on them- some say it will help as it will give your digestive organs time to heal, others say your body will feel less need to produce it’s own enzymes; making matters worse in the long run. meh!

    If anyone has experience with taking digestive enzymes do you mind sharing your experience?

    and possibly if anyone is knowledgeable about which ones are good or not that wood be awsome too…

    • This topic was modified 10 years, 9 months ago by Kakti.

    I don’t even want to think about how much money I threw away on digestive enzymes. I kept at it only because I thought I got some benefit early on. But honestly, I stopped seeing any benefit after the first month, and even that is questionable in hindsight. Some people swear by them, but I am dubious based on my own experiences.

    I used to have plenty of evidence that I “couldn’t eat” enough food. Food would sit in my stomach like a rock for hours and hours and even days at a time, even with the smallest amounts. So perhaps when people swear by digestive enzyme supplements they are speaking from a place of relatively normal digestion rather than severely slowed digestion like I had back in the day. I believe that the technical term for what I experienced was gastroparesis. Sounds like that might be what’s happening for you too.

    What worked for me was to focus on sugar and adequate protein from easy-to-digest sources. I ate (and still do eat) sugar from the easiest to digest sources all day long. Cane sugar, honey, and male syrup are my go-to sugar staples. I probably average somewhere around 800 grams of sugar a day. I also drink fruit juice – often with added sugar.

    For easy-to-digest protein I guess this will vary from person to person. I find dairy and gelatin to be the easiest to digest, personally, and so I count on those for most of me protein, and then I eat some muscle meat, eggs, and organ meats when I so desire. I personally believe that adequate protein has been an essential part of my digestive improvement (along with lots and lots of sugar.)

    On top of that I committed to eating *frequent* (at least every two hours) small amounts of solid foods (i.e. cheese, potatoes, rice, etc. since I wouldn’t consider milk or spoonfuls of sugar to be exactly solid.) I believe that eating frequently was also key to my own success.

    That has been my successful strategy that helped me to regain digestive strength. Supplemental digestive enzymes didn’t work for me, personally – even after many months. A pound of sugar, some fruit juice, and gelatin helped me more than hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of digestive enzyme capsules.

    A little over a year ago I was about 60 pounds lighter, extremely malnourished, and physically unable to eat sufficient amounts of food based on the knowledge I had then. Today I average over 4000 calories a day, and I am able to eat large quantities of solid foods without problem. All of the signs of nutritional deficiencies have diminished or disappeared. And I *feel* good. Digestive enzyme supplements never gave me those results. That’s my experience. Hope that helps.

    mighty m

    I took ’em for a while, and told the story in this thread:

    Basically I concur with j-lo. For me, they helped a little (who knows, could be placebo) during the worst of it (actually helped more than HCl), but eating and raising metabolism was the *real* solution. Other than the cost of them (!), I don’t think taking them hurt me any, because my digestion is good now and getting better.

    You’ve probably heard these before, but I found ginger and peppermint teas (I didn’t use sugar or honey then but I would now) to help symptomatically, ginger pre-eating and peppermint post-eating. One thing I didn’t pursue but might be worthwhile, again, as a temporary symptomatic aid: I went to a free community workshop on edible and medicinal uses for weeds. The herbalist had made some tinctures (?) that acted as bitters. I think dandelion was one? At the time, I had a hard time rousing hunger pangs… a drop of his various bitters had my stomach growling like crazy! If there’s a good community herbalist near you, something like that is probably a lot cheaper than enzyme pills.


    You can also help digestion,by taking a large sip of pure lemon/limejuice or ACV.


    I have found digestive enzymes combined with HCL to be pretty helpful for me. I don’t seem to need them now unless I eat too late at night, or sometimes when I eat a lot of meat. (They are also helpful for occasional acid reflux) The other posters have some really great tips though that should help a lot. Sugar does seem to do wonders for me, too-not fruit so much but the other sources like J-lo mentioned.


    Thank you all very much for your responses.

    I did a little more research as well and basically just found out that hardly anyone has a lack of digestive enzymes, accept lactose. Besides I don’t have much money, so don’t think I will give them a go myself. I’m just axcited to hear others have had my problems and have gotten better.

    j-lo it sounds like you eat pretty simular to the way I do, though I only seem to be getting roughly 2,000 cals a day and probly don’t consume as much gelatin. I love gelatin just never know how to use it… how do you? I’m thinking of lowering my fats and staying more diligent to the sugar and protein.

    I have one more question if you don’t mind… That is, when your digestion was slow did you just force yourself to eat more, or did you excercise more to try to work up a bigger appetite?


