What are enzymes?
Living cells and tissues require basic nutrients and essential substances to divide, grow and perform their normal activities. Most of these substances are synthesized from components of ingested food, water, and other nutritional supplements, or from breakdown products of tissues. The biochemical reactions to synthesize the basic elements required by living cells depend on a steady supply of energy from these sources. Ordinarily, this energy is supplied by a step-by-step oxidation of food components. In addition, the biochemical reactions themselves sometimes release energy. During times of stress or disease, there is am increased demand for the nutrients and essential supplies required by cells. Without very special helpers and at normal body temperature, it would be impossible for the cells and tissues to perform all the essential biochemical reactions required fast enough to meet the basic needs of the body. Fortunately, very specific and remarkable helpers initiate, accelerate and terminate these biochemical reactions. The helpers are highly specific organic substances which have evolved in living organisms and developed the capacity of performing these accelerated tasks to perfection via remarkable and specific catalytic actions. These remarkable substances are called enzymes.
Enzymes are catalysts. They make things work faster. For example, the chemistry of the body is all about utilizing one substance to produce another. Let us call it turning chemical A into chemical B. The biochemical reaction to do this may require energy or release energy, depending on whether molecules A or B contain their own energy.
Regardless of whether energy is required or released, the reaction time is shortened by its specific enzyme, without the enzyme being used up. The reaction is accelerated through the use of enzymes. This acceleration without consumption is the nature of a catalyst. For practical purposes, most biochemical reactions require enzymes since the reaction A to B might take hundreds of years without them.
It seems that enzymes are the fountain of life. Enzymes serve as the labor force to perform every single function required for our daily activities and are required to keep us alive. Digestive enzymes are only a part of the total amount of enzymes in the body. There are about 3000 known enzymes. They are responsible for all the functions of every organ system in our bodies. At the same time they are most important in supporting our body defenses and immune system to protect us from harmful forces and specific dangers to our health. The immune system depends heavily on enzymes to conduct its protective function. In addition we require enzymes not only to eat, digest and absorb our nutrients, but also to see, hear, smell, taste, breathe and move. Enzymes are required for our blood and coagulation system, cardiovascular functions, kidneys, liver, elimination of toxic products, excretion, reproduction, etc. They are required even to think, dream or for sexual excitement. When enzyme activity stops, life stops and the person or organism dies!
There are two major enzyme systems in the human body. One is digestive and the other is metabolic. The digestive enzymes help break down all of the food that we eat so that it can be absorbed by the body. The metabolic enzymes help to run all of the systems of the body from respiratory system to the nervous system.
The seven categories of food (digestive) enzymes and their activities are:
- Amylase: breaks down starches.
- Cellulase: breaks down fibers.
- Lactase: breaks down dairy products.
- Lipase: breaks down fats.
- Maltase: breaks down grains.
- Protease: breaks down proteins.
- Sucrase: breaks down sugars.
Enzymes are extremely important to our health. When enzymes are short in supply, or become inactive, the body will suffer. As the body is built from the food we eat, paying attention to what we eat is one of the most important things we can do. Unfortunately we do not eat what our instinct and common sense tells us to do. We do not eat the right quantities of the right foods at the right times and in the proper manner. The results can include digestive disturbances, deposition of fat, and becoming overweight. These findings can be associated with further health problems including disorders of the circulation which lead to more severe cardiovascular disease and disorders of the heart. The reducing diets often recommend generally provide only temporary weight loss and many of them may be even more detrimental to health in the long run.
We should all eat properly and follow a balanced diet containing a substantial amount of fresh foods in each meal. We should also avoid highly processed foods and high levels of preservatives, additives or chemicals. We can also take natural digestive enzymes in order to support the digestion of processed or cooked foods. Every food that has been cooked, boiled, heated, grilled, baked has lost its enzymes and is a burden to our organs which have to supply the digestive enzymes. As almost nobody in our modern age is willing to eat everything raw, you can take digestive enzymes with your cooked, etc., food. (An informative site about raw food is Living and Raw Foods) It is also good to stay away from processed foods as they often contain enzyme inhibitors (to prolong shelf life), chemicals, and sugar (white sugar is destructive to our bodies, and contributes big time to obesity).
Information about Enzymes
The European scientific community has generated great excitement in the field of enzymes, which can be used preventively to prevent illness and give us a longer, healthier life. However in the United States the average person does not know much about enzymes and their importance.
After you have read all about enzymes and why they are so important to our health, the next question is “what can I do about it? We will focus here only on digestive enzymes. Ideally you should eat everything raw. As raw food contains all the necessary enzymes to digest the food, our body does not have to deplete its organs of their necessary enzymes. And thus our body stays healthy. But in this modern age, who can eat everything raw? Make sure you eat enough raw food, but for the rest, supply your cooked or baked food with enzyme supplements.
