What are enzymes? Enzymes are fundamental to all life. They are in every
living thing. They are needed for every chemical reaction that occurs in the
body. Without enzymes no biological activity would occur. They catalyze and
regulate nearly all biochemical reactions that occur within the human body.
There are literally hundreds of thousands of enzymes active in human
metabolism. They move your muscles, stimulate your nerves, make your
heart beat, keep you breathing, and allow you to think. Our bodies cannot
exist without enzymes.
How do enzymes aid in digestion? Enzymes are an integral part of the
digestive process. From the time food enters the mouth, enzymes are at
work breaking the food down into smaller and smaller units until it can be
absorbed through the intestinal wall. These enzymes come from two
sources, those found in the food itself, and those produced in the body.
What is the difference between pancreatic enzymes, plant enzymes,
and microbial enzymes? Supplemental, pancreatic, plant, and microbial
enzymes are all designed to enhance digestion. However, plant and
microbial enzymes use a “proactive” approach and begin working on foods
sooner after ingestion. Pancreatic enzymes usually begin working
approximately 30 minutes after food reaches the stomach. Because of their
stability in the acidic environment of the upper stomach, plant and
microbial enzymes can begin their digestive action immediately after the
food reaches this region. With the increased exposure to digestive enzyme
activity, food has a better chance of being broken down into small, more
readily absorbed particles.
Why are food enzymes missing in cooked and processed foods? Modern
food processing techniques and all types of cooking destroy nearly 100%
of the enzymes naturally occurring in food. Enzymes are completely
denatured when exposed to temperatures over 118deg for any length of
time. The modern diet consisting of cooked and processed food is
essentially devoid of active enzymes.
- When raw food is ingested, enzymes present within the food are
released, thereby assisting the body’s digestive processes in breaking
down the food into its simplest components for utilization within the body.
However cooking and processing destroys those enzymes, forcing the
body to supply the additional enzymes needed to adequately digest the
There are several categories of food enzymes:
Lipase, breaks down fats that are found in most dairy products, nuts, oils, and meat.
Lactase, breaks down lactose (milk sugars).
Protease, breaks down proteins that are found in meats, nuts, eggs, and
Amylase, breaks down carbohydrates, starches, and sugars, prevalent in
potatoes, fruits, vegetables, and many snack foods.
Cellulase, breaks down cellulose, the fibrous structure that makes up most
plant cell walls.
To provide enough enzymes to relieve the burden on the body, the choices
are to eat more raw food or the take a supplemental enzyme-based
product. Those with compromised digestive systems may need increased
levels of enzymes in order to obtain optimum health.
What are some short and long term benefits? The benefits will vary
depending upon the individual, diet, and general health. For the most part,
people notice less fullness after meals, faster emptying of stomach
contents, decreased gas, less stool being passed, and more regular
bowel habits. Long-term benefits have yet to be clinically demonstrated, but
is an area of active research.
Is supplementation really necessary? The enzymes naturally present in
food play an important role in digestion by helping to predigest the
ingested food in the upper stomach before hydrochloric acid has even
been secreted. This pre-digestion is hindered when food is cooked or
processed because the enzymes are destroyed by the processing
procedures. Placing the full digestive burden on the body, the body?s
digestive process can become over-stressed and incomplete. As a result,
vital nutrients may not be released from the food for assimilation by the
body, and gastrointestinal problems may result.
What happens when food is not properly digested? Over a century ago,
Virchow described “digestive leukocytosis” a condition in which the white
blood cell count increases after a meal. Further research by Kouchakoff
identified cooked and processed foods as the causative factor. Kouchakoff
observed that raw food induced no change in WBC counts while cooked
foods, particularly cooked meat, caused rapid increases in serum
leukocyte levels. When incompletely digested food molecules are
absorbed, the body identifies this particulate matter as foreign antigens
and forms circulating immune complexes. The immune system then
mobilizes macrophage leukocytes to digest the food.
Why take an enzyme supplement? Supplemental enzymes replace the
enzymes once present in raw food. Most enzymes are lost in cooking and
processing. Only raw or uncooked food contains enzymes. Nature put
these enzymes in food to aid in digesting the food you eat so your body’s
enzymes would not have to handle all the work. By taking a supplemental
enzyme you free up your body’s enzymes. When enzymes are missing from
your food, the full burden of digestion falls on your own digestive system.
Food sits in your stomach for nearly an hour before your body’s digestive
enzymes are secreted. It is during this time that food enzymes do their best
work breaking down complex food molecules. These supplemental
enzymes are temporarily inactivated in the stomach, but not before they
have already accomplished much of their mission of breaking down the
food molecules. During the first 30 to 60 minutes after eating, enzymes are
hard at work, predigesting food long before the stomach acids render
some of them inactive. Enzymes not destroyed in the stomach are re-
activated in the small intestine.
Today’s typical diet of cooked, canned, and convenience foods make it very
important to take supplemental enzymes to relieve some of your body’s
digestive stress. Since your body will put a higher priority on digestion than
on maintaining health, it will steal enzymes from the immune system to
finish digestion. Taking a supplemental enzyme can help take stress off
not only your digestive organs, but also your immune system.