    @Kakti – 2000 calories a day sounds very low for anyone, and especially low for anyone recovering from health challenges. Although I do find that gelatin is helpful for me, I think it is worth pointing out that it is not a particularly calorie-dense food. So it’s not going to be the “magic bullet”. With that said, I tend to just add gelatin to any liquids that I drink – which is mostly fruit juice. I add extra sugar to juice and then add a bit of gelatin and a pinch of salt most of the time except for when I am really thirsty, in which case I will drink juice straight. Anyway, fruit juice with added sugar and a bit of gelatin in place of water or other liquids in order to quench thirst has been a helpful strategy for me to get in extra calories, including a bit of protein in an easy-to-digest format. It took some getting used to for me because I used to drink a lot of water, and sugared drinks (especially with added gelatin) are very different than water in every way. They just “feel” different. I was so used to the sensations of drinking water that anything else left me feeling as though I was still thirsty. But I persisted, and it has gotten better.

    When my digestion was a wreck (which it was for years) I tried just about everything I could think of to make improvements, including exercising to work up an appetite, as you mentioned. That particular strategy never really worked for me. And although it sounds like some people manage to just force themselves to eat more, that never worked for me either. To be honest, I didn’t try too hard with the force approach because it was so unpleasant! But what worked for me and continues to work for me is to increase calories primarily through increasing sugar. Sugar and a bit of salt have done wonders for me. Honestly, I started going through more than a pound of honey a day, eating tablespoons of it at a time, including first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I did that because honey is the most palatable form of sugar for me – the one I can eat the most of by itself. Concentrate sugars such as honey (or syrups or cane sugar) are really easy for me to digest because there is so little required to digest them – no fiber, little to no conversion necessary, easily-absorbed, and they take up practically no room in the stomach. So it is a great way to get in more calories without stressing the digestive system. It is not difficult (for me) to eat four or five tablespoons of honey, for example, at just about any time, and that represents 250-300 calories right there. Multiply that by four times a day, and it’s an easy way to add 1000+ calories. Frankly, the amount of honey I was going through got to be very pricey. So for practical reasons I started using cane sugar (less expensive) more than honey or maple syrup (which is also very pricey.) I like milk quite a lot, and I add sugar to milk in order to increase the calories as well. Perhaps it will seem a bit extreme, but I add a cup of sugar to three cups of milk! It’s very sweet, but it is also a super easy way for me to eat a lot of calories with little to no digestive demand. A cup of sugar and three cups of milk is over 1000 calories. The point in all this is that I have never “forced” myself to eat because that makes it sound harmful to my sensibilities. But I certainly have challenged myself to eat as much as I can (in terms of calories,) and I find creative ways to achieve that. Sugar is so easy to digest for me that it’s almost a freebie. So by drinking some sugared milk, for example, I can dramatically increase my calories without “forcing” anything. For me it’s been all about finding the ways to eat more without forcing anything. And I actually find that for me, exercising and all those other strategies were counterproductive. For me it was better to rest as much as possible. Everyone is different, of course. I was coming from being severely underweight and a 20 year history of restrictive eating plus a bunch of other problems. The truth is that when I started refeeding in earnest I didn’t even have the option to exercise or employ any other strategies – I was in that bad of shape. But in retrospect, I believe that for me all the strategies I tried before refeeding in earnest were actually part of the problem. In other words, the only thing that I believe was going to work for me was to rest, eat, and repeat.

    I hope that is helpful. Basically, my “advice” as it were is to trust that it can be simple: find the calorie-dense foods that work for you, and eat them often throughout the day. Sugar works best for me. Of course I still eat all types of food, including meat, butter, cheese, eggs, fruits, grains, starchy vegetables, etc. But the point is to find the things that you can eat frequently in order to get lots of “freebie” calories, and sugar is that for me.


    @j-lo I wonder if the increase in sugar calories are actually c!alories that count in terms of weigth and especially fatgain? Bc it almost takes no digestive efforts,so wouldnt it be absorbed and used by the body immediately?….or would it still get stored?

    • This reply was modified 10 years, 9 months ago by Dutchie.

    Thank you j-lo for sharing. 2,000 calories is indeed lower then what I wanted, just been struggling to get my body to take in more without feeling really uncomfortable. Though, these last couple of days I have gotten more in by utilizing some of your stratagesies you mentioned. I added gelatin to some fresh juiced oj throughout the day, was weird at first but something I can deffently get used to- it felt pretty good on my system. I reduced my fat intake and went heavy on the sugar (honey for the win!)- was able to get in more calories with less discomfort and I slept really good.

    Thanks again for the input, It has been helpful.

    T Will

    Holy cow j-lo, thank you for sharing this.

    I’ve been having digestive problems since I started re-feeding. Too many carbs or sugars would give me acid-reflux. So even when I wanted to sugar or carbs, it would come back to bite me a couple hours later. Tried ACV, mastic gum and betaine HCl, but nothing helped that much and it was always dicey because sometimes it would get much worse afterwards. Got to the point that I haven’t drank much alcohol in the last couple months cause it was the worst for acid reflux. Pretty alienating for a college student.

