WHAT ARE ENZYMES?
Enzymes are catalysts—they speed up chemical reactions. Almost all metabolic processes in your body’s cells need to be accelerated so the processes happen fast enough to sustain life. Without enzymes, we’d die—chemical reactions would take too long.
There are approximately 1,300 enzymes in the human cell. Each enzyme only reacts with a specific type of substance, so it won’t cause chemical reactions where it shouldn’t. The flip side to that coin is, if you have an absence of or issue with an enzyme, nothing else can readily step in and perform its function.
Enzymes are pretty impressive in that they make some processes happen millions of times faster. An extraordinary example of this is OMP decarboxylase—in your body, a reaction that would take 78 million years, when you add this enzyme, takes 18 milliseconds! Crazy, right?
So enzymes are absolutely crucial to our health. Insufficient enzyme production is at the root of many health issues and chronic conditions. In fact, a number of inherited diseases are due to a lack of a particular enzyme.
Metabolic enzymes are produced in the body and are used to keep our tissues, blood, and organs healthy. They take the nutrients from the food we eat and use them to generate new cells, heal existing cells, expel toxins, and aid in energy production. They build nutrients into muscles, nerves, bones, blood, lungs, and various glands.
Metabolic enzymes are vital in operating your cardiac, circulatory, endocrine, hepatic, lymphatic, neurologic, renal, and reproductive systems, as well as sustaining your bones, joints, muscles, skin, and other tissues. Every single one of the 100 trillion cells in your body depend on these enzymes.
Enzyme production declines with age. Ah, the joys of aging—is there anything that doesn’t decline as we age? Wisdom, perhaps?
Many issues associated with aging (loss of bone density, increased inflammation, decreased blood circulation, reduced muscle, less energy, poor memory, etc.) involve a lack of metabolic enzymes.
Digestive enzymes are produced in mostly in the pancreas, small intestine, and stomach and they digest food as well as help deliver nutrients to different areas of the body.
When used to aid digestion, these allow the body to produce more metabolic enzymes by reducing the need to produce as many digestive enzymes.
Protease breaks down protein, amylase breaks down carbohydrate and starch, and lipase breaks down fat. These three enzymes break down the majority of the common food groups. Other enzymes include lactase (breaks down lactose/dairy), maltase & sucrase (break down food sugars), and cellulase (breaks down cellulose).
A digestive enzyme deficiency can cause your body to starve. No matter how much you eat, without sufficient digestive enzymes, your body can’t access the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in the food. So the food passes through your system, unused.
And, as undigested food is moving through your system, it continues to putrefy or rot in your gut. As you can imagine, this releases a lot of toxic stuff into your system, and causes a lot of undesirable side effects.
A common example of this is lactose intolerance. For many people, lactose intolerance develops with age but you may encounter this if your small intestine is injured or you have certain digestive ailments such as Crohn’s or celiac disease.
Normally, the lactase enzyme turns lactose (milk sugar) into two simple sugars —glucose and galactose. These simple sugars are then absorbed into the bloodstream through the intestinal lining.
However, if you’re lactase deficient, the milk sugar moves into the colon instead of being digested. In the colon, bacteria interact with the undigested lactose causing the very enjoyable (insert sarcasm here) symptoms and side effects of lactose intolerance.
Food enzymes are not produced by the body, but come from live foods (foods that are raw, or not heated above 113 degrees F). There is a prevalent theory that eating live food reduces your body’s need to provide digestive enzymes, thus lessening the burden on your body and its organs. This is one reason some people follow a raw food diet.
I haven’t found research to back the premise that enzymes contained in raw food function as digestive enzymes. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true, only that it hasn’t been proven and seems to be conjecture at this time.
In addition, there is evidence that food enzymes are rendered ineffective by acids in the stomach. A large part (but not 100%) of food enzymes present in raw foods are broken down into their components (amino acids) by our own digestive processes. This suggests they are of limited significance with regard to catalyzing nutrient absorption. But perhaps they play an important role before they are broken down.
Whatever the case, we know that a diet containing fresh, whole foods is beneficial to our health. So eating more unprocessed foods (to include raw fruits, vegetable, nuts, and seeds) and reducing consumption of sugary and refined foods is always a good approach!
DIGESTIVE ENZYMES AND CELIAC DISEASE
Ninety percent of digestion and nutrient absorption takes place in your small intestine. The micronutrients are absorbed into your bloodstream through millions of tiny villi in the wall of your gut.
