Difference Between Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes

Main Difference – Probiotics vs Digestive Enzymes

Probiotics and digestive enzymes are essential for the process of food digestion. But they have substantial different functions and characteristics. Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that are believed to provide a lot of health benefits when consumed. Probiotics are mainly concentrated in the intestines because this is the location where the nutrients assimilation takes place. In contrast, digestive enzymes are used to break down the food into smaller units to facilitate further absorption process. This is the main difference between probiotics and digestive enzymes.

This article explains, 

1. What are Probiotics? – Definition, Function, and Properties 

2. What are Digestive Enzymes? – Definition, Function, and Properties 

3. What is the difference between Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes?

Difference Between Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes - Comparison Summary

What is Probiotics

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), probiotics refer to “live micro-organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host” (2001).

In the human digestive tract, probiotics are mainly located in the intestine and they help in the vitamin and mineral absorption, beneficial free fatty acid production and vitamin production. In addition, probiotics can prevent lactose intolerance. They are also associated with several health benefits such as reducing the risk of colon cancers, preventing cholesterol absorption, preventing constipation and hemorrhoids. Fermented food products (e.g. Yogurt, Kefir, Sauerkraut, Microalgae, Pickles, Kimchi, and Tempeh) are major sources of probiotics. 

Main Difference - Probiotics vs Digestive Enzymes

Fermented food products such as yogurt are major sources of probiotics.

What are Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzymes are found in the digestive tracts of animals and carnivorous plants and they help in the digestion of food. When food enters the mouth, it is first broken down by the digestive enzyme presence in saliva. Then food bolus enters the stomach and the digestive enzymes further break  the food down into blocks and shape those smaller molecules for the intestinal absorption.

Digestive enzymes can be categorized into following types:

  • Proteases and peptidases: They can break down proteins into small peptides and amino acids
  • Lipases: They can break down fat into three fatty acids and a glycerol molecule
  • Amylases: They can break down carbohydrates such as starch and sugars into simple sugars such as glucose
  • Nucleases: They can break down nucleic acids into nucleotides

Digestive tract cells produce digestive enzymes which secrete into the suitable locations in the gastrointestinal tract. Digestive enzymes are mainly produced by the oral cavity, the stomach, and the small intestine of digestive system and they are secreted by following exocrine glands;

  • Salivary glands
  • Secretory cells in the stomach
  • Secretory cells in the pancreas
  • Secretory glands in the small intestine

In addition, digestive enzymes are also found in the traps of carnivorous plants.

Difference Between Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes

Difference Between Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes

Probiotics and digestive enzymes may have substantially different properties. These differences may include,


Probiotics are microorganisms introduced into the body for its beneficial qualities.

Digestive enzymes are chemical substances produced by the animal bodies that help to digest the foods.

Living organisms vs Chemicals

Probiotics are living organisms.

Digestive enzymes are chemical substance found in living creatures. All these enzymes are also proteins that are made up of large molecules of long chains of amino acid units.

Function in the digestive tract

Probiotics help in vitamin and mineral absorption and in the creation of vitamin K. They can prevent the growth of harmful pathogenic bacteria, absorption of carcinogenic compounds, and lactose intolerance.

Digestive enzymes can break down polymeric macromolecules including protein, carbohydrates, and fats into smaller molecules, in order to assist their absorption. For example, these digestive enzymes break carbohydrates into monosaccharides; proteins into amino acids; and fats into two fatty acids and a monoacyl glycerides.


ProbioticsBifidobacterium and Lactobacillus genera (B. longum, B. breve, B. infantis, L. helveticus, L. rhamnosus, L. plantarum, and L. casei, and Lactobacillus johnsonii)

Digestive enzymes: Lingual lipase, salivary amylase, lysozyme, Pepsin, Maltase, Lactase, and sucrase, etc.

In conclusion, probiotics and digestive enzymes are both very significant to the process of food digestion and absorption of nutrients in the body. Due to numerous factors make probiotics and digestive enzymes differ from one another.


Szajewska H, Ruszczyński M, Radzikowski A (2006). Probiotics in the prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhea in children: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J. Pediatr. 149 (3): 367–372.

Magdalena Araya, Catherine Stanton, Lorenzo Morelli, Gregor Reid, Maya Pineiro, et al., 2006, “Probiotics in food: health and nutritional properties and guidelines for evaluation,” Combined Report of a Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Evaluation of Health and Nutritional Properties of Probiotics in Food Including Powder Milk with Live Lactic Acid Bacteria, Cordoba, Argentina, 1–4 October 2001.

Piludu, M; Lantini, MS; et al. (2006). Salivary histatins in human deep posterior lingual glands (of von Ebner). Arch Biol. 51: 967–73.

Hall, John E. (2011). General Principles of Gastrointestinal Function. Guyton and Hal Textbook of Medical Physiology (12 ed.). Saunders Elsevier. p. 755.

Image Courtesy:

“Turkish strained yogurt” By Takeaway – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia

“2517 Protein-Digesting EnzymesN” By OpenStax College – Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Web site. , Jun 19, 2013., (CC BY 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia 

About the Author: Geesha

Geeshani has a BSc (Hons) degree in Food Science and Technology and Master's degree in Food and Nutrition. She is currently a PhD Student at the Massey Institute of Food Science and Technology. Sharing what she learned is a passion of hers and enjoys writing.