    Anyways, I read your response and started at it. Put 1/4 cup of sugar in milk and drank it. At first it helped but then the reflux would come on again, so I’d make another. I thought I’ll just keep at it and if it gets too bad, I could always take an antacid. After about two days it just started helping and now I drink 1/2 cup of brown sugar (best tasting to me) in a glass of milk 2-5 times a day. Now for the first time in 5 years my tongue is consistently looking pink and healthy. The only time it started to get a coating in the back was last night because I went mountain biking and worked my ass off, but sugar helped it.


    Rock on, T Will! That’s great news. Thanks for sharing. I’m really happy to hear that my story was helpful for you.


    Oh, and by the way, subsequent experience and research shows me that while sufficient calories is probably the most important factor in improving digestive function, there are a few other “secrets” that can help. Sufficient salt and sufficient protein are also very useful since a deficiency in either can also produce the same problems as insufficient calories. So just in case that is helpful for anyone, I’m posting it here.


    Hoping you will see this j-lo and Will?

    With all that sugar, I’m wondering if either have you have had your hba1c levels tested, or triglycerides, HDL, LDL cholesterol?

    I’ve tried in the last 2 years or so to increase sugar — and did — but then all my so-called pre-diabetic/metabolic syndrome numbers got a lot worse, and my blood pressure went up. I also get the tingly feet thing as well.

    I don’t get nearly enough calories though due to the same issues you had (slow gastric emptying, “acid”-reflux, etc), but wondering if that would make a difference?

    Again, hope you see this.


    • This reply was modified 9 years, 4 months ago by DannyJ.


    No, I didn’t have any tests done.

    I suspect that in some cases of insulin resistance it’s not that sugar is a problem as much as it is that sugar metabolism is dysfunctional. There is some evidence that elevated free fatty acids in the blood may be the cause of that. Presumably you have elevated levels of free fatty acids if you’ve been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. Is that true? Have you had the free fatty acids analyzed? It would be useful to know if they are high omega 6. My pet theory is that elevated omega 6 free fatty acids may be at play when glucose metabolism isn’t working. Trans fatty acids are also a possibility.

    How long have you had trouble eating enough calories? What do you eat now? What did you eat prior to digestive problems? Presumably if you’re not eating enough then you’re burning stored fat. What were you eating before that started happening? How lean were you then?

    I’m curious if you might have a lot of stored omega 6 or trans fats getting released into the blood and overwhelming insulin sensitivity. Or maybe you have a lot of omega 6 or trans fat in your diet. That’s just one possibility.


    Wow, thanks for that lightning-fast reply J-lo — very much appreciated.

    I haven’t tested for free fatty acids, but when I do have fats, in food, I do best with salmon, but other than that, yup, it’s usually been some sort of pufa-fat, like evening primrose oil, or lately, some small amounts of coconut oil. I also take a tocotrienol supplement.

    I’m TRYING to add real fat — saturated fats like from eggs, but have had a problem with that for years and years now — they tend to give me an awful restless leg situation.

    This started about 10 (gulp) years ago, about five years after being diagnosed with ME/CFS. I went into semi-remission a couple of times, and could go out for breakfast w/friends, but whenever I had anything too fatty (eggs, sausages, hash browns), or something too creamy, say from an indian restaurant, I’d get that severely uncomfortable RLS-stuff.

    So I backed off, although from time to time had refried beans and semi-normal amounts of other fats at a Mexican buffet close to my former apt, and did okay, but at home, I’d get all paranoid — wanting to sleep of course and not be up all night with RLS — and avoid fats.

    I’m waaaaay down on my weight (6’2″, 160lbs if that), so much so that I’m using a wheelchair 80+ percent of the time, and having dry/goopy/watery/just plain FRIED eyesight as well (and sinus issues), but have lost a ton of muscle (and I was very skinny to begin with).

    Doc prescribed thiamine injections back in June, which helped, but I couldn’t afford to continue. Thiamine deficiency makes a lot of sense as I’ve eaten way too much white rice (and brown rice) for years as I tested gluten intolerant. But rice has arsenic, and white rice has no thiamine, so that’s probably a huge problem. Also, too much veggies, not enough meat probably, although have tried the gelatin from Great Lakes. (I’d be interested in what form of gelatin you take?)

    Got another thiamine refill 3 weeks ago, but am spacing it out as they’re so expensive. I read a study that said that only 4.5 mgs of oral thiamine is absorbed even in normal subjects, no matter how high the dose. So many things interfere w/thiamine.

    There is a sublingual that I’ve tried and should get more.

    Anyway, thanks so much. Any suggestions are VERY much appreciated.

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