Enzymes: What they are and why you need them! This quick and dirty guide to enzymes and your digestive process will help you find the answers!
The late comedian, Redd Foxx, use to quip, “Someday, health nuts are going to feel pretty stupid, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.” We do live in interesting times as far as nutrition is concerned. Many foods today have been processed and engineered to be fat-free, sugar-free, cholesterol free, and salt-free, but the unintended consequences are that they are also mostly vitamin-free, mineral-free, and enzyme-free, and are, therefore, basically nutrition-free.
Enzymes are very specific kinds of amino acids or proteins that act as catalysts that are involved in virtually all physiologic processes in the body. The vast majority have scientific names that end in the suffix –ase. There are 2,500 to 3,000 known enzymes, but Dr. Mercola feels that there may be another 50,000 not yet discovered.
Many enzymes are involved in the digestion process; they break down foods into smaller molecules that are more easily digested, absorbed, and assimilated. Generally, proteases help digest proteins, largely in the stomach. Lipases in the intestine help digest fats, while sucrases are for sugars, amylase processes carbohydrates starting with the saliva in the mouth, and cellulase helps break down fiber. There are classes of enzymes that offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection. Still, others support our immune system. The lion’s share of enzymes are produced in the pancreas and are involved with a wide diversity of activities in the body such as energy production, hormone regulation, transporting nutrients into (and wastes out of) the cells, fighting infection, and increasing efficiency in oxygen utilization.
There are endogenous enzymes which are produced in the body, and there are exogenous which must be supplied by the diet. A number of processes impact the production and action of the essential enzymes.
It’s a regrettable reality that the body’s natural enzyme production begins declining after your early twenties. By the time a person reaches their seventies, they may only be producing a third of the enzymes they need. That fact, coupled with the decreased production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach makes digestion more challenging in the advancing years. Our internal PH and temperature can have a positive or negative impact on enzyme function.
Heating above 116 degrees denatures and inactivates the enzymes that would normally be plentiful in most foods. The majority of processing techniques also destroy natural enzymes, and it is a sad fact that over 90% of the foods that Americans buy are processed. The longer food is stored, the more the enzymes are denatured. It has also been confirmed that certain pharmaceutical drugs deplete our enzymes.
Common signs of digestive enzyme deficiency are poor digestion, poor absorption of nutrients, heartburn, bloating, cramping, gaseousness, and constipation; in other words misery. People who consume an enzyme poor diet are much more prone to weight gain and obesity.
Raw foods, especially those that are sprouted, are enzyme rich and take a tremendous burden off the body’s need to produce its own enzymes. I recently read that ideally it is recommended that we get 75% of our digestive enzymes from our food. Avocados, pineapples, grapes, papaya, kiwi fruit, coconut, and olive oil are all delicious enzyme powerhouses. Consuming fewer calories as well as chewing your food more thoroughly can boost enzyme levels. Oral administration of enzymes is beneficial in conditions like lactose intolerance, pancreatic insufficiency, and indigestion.
By design, I’ve way over-simplified the body’s enzyme activity. In reality, it is much more complex, and there are many more things involved, such as cofactors, coenzymes, substrates, thermodynamics, and modulation. But all you really need to know for your health is that you need enzymes.
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