Lipase is an enzyme that the body uses to break down fats in food so they can be absorbed in the intestines. Lipase is primarily produced in the pancreas but is also in the mouth and stomach. Most people produce enough pancreatic lipase, but people with cystic fibrosis, Crohn's disease, and celiac disease may not have enough lipase to get the nutrition they need from food.
Along with lipase, the pancreas secretes insulin and glucagon, hormones the body needs to break down sugar in the bloodstream. Other pancreatic enzymes include amylase, which breaks down a kind of starch into its sugar building blocks, and protease, which breaks down protein into single amino acids.
Most people don't need additional lipase. People with the following conditions, however, may find lipase supplements helpful.
Celiac disease is a condition in which gluten (a protein found in grains) damages the intestinal tract. Symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, weight loss, and fatigue. People with celiac disease must follow a strict diet that includes no gluten. Pancreatic enzymes have been studied as part of the treatment for celiac disease, although how much they help is not clear. In one study of 40 children with celiac disease, for example, those who received pancreatic enzyme therapy (including lipase) had a modest weight gain compared to those who received placebo. The weight gain happened during the first month; taking pancreatic enzyme supplements for another month did not lead to more weight gain.
In a small clinical study of 18 people, supplements containing lipase and other pancreatic enzymes helped reduce bloating, gas, and fullness following a high fat meal. These symptoms are commonly associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), so some researchers speculate that pancreatic enzymes might help treat symptoms of IBS. No studies have been done, however.
People with cystic fibrosis -- an inherited condition that causes the body to produce abnormally thick, sticky mucus -- often have nutritional deficiencies because mucus blocks pancreatic enzymes from getting to the intestines. Taking pancreatic enzymes as prescribed by a doctor helps improve the nutrition they get from food.
Lipase is produced primarily in the pancreas and is not found in food.
Lipase supplements are usually derived from animal enzymes, although plant sources have become increasingly popular. Lipase may be taken in combination with protease and amylase enzymes. These pancreatic enzymes are available in tablet and capsule form.
How to Take It
Do not give lipase to children under the age of 12 years unless under a doctor's supervision.
For digestion: 1 - 2 capsules (or tablets) of 6,000 LU (Lipase Activity Units), 3 times per day, 30 minutes before meals on an empty stomach.
Side effects may include nausea and stomach upset. High doses of lipase may exacerbate symptoms of cystic fibrosis. Scientists don't know enough about the effects of lipase during pregnancy or breastfeeding; speak with your physician.
If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use lipase without first talking to your health care provider.
Orlistat -- Orlistat (Xenical, Alli) interferes with the activity of lipase supplements. Orlistat is used to treat obesity by blocking lipase from breaking down fats so the body doesn't absorb them.
Digestive enzymes -- Digestive enzymes, including papain, pepsin, betaine HCL, and hydrochloric acid, can destroy the lipase enzymes. Enteric coated lipase enzyme products are protected against destruction by stomach acid.
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- Last Reviewed on 05/24/2011
- Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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This page was last updated: May 7, 2013