Yikes! I can’t go on like this, Lisa Pilon thought to herself as she was jolted awake by the blaring car horn behind her.
“Dozing behind the wheel was becoming a regular occurrence,” she recalls. “But as I pulled back onto the road, forcing my eyes to stay open, I knew I had to figure out what was happening to me and why I was so tired all the time.
“I had always managed a busy life — with energy to spare. But after turning 40, my stamina mysteriously began declining. As the years passed, I grew more fatigued, despite getting plenty of sleep and drinking coffee all day. My job as a recruiting and marketing specialist demanded keen attention to detail, but I often nodded off at my desk while trying to shake off my foggy brain.
“I felt especially lethargic after lunch, and suffered from severe bloat, irregular bowel and gluten sensitivity. It was alarming to blow up like a balloon after eating certain foods, such as pizza and bread. I looked like I was nine months pregnant! Some of my favorites, like my mom’s holiday stuffing, were off the menu.
“I barely had enough energy to last through the workday, and the ‘midday slump’ stretched into evenings as I fought to stay awake after dinner. I was a single mother and guilt-ridden to disappoint my four kids during our dedicated time together because I canceled some of our activities. Those times were so precious, and I was always falling asleep. I collapsed into bed at night, exhausted, and the next morning, fought the crushing fatigue all over again. I refused to believe that aging had to mean sacrificing vitality and surrendering to unexplained fatigue. I was determined to regain my life.
What happens if you don’t produce enough digestive enzymes?
“In 2018, my doctor ran blood tests, suspecting thyroid and other hormonal imbalances, but the tests were all normal. I was desperate for answers and visited a naturopathic doctor who ordered expensive blood work and a gluten-sensitivity test. She also prescribed an elimination diet to determine which foods may be causing my GI symptoms. As I was leaving, she suggested I try digestive enzymes. But I had already tuned out, knowing my insurance wouldn’t cover the tests, and I didn’t return.
“As the months passed, I got some relief after trying the elimination diet, but it wasn’t long before the GI symptoms returned with a vengeance, and my exhaustion never relented. In 2019, I was replenishing my supply of a collagen supplement on the Modere site (Buy on Modere, $49.99), and digestive enzymes popped up when I scrolled through the product list. I recalled the naturopathic doctor mentioning digestive enzymes. But why? She said it would help digestion. But maybe there was another connection, I thought.
How do they help the body?
“Research led to a light-bulb moment as I began piecing the puzzle together—what if I didn’t have a gluten sensitivity at all? What if I was just enzyme-deficient? I discovered that as women age, vital enzymes secreted by the liver and pancreas that are needed to break down food and absorb nutrients become depleted, causing problems like fatigue, brain fog, constipation, bloat, food sensitivities and poor digestion.
“This would explain my symptoms. Curious, I posted on social media, asking if friends had any success using digestive enzymes. After receiving several positive responses, I ordered a 30-day supply from Modere. At first, I took them nightly with dinner and noticed my digestive symptoms starting to ease. Then I made some tweaks and took them only when eating starchy foods. Within a few weeks, my digestive issues were resolved — no more ‘pregnant belly!’ — and after 30 days, my energy was restored.
“I learned that when you’re deficient in enzymes, your body has to expend so much extra energy digesting the food you eat. When your digestion is functioning properly, you have more energy.
“Digestive enzymes have given me my life and energy back! I now eat plant-based to get more enzymes in my diet, and gluten is tolerable. I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have enzymes. When I go out to dinner or want to eat some pizza or cake—digestive enzymes to the rescue! I’m looking forward to the holidays and enjoying my mom’s delicious stuffing.
“Thanks to my renewed energy, I launched a career as a health and mindset coach to teach other women how to live authentic and powerful lives. I share health tips on my Facebook page, Lisa Pilon, and website, LisaLynnPilon.com. I feel like I’m aging backward! I zip through my days and have leftover energy to exercise!”
Why do they work so well?
“Supplementing with the enzyme bromelain is highly effective at easing stiff joints, muscle soreness and other painful conditions, notes Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, author of Pain Erasers.
Indeed, researchers reporting in the Journal of Immunotherapy found that bromelain delivered pain relief on par with prescription painkillers. How? Molecules responsible for joint, muscle and tendon pain are coated in protein, Cook explains. “And since bromelain digests protein, it travels through the bloodstream and gobbles these molecules up like Pac-Man,” she says. To soothe pain in as little as 20 minutes, Cook advises taking 2,000 milligrams of bromelain on an empty stomach. (Buy on Life Extension, $14.18).
“Digestive enzymes act as triggers for all the body’s biochemical reactions—we literally depend on them to live,” explains Dr. Cook. Yet seven in 10 women over 40 don’t get the dietary enzymes they need. That’s a problem, says Fred Pescatore, MD. “Enzymes not only break down food so its nutrients can be used by the body, they also fight inflammation, boost immunity and help you sleep, so shortfalls can trigger fatigue, fog, bloat and more,” he says. Adds Cook, “When enzymes are depleted, foods that are improperly digested can produce misguided immune responses that result in food sensitivities.”
Aging is a top culprit since the body’s ability to produce enzymes drops by 40 percent from age 20 to 50. Doctors can test for nutrient shortfalls caused by enzyme deficiencies, but there’s no reliable test for enzyme deficits. However, given widespread depletion, all women can benefit from the strategies below.
Eating enzyme-rich foods can help. Raw fruits and veggies are the best sources, so Dr. Pescatore advises enjoying three to five servings a day (try pineapple, onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, and leafy greens) and eating fermented foods like sauerkraut and pickles several times a week. They’ve been shown to boost good gut bacteria that produce their own enzymes!)
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First for Women.