What Is An Enzyme:
All enzymes are proteins, very special kinds of proteins that act as catalysts. Enzymes give our body chemistry its vitality. They also play a critically important role within our digestive system. Enzymes in our saliva allow us to break apart starches. Enzymes in our stomach help us break apart proteins. Enzymes in our intestines help us break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates of all kinds.
Fresh, uncooked foods, still contain active enzymes. When we chew a freshly picked leaf of lettuce, we break the cells in the leaf apart, releasing its nutrients, including enzymes.
Enzymes are not automatically destroyed by the acids or temperatures in our digestive tract. Enzymes in the stomach – called gastric enzymes – are specially designed to function in the stomach’s extremely acid conditions and are critical to our health. Our bodies can overheat from fever, extreme exercise or summer weather, but not to temperatures that will prevent the enzymes inside us from continuing to function.
Ordinarily, we cook food at temperatures at least twice that of normal body temperature. For this reason, fresh, raw plant foods are our primary source of food enzymes. Practitioners in fields of complementary, natural, and functional medicine have used enzyme supplementation successfully to help treat a wide variety of health problems and have long advocated the inclusion of fresh, organic, raw plant foods in the diet.
Following are two types of enzymes contained in foods:
Plant foods contain many of the same enzymes that humans use to metabolize different kinds of macronutrients. Digestive enzymes that would normally be secreted in our digestive tract or in a nearby organ like the pancreas or liver are the same digestive enzymes found in the plant foods that we eat.
Like humans, plants must protect themselves against oxygen-related damage, and they depend on enzymes to help them do so. A recently germinated sprout, for example, starts to generate many new oxidative enzymes in preparation for its journey up through the soil and into the open air.
- Digestion and Absorption
- Support the immune system
- Pancreatic Health
Signs of Possible Deficiency:
- Undigested food in stool
Factors That May Contribute To A Deficiency:
- Certain heavy metals inhibit the activity of enzymes:
- Diet low in raw fruits and vegetables
Health Conditions That May Be Prevented or Improved With Enzymes:
- Maldigestion and malabsorption
- Pancreatic insufficiency
- Steatorrhea (diarrhea due to fat malabsorption)
- Celiac disease
- Lactose intolerance
- Thrombotic disease
- Acute sinusitis
- Post-operative recovery
- Sports injuries
- Adverse food reactions
Some Food Sources of Enzymes:
- Virtually all fresh, organically grown, uncooked plant foods are sources of enzymes.
- Bromelain is found in pineapples
- Papain in unripe papayas.
Impact of Cooking, Storage and Processing:
Cooking foods at virtually all standard cooking temperatures denatures enzymes, destroying their functioning.
The majority of processing techniques used by food manufacturers destroys the natural enzymes found in foods.
The effects of storage on enzyme integrity varies greatly, depending upon temperature and duration. The higher the temperature and the longer the food is stored, the greater likelihood that any enzymes it contains will be denatured.
Some enzyme supplements are manufactured from animal sources while others are from non-animal sources. A popular, and effective, non-animal source of enzymes is Aspergillus oryzae, a type of fungus (Aspergillus is also used in the traditional Japanese technique of fermenting soybeans to produce soy sauce, tamari and miso). Bromelain and papain are two examples of enzymes derived from plants.
Recommended Daily Allowances:
No public health recommendations for dietary intake of enzymes have been made by any established health agency or organization.