In studies, lower enzyme content has been found in people with chronic diseases. So there’s one strike against celiacs. Strike two is that celiac disease is characterized by damage to the small intestine, the villi in particular. So celiac’s nutrient absorption is typically less than optimal.
Any assistance with either the breaking down or absorbing of nutrients is very valuable to people with celiac disease (and people with other digestive conditions). In fact, pancreatic enzymes have been shown to help treat health issues, such as weight loss, associated with celiac disease.
A note for clarity: Using digestive enzymes does not mean you can go out and eat gluten. I mention this because there is a lot of conversation online about taking a pill and being able to eat gluten. If you have celiac disease, ingesting any gluten can cause intestinal damage regardless of whether or not you experience any attending symptoms. The context of this article is that digestive enzymes can assist a compromised digestive system in absorbing nutrients from the foods in your gluten free diet.
If you take medication, be aware that drugs often work by influencing enzyme activity. Drugs that increase activity are called enzyme activators, and those that decrease activity are called inhibitors (2 very common enzyme inhibitors are antibiotics and aspirin). So if you have an unresolved health concern you’re trying to figure out, medicine could be a contributing factor.
DIGESTIVE ENZYME SUPPLEMENTS
Research indicates enzyme production starts to decline at about 20 years of age. Your stomach also produces less hydrochloric acid as you age, which is critical in activating your stomach’s digestive enzymes. So if you’re looking for a little help, you’re not alone.
Digestive supplements benefit your entire body because you use so much energy digesting your food. Some estimates claim you use up to 80% of your energy just digesting! So providing your body digestive assistance leaves a little extra for your other systems.
For general digestion (as opposed to support for a specific health issue), vegetarian enzymes are the most popular supplement. They are sourced from aspergillus (mold) and grown in a laboratory setting on plants such as soy and barley.
Vegetarian enzymes are also the most potent. They contain the highest active units and can break down more fat, protein, and carbohydrates in a broader pH range than any other source.
Digestive enzymes should be taken with a meal. And you want them to contain a mixture of different types of enzymes to help digest all of the different components of your diet. Look for high quality ingredients that are free of allergens and additives.
Pick a reputable company with rigorous quality control who tests for potency. With most supplements, you compare products based on weight. But with enzymes you are interested in activity and potency.
METABOLIC OR THERAPEUTIC ENZYME SUPPLEMENTS
There is another way to use digestive enzymes, and that is for systemic use. This requires taking enzymes between meals so they can be absorbed through your gut and into your bloodstream, where your cells can use them metabolically.
Although they don’t operate exactly the same as metabolic enzymes, they are able to serve a very similar function. For example, protease can act as raw material to manufacture white blood cells or it can digest dead or damaged cells that are mainly protein, which lessens the demand for metabolic protease.
For a long time the medical community taught oral enzymes were too large to pass through the wall of your digestive tract. There is now a good deal of research indicating they can pass through your intestine and service the rest of your body.
In Europe, they have been used to treat all kinds of conditions to include arthritis, nasal inflammation, sports injuries, heart disease, strokes, and cancer.
If you’re going to use enzymes therapeutically you must also use them for digestion. If you don’t, they will aid first in digestion and be less potent systemically.
INTERMITTENT FASTING. Our body is in a constant state of digestion. Most people require 3-10 days to break down, assimilate, and excrete the waste of a meal. Consider giving your body a chance to rest.
DON’T OVEREAT. I’m not saying you should under-eat. A better term is probably conscious or mindful eating. You can overload any system. Try to listen to your body and stop eating before you’re overly full.
PROBIOTICS. Probiotics manufacture enzymes for the body. Incorporate high quality kombucha into your diet or find a quality probiotic supplement to take.
I USE AND RECOMMEND ENZYMEDICA
Enzymedica developed a Thera-blend™ process for four main types of enzymes —protease, amylase, lipase, and cellulase. This allows them to work across the board in the pH range of a 2-12. Whether your system is acidic or alkaline, the enzymes will be active. If you have a lot of stomach acid they tolerate it well and if you’re underproducing hydrochloric acid, they will still work.
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice, nor is it intended to replace the advice or attention of a heath-care professional. This information is for educational purposes only. All information is intended for your general knowledge and is not a substitute for medical treatment.