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What Do Enzymes Do?

Did you know that good health starts with properly functioning digestion, and that good digestion relies on the right enzymes, in the right amounts, in the right place at the right time? Does that sound complex? It is, and it’s another example of just how intelligent our bodies really are.

Metabolic processes require enzymes

As we age, the burden on our bodies from various types of pollution, chemicals, toxins, stress, and emotional problems increases. All of this decreases our body’s natural ability to make enough enzymes to meet the needs of daily life.
Our body needs enzymes to function properly. We need them not only for healthy digestion but for all metabolic processes. Without enzymes, we would not be able to live.

What are enzymes and how important are they for us?

Enzymes are complex protein molecules made by all animal and human cells. Digestive enzymes, for example, are very important because they break down large food molecules into smaller units, which can then be absorbed by the cells of the intestinal lining and released into the blood.

Enzymes support digestion

Enzymes not only help the body digest proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and plant fibers. They are also involved in all chemical reactions that take place in our bodies. These include, for example, the regeneration of cells or tissue and the elimination of waste products and toxins, as well as supporting the immune system. In short, enzymes get the whole organism going!

dr Edward Howell, the pioneer of enzyme therapy, describes it like this:

Enzymes are substances that make life possible. They are required for all chemical reactions that take place in the human body. Without enzymes, nothing would happen at all. Neither vitamins, minerals nor hormones can do any work without enzymes.
This view is also supported by Dr. D.A. Lopez, Dr. R. M. Williams, M.D., Ph.D. and M. Miehlke, M.D. who say that

Enzymes are the powerhouse of our body, performing every single function necessary for our daily activities and necessary to keep us alive. They are responsible for all the functions of every single organ system in our body. In addition to our immune and defense systems, we need enzymes not only to take in, digest, and absorb nutrients, but also to see, hear, smell, taste, breathe, and move.

Do we have an unlimited supply of enzymes?

The body’s own production of enzymes decreases with age or is also restricted in some chronic diseases. An unhealthy diet and lifestyle can also reduce the proper production of enzymes.

Three solutions to this problem

First, we introduce the different types of enzymes and their occurrence.

The three main categories of enzymes are:

  1. digestive enzymes
  2. food or plant enzymes
  3. metabolic enzymes

Digestive enzymes secreted by the salivary glands, stomach, pancreas, and small intestine help break down food into simple molecules.

Dietary enzymes occur naturally in raw foods. However, if these are heated above 42° Celsius, the high temperature destroys most of the enzymes. Digestive enzymes and food enzymes perform the same function. They digest food so that it can be absorbed into the bloodstream. The difference between the two is that nutritional enzymes come from fresh, raw, and undercooked foods such as fruits, vegetables, salads, etc., and digestive enzymes are produced in our bodies itself.

Metabolic enzymes are produced in the cells and are found throughout the body, i.e. in the organs, bones, blood, and in the cells themselves. Metabolic enzymes maintain the organ function of the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, etc., and become therefore required in large numbers by the body.

Enzymes and how they work

Let’s take a closer look at some enzymes and how they work. In the following, we describe where the individual enzymes become active and in which foods they can be found.

Enzyme lipase

Lipases are enzymes that digest fats. When added to a meal as a supplement, it digests the fats in the diet, relieving the burden on the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas when these organs can no longer produce the necessary enzymes in sufficient quantities.

Enzyme protease

Proteases break down proteins into their individual parts, into peptides, and finally into amino acids. Proteins consist of long chains of amino acids, whereas peptides are only short chains of amino acids with a maximum of 100 amino acids (some sources state a maximum of 50 amino acids).

People who suffer from food allergies or have trouble digesting proteins will benefit from taking protease supplements, e.g. B. bromelain or papain preparations. These preparations often contain proteases from papaya (papain) or pineapple (bromelain). Both are also used in high doses as natural anti-inflammatory agents.

Enzyme amylase

Amylases break down starches, so they help digest carbohydrates from baked goods, pasta, potatoes, and many other starchy foods.

Enzyme cellulase

Cellulases are enzymes that break down fibers (cellulose). Usually, it is only bacteria that can form cellulases. These bacteria live, for example, in the rumen of cattle or in the large intestine of horses, which is why these animals can thrive on grass, hay, and other high-cellulose foods. In humans, only a few of these bacteria live in the large intestine, which is why cellulose is largely an indigestible fiber for humans.

Enzyme lactase

Lactase is an enzyme that can break down milk sugar (lactose) from milk and milk products. Lactose is a double sugar – double because it is made up of two simple sugars, glucose and galactose. Lactase breaks down lactose into these two simple sugars, which are then absorbed into the blood. Glucose serves there as an important fuel for the cells. Galactose is needed for the regeneration of cell membranes, healthy nerve cells, and an active brain.

In the case of widespread lactose intolerance (about 70 percent of the world’s population is affected), lactase is no longer produced in the body in adulthood, which is basically completely natural, since adults normally no longer need milk. Milk is an infant formula and is therefore intended for babies who do not yet have teeth and also do not yet have a fully developed digestive system. Therefore, most people only produce lactase in the first three years.

Anyone who has a lactose intolerance but still wants to consume dairy products often takes lactase as a supplement.

Enzyme phytase

Phytase breaks down phytic acid found in grains and seeds, as well as simple sugars, into fructose and glucose.

Enzyme maltase

Maltases digest complex and simple sugars. Maltase breaks down unused glycogen in the muscles. Glycogen is a viscous, sticky substance made from sugars and starches that are stored in muscles for later use. As the number of stored glycogen increases, it leads to increasing muscle weakness and muscle atrophy.

Enzymes from food support digestion

The natural enzymes in raw foods can aid in digestion. To do this, however, the raw food must be chopped up well, chewed thoroughly, and eaten slowly. However, the enzymes contained in food represent only a small part of the enzymes actually required.

Raw vegetables, salads, and sprouts are valuable foods due to the vital substances they contain. When it comes to enzyme supply, however, it is more important to keep our own enzyme production healthy by doing everything we can to ensure a healthy digestive system: eat healthily, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, detoxify and/or take probiotics as needed and avoid vital substance deficiencies.

Digestion costs the body energy

The body’s top priority is to ensure adequate nutritional intake to keep all body systems active. However, this requires an intact digestive system. Since this system only receives very few nutritional enzymes from valuable raw food these days, the body has to provide more and more of its own enzymes. This costs him a lot of energy and explains why more and more people are suffering from digestive problems and permanent fatigue.

dr DicQie Fuller Ph.D., in her book The Healing Power of Enzymes, emphasizes the need for enzymes in digestion:

Eighty percent of our body’s energy is used in the process of digestion. When you’re exhausted, under stress, live in a very hot or very cold climate, or are a regular air traveler, your body needs enormous amounts of supplemental enzymes. Because our entire system functions through enzymatic activity, we need to supplement our enzymes. The aging process robs us of our ability to produce the necessary enzymes. Doctors say that all diseases are caused by a deficiency or an imbalance of enzymes. Our life depends on them!

Which enzymes are suitable for ingestion?

If you suffer from indigestion and want to take enzymes to help, look for combinations of different enzymes. Many enzyme supplements are not vegan! Therefore, when buying, make sure that the vegan symbol can be found on it.

Some plant-based enzymes are said to be even more effective, surviving the acidity of the stomach better, whereas pancreatic enzymes may not even make it to the small intestine where they do their work – unless, of course, you look out for gastro-resistant capsules.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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