There are several enzyme supplements on the market, but one of the best supplements is Dr. Howell’s N-Zymes, the enzyme supplement we ourselves are using. Dr Edward Howell was an enzyme pioneer who questioned the use of cooked, processed food for human consumption. He found that heating food to 118°F (47.78°C) for more than 15 minutes destroyed all the enzymes. Obviously then, heating foods at higher temperatures for shorter periods also destroys enzymes. Dr Howell wrote two books reporting his life’s work: Food Enzymes for Health and Longevity and Enzyme Nutrition.
N-Zymes is made by the National Enzyme Company, and distributed by Enzymes Inc, Parkville, Missouri. The digestive enzyme supplement we are using is called “Genuine N-zymes, Dr. Howell’s Original Formula“. The capsules contain the enzymes protease, amylase, lipase and cellulase). N-Zymes is available through health food stores. For their other enzymes products, visit Genuine N-Zymes.
Advice on Taking Enzymes
When taking enzyme supplements, remember to
- open the capsules and sprinkle the enzymes on your food (not too hot please). This way they can start working. Otherwise it will take time for the capsule to dissolve in your stomach.
- also drink water with your food, as enzymes are only active when water is present.
- One also needs to chew one’s food well because the digestive enzyme cellulase is trapped inside the fiber itself and must be liberated in the chewing process—otherwise, one experiences the gas and bloating.
- Eat plenty of fresh raw fruits and vegetables to maximize your enzyme intake.
- Raw seeds or raw nuts, contain enzyme inhibitors which will neutralize some of the enzymes your body produces. In fact, eating foods with enzyme inhibitors causes a swelling of the pancreas. All nuts and seeds contain these inhibitors. Raw peanuts, for example, contain an especially large amount. Raw wheat germ is also one of the worst offenders. In addition, all peas, beans and lentils contain some. Potatoes also have enzyme inhibitors (concentrated in the eyes of the potato). In eggs the inhibitor is contained mainly in the egg white. There are two ways to destroy enzyme inhibitors. The first is cooking; however, this also destroys the enzymes. The second way, which is preferable, is soaking, rinsing and germinating or sprouting. This destroys the enzyme inhibitors and also increases the enzyme content from a factor of 3 to 6. Taking extra enzymes is the third way to neutralize the enzyme inhibitors in ungerminated or unsprouted seeds and nuts.
- Fermentation also removes the enzyme inhibitors and it has other benefits too. Fermentation neutralizes unhealthy chemicals found in grains and beans. Second, it adds a host of beneficial micro-organisms to food, making them more digestible and increasing the healthy flora in our intestinal tracts. Grains and beans all contain an acid, myoinositol-hexa, or phytic acid. Phytic acid blocks the absorption of calcium, phosphorus, iron and zinc. A diet high in unfermented whole grains can lead to mineral deficiencies and bone loss. Fermenting grains and beans before eating them neutralizes phytic acid. It also neutralizes enzyme inhibitors and breaks down gluten, sugars, and other difficult to digest elements in grains and beans. The simplest way to lacto-ferment grains and beans is by adding whey and water, and letting them stand for at least seven hours. Beans should ideally stand for twelve hours or more. Yogurt can be added instead of whey, which is a by-product of cheese-making and is commercially available as a powder (sold in health food stores).
- Make sure you also read our article about Kefir, a special culture used in the fermentation of milk that adds a lot of enzymes in the process. It is very easy to make kefired milk and it is very healthy! It also is a way of making excellent whey for fermenting your grains and cooked veggies.
- Salt is an indirect enzyme inhibitor, so use it sparingly.
Other Sources of Enzymes
There are four major types of proteolytic enzymes: trypsin, chymotrypsin, papain, and bromelain.
Chymotrypsin is a proteolytic enzyme crystallized from an extract of the pancreas gland of the ox.
Trypsin is a proteolytic enzyme also crystallized from an extract of the pancreas gland of the ox.
Papain is derived from the green papaya fruit.
Bromelain is extracted from the pineapple. Because of the relative value of the fruit, the difficulty of processing the juice, and the improvements of methods to extract bromelain from pineapple stems, the source of most bromelain is the stems.
Proteolytic enzymes are enzymes that help you digest the proteins in food. Although your body produces these enzymes in the pancreas, certain foods also contain proteolytic enzymes. Papaya (the unripe fruit) and pineapple are two of the richest plant sources. Papain and bromelain are the respective names for the proteolytic enzymes found in these fruits.
The primary use of proteolytic enzymes is as a digestive aid for people who have trouble digesting proteins. However, proteolytic enzymes also appear to reduce pain and inflammation, which has made them popular in Europe as a treatment for sports injuries and as an aid in recovery from surgery. Supplemental proteolytic (protein-digesting) enzymes also enhance immune function, helping to destroy pathogens; and proteolytic enzymes seems to be good for people with pancreas problems. Digestive enzymes are classified as a food by the FDA., but if you want to take proteolytic enzymes you should discuss this with your doctor.
Another source of enzymes is brewer’s yeast which stimulates enzyme activity in the intestines. There are also enzyme preparations available from the pharmacy for digestive disorders. Fermented foods are full of enzymes, like yogurt, sauerkraut, soy sauce and kefir.