The Role Enzymes Play in Keeping Us Healthy

Throughout our lives, the food we eat and how our digestive system processes and absorbs nutrients from that food is vital to our health. At birth, breast milk provides a baby with enzymes to digest human milk. When a baby begins to eat solid food, often processed or cooked at high temperatures, the enzymes are destroyed and may be the beginning of a lifetime cycle of undigested food remaining in the digestive tract and the by-products being absorbed into the bloodstream.

Enzymes have specific jobs in the body such as :

• To digest food we eat
• To cleanse the bloodstream
• Strengthen the immune system
• Build protein into muscle
• Eliminate carbon dioxide from the lungs
• Reduce the stress on vital organs.

The first person to actively study enzymes was Dr. Edward Howell in the 1930s. He was the author of ‘Enzyme Nutrition’ and recognized as a leading expert on the subject of enzymes and the role they play in our bodies. He determined that our quality of life, good health and energy levels depend on enzymes.

The following is a quote from Dr. Howell : “Our Body’s life force, vitality, vital force, strength, nerve energy or what ever you choose to call it has enzymes at its core. Without the life energy of enzymes we would be nothing more than a pile of lifeless chemical substances – vitamins, minerals, water and proteins. In both maintaining health and in healing, enzymes, and only enzymes, do the actual work. They are what we call, in metabolism, the body’s labor force. Each one of us is given a limited supply of bodily enzyme energy at birth. This supply, like the energy supply in a new battery, has to last a lifetime. The faster you use up your enzyme supply, the shorter your life. A great deal of our enzyme energy is wasted haphazardly throughout life. The habit of cooking our food and eating it processed with chemicals; and the use of alcohol, drugs, and junk food all draw out tremendous quantities of enzymes from our limited supply. Frequent colds and fevers and exposure to extremes of temperature also deplete the supply. A body in such weakened, enzyme-deficient state is a prime target for many health and degenerative problems.”

There are three major classes of enzymes :

If we are generally in good health, our bodies produce two types – digestive and metabolic enzymes as they are needed, whilst food enzymes can only be consumed orally. Metabolic Enzymes speed up the chemical reaction within the cells for detoxification and energy production. Digestive enzymes are secreted along the digestive tract to break down food into nutrients and waste. This allows these nutrients to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Plant or microbe-based enzyme supplements are effective and the most popular because they breakdown the food before it enters the intestines.

Some of the enzymes and their benefits :

The enzyme Amylase is responsible for the digestion of carbohydrates as it breaks starch down into sugar. It is present in human saliva, where it begins the chemical process of digestion. The pancreas also makes amylase to break down dietary starch, which is then converted by other enzymes to glucose. This supplies the body with energy.

The enzyme Betaine (betaine hydrochloride) is responsible for the digestion of fats and proteins. This is often recommended in supplement form as a source of hydrochloric acid for those who have a deficiency of stomach acid.

A deficiency of gastric acid secretion increases the likelihood and severity of certain bacterial and parasitic intestinal infections. Some research suggests that people with a wide variety of chronic disorders, such as allergies, asthma, candida albicans and gallstones, do not produce adequate amounts of stomach acid.

The enzyme Bromelain (found in raw pineapple) aids in the digestion of protein rich foods. Bromelain aids the digestion by enhancing the effects of other digestive enzymes, trypsin and pepsin.

The enzyme Cellulase is responsible for the digestion of fibre from fruits and vegetables.

Lipase is responsible for breaking down fats (lipids) and oils, in particular triglycerides (fatty substances from food), and for the digestion of nutrients in the intestines. Lipase helps the body utilise omega fatty acids.

The enzyme Ox Bile Extract helps improve bile secretion and supplements may be beneficial in treating liver problems.

The enzyme Pancreatin is a combination of 3 enzymes – amylase, lipase and protease. Pancreatin is produced by the exocrine cells in the pancreas and is used to treat conditions where pancreatic secretions are deficient, such as pancreatitis.

The enzyme Papain is responsible for breaking up proteins, particularly the fibres in animal meats. It is a food enzyme found in the green papaya (pawpaw) fruit.

The enzyme Pepsin helps digest proteins and stimulates the liver to produce bile.

Protease enzymes are responsible for digesting proteins in the food we eat. If digestion is incomplete, undigested protein can float around your body.

