One of the most crucial aspects of digestion are enzymes — these are proteins that are necessary in speeding up a particular biochemical reaction.1 Enzymes are crucial not just for digestion, but for every single cell in your body and all your physiological processes.
In terms of digestion, however, there are eight main types of enzymes, each with its own specific purpose. One of these enzymes is lipase. Most healthy people actually produce enough lipase and other enzymes on their own not to warrant supplementation, but there are some who may need an additional supply of it. In this case, they can turn to lipase supplements. But first, what exactly is lipase and why is it necessary for optimal health?
What Is Lipase?
Named after the Greek word “lipos,” meaning “fat,” lipase is an enzyme that the body uses to break down fat into smaller and more digestible components, so that it becomes easily absorbed in the intestines. It’s secreted by the pancreas, along with other enzymes like amylase and protease. Lipase is also produced in the mouth and stomach.2
Lipase works by converting the triglyceride component found in fats into monoglycerides and two fatty acids. This is important, because if fat is not completely digested, it will coat food particles and hinder the breakdown of other food components like carbohydrates and protein.
Pancreatic lipase also works with bile, which is produced in the liver and stored or released by the gallbladder. Bile works by emulsifying fats and facilitating the function of lipase. This is because large fat molecules have very little surface area where lipase can work. Hence, bile breaks down the large fat molecules into small droplets, providing lipase with a greater surface area to do its work.3
The majority of healthy people do not need additional lipase, but there are a few who may find lipase supplements particularly helpful, especially if they’re struggling with specific health problems.
What Are Considered Normal Lipase Levels?
It is essential for the body to have certain levels of lipase so it can ensure proper digestion and cellular function. Having too high (elevated) or too low levels of lipase actually may be a sign of a health problem.
A normal lipase level can range from 0 to 160 units per liter (U/L) depending on the lab. However, people of a certain age or who are struggling with specific health issues may have levels as high as 200 U/L, but are considered normal. A lipase test is usually done through a serum lipase test, which is ordered along with the amylase test.4,5
Can You Get Lipase From Food Sources?
While lipase is naturally produced in your body, studies have found that you can get this enzyme from certain plant-based food sources, such as:6
Nuts like walnuts and pine nuts
Lupini and mung beans
Infants can also get sufficient amounts of lipase from breast milk, where it is a naturally occurring component. Lipase is crucial in keeping a baby healthy, as it allows the proper absorption of nutrients from the milk.7
Uses of Lipase: Who Can Benefit From the Supplement?
By helping break down fat, lipase helps prevent excess weight gain and curb obesity. In addition, it streamlines the entire digestive process and boosts the nutritional value of the healthy natural fats you’re receiving from whole foods.8
As mentioned above, most people sufficiently produce lipase in their bodies. However, certain health conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and cystic fibrosis, may interfere with lipase function.9 Hence, people with these conditions may need to take a lipase supplement. In optimal amounts, lipase may help impart the following benefits, and more:10,11
• Resolve nutrient deficiency in cystic fibrosis patients. This condition causes the body to produce abnormally large amounts of thick, sticky mucus. As a result, the mucus blocks pancreatic enzymes from getting to the intestines. By taking pancreatic enzymes like lipase, you may improve the nutrition you get from food.
• Help improve celiac disease. Research performed on children with celiac disease found improvement in weight and nutrient status among the group who took supplemental lipase as opposed to those who were given a placebo. This results were noted in a one-month period.12
• Optimize absorption of vitamins and minerals from food. Lipase helps prevent excessive fecal fat loss or steatorrhea, a condition wherein you do not break down fats or extract vital nutrients from food.
As a result of the impaired absorption, you crave more fat, leading to weight gain. By having good lipase levels, you can better digest fat-soluble nutrients and even biosynthesize vitamins A, E, D and K.
Studies Have Been Conducted on Lipase
There have been studies conducted on the potential benefits of using lipase supplements, such as the aforementioned research on young celiac disease patients. In another small clinical study, it was found that lipase may help curb symptoms linked to indigestion.
The research, published in the Digestive Diseases and Sciences journal, involved 18 healthy volunteers, and found that taking a combination of lipase, protease and amylase supplement after a high fat meal helped reduce symptoms like gas, bloating and fullness.13 Since these symptoms are often associated with irritable bowel syndrome, researchers speculated that lipase and other pancreatic enzymes may be useful in helping treat IBS symptoms. However, there are still no studies that support this theory.
What’s the Ideal Lipase Dosage?
There’s no standard dose for lipase supplementation, as it usually depends on the type of supplement you choose. However, the standard dose for adults is 6,000 lipase activity units (LU). These are taken in one to two capsules, three times a day. Ideally, they should be taken on an empty stomach, 30 minutes before meals.
Lipase supplementation is not recommended for children below age 12. Its effects are not known on breastfeeding and pregnant women, so if you fall in this category, you should refrain from using this too. It’s a good idea to consult a physician before taking any supplemental form of lipase.14
Potential Side Effects of Lipase
Although it’s safe for most people, side effects may still occur with lipase use, particularly digestive issues like cramping, nausea, diarrhea and stomach upset. Lipase may also worsen some of the symptoms of cystic fibrosis, so tread carefully if you have this condition. Lipase supplements derived from animal sources, particularly pigs, may also lead to dangerous effects like severe allergic reaction or anaphylactic shock. Make sure that your lipase supplement comes from a trustworthy source.15,16
Consult a Physician Before Supplementing With Lipase
If you are generally healthy, there may be no need for you to supplement with lipase, as your body may be able to produce all you need on its own. However, if you suffer from the conditions mentioned above — celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and cystic fibrosis, to name a few — lipase may just be an ideal complement to your healthy lifestyle. Just make sure to consult a physician before taking any form of this supplement.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Lipase
Q: What does lipase break down?
A: Lipase is a digestive enzyme that works by breaking down fat into smaller components, making it more digestible and easily absorbed in the intestines. It works by converting triglycerides into monoglycerides and two fatty acids.
Q: Where is lipase produced?
A: Lipase is produced in the pancreas, which is why it’s sometimes called pancreatic lipase. However, it’s also found in the stomach and mouth.