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Enzymes - Nature’s Catalysts for Health

Look up the definition of the word “enzyme” in a dictionary and you are likely to find, “A protein functioning as a biochemical catalyst in a living organism.” Sounds simple enough if you’re a chemist, but doesn’t begin to describe the incredible complexity of biochemical reactions that take place in the human body.

Enzymes are large molecules tailored to facilitate a given type of reaction. Usually enzymes are proteins, an important class of biomolecules constructed from amino acids. Enzymes catalyze reactions by speeding up life-sustaining processes that under normal body conditions would be much too slow to be useful. Enzymes are also incredibly selective--they ignore thousands of molecules in the body for which they were not designed. The mechanisms of catalyzed reactions are often not completely understood, but a lock-and-key model is useful in representing enzyme activity. This model proposes that the shapes of the reacting molecule (the substrate) and the enzyme fit together like a lock and key.

Metabolic enzymes are present in every cell, tissue, and organ in the body, and catalyze the reactions associated with the everyday functioning of living cells. They are responsible for keeping the body’s systems in proper balance by controlling virtually every chemical reaction associated with metabolism. Because of this, metabolic enzymes are the very basis of the life process.

Digestive enzymes are those that the body manufactures and secretes to break down food. The salivary glands in the mouth, the gastric glands in the stomach, and specific cells in the pancreas secrete the enzymes that work to digest the proteins, fats, and sugars present in any food that is eaten. Examples of digestive enzymes are protease, which breaks down protein; amylase, which breaks down starch; and lipase, which breaks down fat.

Food enzymes are enzymes found naturally in fresh, raw foods. For example, avocados and nuts contain naturally occurring lipase, while oats have a high amount of amylase, or starch-digesting enzyme. The contribution of food enzymes to the digestive process is extremely important to overall digestive function and is too often overlooked.

Cooking, storing, and processing destroy most enzymes that are naturally present in foods, and the body is therefore required to supply all of the enzymes necessary for the digestion of that food. If food that has not been properly digested is passed into the intestine, it can become fuel for unfriendly intestinal bacteria, which can lead to intestinal fermentation, bloating, and discomfort (intestinal toxemia). But more important, undigested particles of food may cross the intestinal wall and reach the blood stream, where they are identified as foreign substances by the immune system. Such a phenomenon was identified nearly half a century ago and is referred to as food leucocytosis (a food-driven increase in white blood cells).

Many people take supplemental digestive enzymes to aid the digestive process. Digestive enzymes prepare food so that it is in the best possible form for proper processing in the intestine. Enzyme supplements do not replace the body’s naturally secreted enzymes. They are needed simply to replace the enzymes that are destroyed by the cooking, storing, and processing of food.

When selecting supplemental enzymes, be aware that enzyme effectiveness is best described in terms of activity. When comparing two supplements, the one with the higher weight of enzymes may not necessarily have the greater activity, or potency. Enzymatic activity is measured in Units according to standardized assays, but there is no regulation stating how activity must be reported on labels. So, for example, if a company decides that one activity Unit equals 10 of their own units, an enzyme product that actually has 1,000 activity Units can be labeled as having 10,000.

Also, many enzyme supplements on the market today are either created by chemical synthesis or made from animal organs. Plant-based enzymes however, are either derived from actual plants, or cultivated on a plant medium. Animal-based enzymes are usually only capable of digesting proteins and they tend to work in a narrow pH range. Plant-based enzymes are capable of digesting the full range of food groups, and they have a wider pH range of activity, allowing them to function throughout the digestive tract.

Enzymes are at the heart of the biochemical processes that release the energy that sustains life. Energy and vitality are a result of creating an overall healthy lifestyle, including:

  • Regular exercise
  • Adequate rest
  • Mental peace and harmony
  • Plenty of pure water and
  • Proper diet featuring generous amounts of whole, uncooked foods

Consider adding high-quality, potent, plant-based enzymes to your diet to maximize the nutrition you get from your food.

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