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Why enzymes are essential to a healthy immune system

Those of us in medicine and health care recognize the importance of maintaining a strong immune system to keep the body disease-free and help all its systems and metabolic processes perform at top efficiency. In my practice, I refer to immune function dozens of times every day. Most people, however, do not realize the central importance that enzymes play in maintaining healthy immune function. Nor the vital role that enzyme therapy can play in reducing or alleviating the painful and debilitating symptoms of chronic immune disorders.

In my 20 years of working with enzyme therapy, I have found that enzymes not only prevent disease but also heal chronic health problems for which many doctors believe we have no medical solutions. My experience has convinced me that no other supplements can offer such dramatic improvements.

What Is an Enzyme?

The majority of us never even give a thought to enzymes, yet without them our bodies could not carry out their most basic functions. In their role as organic catalysts, enzymes make possible the millions of biochemical reactions that take place within us daily. They are the powerful engines that drive every bodily process, including breathing and circulation. They digest food, transport nutrients, carry away toxic wastes, purify the blood, deliver hormones, balance cholesterol and triglycerides, nourish the brain, build protein into muscle, and feed and fortify the endocrine system. On a larger scale, enzymes slow the aging process and support wellness and homeostasis (the body's ability to achieve balance among its many functions).

For a long time, doctors and researchers believed that the intestinal wall blocked these food particles from getting into the bloodstream. Now, we know that this isn't the case. Studies suggest that people with food sensitivities have leakier intestinal walls than those without sensitivities, which means that a greater-than-average number of food particles can pass into the bloodstream. This seems to create a vicious cycle because the inflammation that occurs with the immune response can make the intestinal walls even leakier, especially if there is a localized allergic response to the undigested food. Over time, this cascade effect can overwhelm the immune system.

While the exact method of detection isn't yet understood, we know that the immune system senses these undigested food particles (antigens), labels them as foreign invaders, and begins pumping out antibodies, such as immunoglobulin G. These antibodies attack and neutralize these antigens by joining with them to form circulating immune complexes (CICs). The problem is, these immune complexes are highly inflammatory. They can create damage within the body even if they are present for only a brief period of time. Fortunately, the body is aware of this fact and has an built-in defense mechanism, a large number of cells known as macrophages that go into action to extract the CICs from the bloodstream. If the CICs are small enough, the macrophages are usually able to eat them up like Pac Men and transport them to the liver or the spleen. Usually, after only one pass through these organs of elimination, the blood can be largely cleared of these immune complexes--at least in someone who is healthy.

Problems arise when the macrophages become so saturated with CICs that they are no longer able to remove them from the bloodstream. When this happens, the circulating immune complexes tend to deposit their contents into certain tissues and organs, such as the kidneys, joints, and blood vessel walls, where they trigger inflammatory conditions that eventually lead to illness.

Enzymes therapy can be very effective in helping the body deal with an overload of CICs. Enzyme preparations can prevent the autoimmune attack by reducing inflammation, breaking down immune complexes, and aiding the macrophages in disposing of them. (2) For example, protease can help break down viruses and other infectants in the body. (3)

Individuals with autoimmune disorders should always be screened for poor digestive function, since good digestion and a healthy digestive system are key to keeping the immune system functioning. Using preparations containing enzymes can help repair the damage done by CICs in the body and can strengthen the gut's ability to digest the foods we eat.

A Healthy Gut Supports a Healthy Immune System

By now it should be clear that the integrity of the intestinal wall and the coating of mucus that protects it are major factors in determining whether food particles get into the bloodstream in the first place. This mucus coating actually serves as an important communication center for the immune system. When harmful substances, such as bacteria, parasites, allergens, and toxins, find their way into the gut, the mucus alerts the immune system to send in forces to defend the rest of the body against damage.

If this coating sustains damage, however, then the intestinal wall becomes too permeable to prevent food particles from passing through it. As we have seen, this sets in motion the chain of events that activates the immune system, prompting production of circulating immune complexes. With this in mind, you can see that one of the most important strategies for maintaining a healthy gut is enzyme therapy to support proper digestion. As long as the food one eats is thoroughly broken down, fewer food particles travel to the intestinal wall (a.k.a., gut-associated lymphoid tissue or GALT) and, from there, leak out into the bloodstream, triggering an immune response.

Taking probiotics is the best strategy for maintaining an optimal intestinal environment. Probiotics work with the bacteria present in the gut to create less hospitable conditions for harmful microorganisms and alien substances. When these helpful bacteria are in short supply or are overworked by the fermentation of undigested foods, the formation of toxic compounds leading to inflammation will be the result.

Maintaining a balance in our intestinal microflora is vitally important because any imbalance (a.k.a., dysbiosis) can have a global effect on the body and its systems, causing all manner of illnesses. On the other hand, a healthy gut supports a healthy body--one that is less vulnerable to serious ailments such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis. It is even believed that a longer life span could be achieved by improving digestion and gut flora health via probiotics.

Bowel Activity and Immune Health

Despite the central role of intestinal health in determining immune health and general well-being, few people feel comfortable talking about this particular area of human anatomy, even with their physicians. Yet bowel problems affect a majority of Americans. And if your bowels don't function properly, the rest of your body won't either, and your immunity will be compromised.