Discovery of the enzyme, Serrapeptase

Researchers on the cutting edge of nutritional science have come across an enzyme which may well be the safest, most powerful, clinically-proven way to help end painful inflammation. It’s called serrapeptase, and it’s a potent enzyme produced in the intestines of silk worms. As the silk worm grows, it turns into a caterpillar, which then spins a silk cocoon. The silk worm uses serrapeptase to break down its cocoon walls and emerge as a beautiful silk moth. In your body, serrapeptase works powerfully in two ways as a natural anti-inflammatory. First, it thins fluids that collect around injured areas and helps them drain better—all of which help shrink swelling and reduce painful inflammation. Second, it helps dissolve dead and damaged tissue—such as blood clots, scar tissue and inflammation in all forms—and sweeps them out of your body, without harming living tissue.

There are seven categories of food enzymes :

  • Lipase digests fat
  • Protease digests proteins
  • Cellulase assists in the breaking down of fibres
  • Amylase breaks down carbohydrates
  • Lactase to break down dairy foods
  • Sucrase to break down sugars
  • Maltase to break down grains.

Who should take enzyme supplements?

A healthy person eating a balanced diet can generally absorb digestive enzymes from their food, but as we age, or have a compromised digestive system (IBS, Crohn’s disease, leaky gut or malabsorption), enzyme supplementation may assist your body in regaining health.

If you are ill or recovering from an acute or a chronic disease, taking enzyme supplements may be beneficial.  During all acute and chronic illnesses, the body needs more enzymes. If you suffer from indigestion, bloating, gas, heartburn or flatulence caused by incomplete digestion, then it is most likely that supplemental enzymes will assist you.  When you begin to experience normal bowel movements (at least 1 – 2 a day or after every meal), then you will know that the enzymes are working and your food is being properly digested.

Do you need enzyme supplements if you are in good health?

If you are taking vitamins, minerals, or other concentrated foods, then that may not be enough as the body needs enzymes to absorb these. Athletes or those who exercise regularly may benefit by taking enzyme supplements as during exercise, enzymes are used up more rapidly than normal.

How to tell if you have adequate enzymes in your body :

If you have enough enzymes in your body or absorb them from food, you will not experience indigestion, bloating,  gas, heartburn, or flatulence caused by incomplete digestion. If you are having properly formed bowel movements – at least 1 to 2 times a day (or after every meal) your digestive system is functioning correctly.  Also, your bowel movements will not have an offensive odor. The lack of the above indications mean your food is being digested properly and used by your body instead of sitting in your intestines to rot and putrefy.

Taking supplemental enzymes :

If you begin to take supplemental enzymes, you may experience a few mild symptoms of cleansing such as rashes, bloating, gas, headaches or nausea. These will abate if you drink 8 to 10 glasses of water a day (to reduce the cleansing symptoms) and exercise daily for 20 minutes or more. It’s been clinically proven that the more enzymes you take, the quicker your body can repair, restore, and strengthen itself. Depending on the person, their age and state of health, this may take a few days or weeks or longer if you are in severe ill-health. Be aware that it takes time to re-educate the body’s natural ability to repair, restore, and strengthen itself. Your body wants to be well! It is up to us to feed it the food and nutrients it needs to regain or maintain health.

Dr. Bernard Jensen wrote in his book ‘Tissue Cleansing Through Bowel Management’, “The greatest healing power comes from within you. We find that healing comes according to the one law…; that is ‘Hering’s Law of Cure’. It states that ‘All cure starts from within you and from the head down and in reverse order as the symptoms have appeared’.

Research indicates that the human body loses its ability to produce enzymes as we age. Not chewing food properly or poor eating habits, may result in inadequate enzyme production. Consuming processed or overcooked foods, rather than fresh raw vegetables and fruits which contain enzymes that naturally break down foods for proper absorption by the digestive system, are causes of enzyme deficiencies. Remember that raw foods are ‘live’ foods – they contain (if fresh, cleaned well and organically grown particularly) all the enzymes, vitamins, mineral and other nutrients vital to our health and longevity.

There are two ways to preserve or replenish enzyme levels: by eating (and chewing well) lots of raw food, juicing fresh fruit and vegetables (read ‘Juicing your way to health and vitality’ here) or by taking enzyme supplements. Please consult a healthcare professional for advice on which enzyme supplements may benefit you.