What Is a Full Spectrum Digestive Enzyme?

A good-quality digestive enzyeme will contain a mix of enzymes in the following dosages: amylase (3,000 to 9,000 DU), lipase (150 to 450 LU), cellulase (200 to 600 CU), lactase (75 to 225 ALU), invertase (75 to 300 SU), peptidase (1,000 to 3,000 HUT ), alpha galactosidase (10 to 30 GAIU or 25 to 75 AGSU), glucoamylase (2 to 12 AGU), and malt diastase (75 to 300 DP). Make sure the product also contains pectinase, xylanase, hemicellulase, phytase, and/or beta-glucanase. These enzymes also help process the nutrients from foods.

Strategies for Creating a Healthy Immune System

I have developed several basic strategies over the years to help my patients maintain a healthy digestive system and a strong immune system. I will list some of the most important ones here.

Manage Your Carbohydrate Intake to Strengthen the Immune System

Blood sugar has a powerful influence on the immune system. It has been reported that decreased levels of white blood cells have been associated with the imbalances in blood sugar resulting from a diet high in refined sugars and simple carbohydrates. (6) An overgrowth of yeast and/or bacteria is another common result from eating too many sugars and starches because these micro-organisms thrive on fermented sugars and carbohydrates. (7)

* Alcohol is also addictive and causes degeneration of cells.

* Foods and beverages with a high sodium content--a high salt intake can cause a deficiency of potassium, an important mineral for maintaining healthy muscles, including the heart muscle.

* Artificial sweeteners

* Food additives

* Food coloring

* Genetically altered foods

Most commercial crops are sprayed multiple times with pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides before they ever arrive on your supermarket shelves. Since these toxins can put an extra burden on your digestive processes and your immune system, eating as many organic foods as possible will help your body to perform and function to the best of its ability.

Detoxify from Trauma and Stress

In any discussion of toxins and their impact on immune function, we mustn't overlook how emotional and psychological stress adds to the toxic burden and how enzymes can help reduce our physical vulnerability to these toxic effects. I see it every day in my practice, in patients of all ages.

One place where we experience the physiological effects of stress is in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. According to Stephen Holt, the GI tract is a huge body of nervous tissue. In fact, the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and colon are lined with their own nervous system. Scientists consider this system a single entity and even refer to it as the body's "second brain." It makes sense then that emotions play a huge role in healthy digestion.

The medical literature has also explored at length how the suppressed emotions that often accompany stress can contribute to toxicity and set the stage for physical illness. The conscious mind may be able to ignore stressors, but the subconscious mind--and our cells--remember. These subliminal memories wear down the body, specifically the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems. The physical impact is very real.

Since suppressing your emotions can be so harmful, you need to find appropriate venues for expressing them. Build opportunities for release into your life. Here is a list of techniques I share with my patients to help them reduce the toxic burden of stress:

* Practice relaxation techniques such a meditation and yoga. These practices not only relieve stress and tension, they increase circulation to organs and glands. Meditation does not always need to be formally practiced, it can be done when you stop for a red light or stand in line at the bank. For example, in his book, There's a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem, Dr. Wayne Dyer suggests that when you are stuck in traffic, instead of getting stressed out, use the time to meditate. (8)

* Listen to music or learn to play a musical instrument.

* Laughter is another powerful tool for cleansing and healing, as Norman Cousins discusses in Anatomy of an Illness. (9)

* Write about your life experiences in a journal, where you can say what you like and be who you really are without fear or embarrassment.

* Always seek therapy when it is appropriate. Counseling and psychotherapy are helpful as tools for cleansing and de-stressing both our minds and our bodies.

* I have also used homeopathic remedies and enzymes for emotional health.

In my practice, I routinely recommend enzyme therapy and homeopathic remedies to help restore a mind and body that are under stress. When the toxic effects of negative emotions make us sick, enzyme therapy can make us well again.

Good Nutrition: The Centerpiece of Immune Health

Literally thousands of studies have documented the beneficial effects of lifestyle on immunity. But the centerpiece of a healthy lifestyle is good nutrition, which depends on sensible food choices and, of course, proper digestion and nutrient absorption. The body's systems can't possibly work optimally if they aren't receiving adequate nutritional support. With optimal immune function, your body can defend itself against pretty much anything that comes its way. Enzyme therapy is the key.

Fiasse, R. et al.: Circulating Immune Complexes and disease activitiy in Crohn's Disease. Gut. 1978;19:611-617.
Debanne, M.T.; Bell, R; Dolovich, J. Uptake of proteinase -alpha-macroglobulin complexes by macrophages. Biochem Biophy Acta. 1975; 411:295.
Barrett A. J: Starkey P.M. The interaction of alpha-2m with proeinases. Biochem J. 1973;133:709. Barrett, A.J.: Proteinases in mammalian cells and tissues. Elsevier, North Holland Bimedical Press, 1977.
Graham DV. Enzyme replacement therapy of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency in man. NEJM. 1977;296:1314-17.
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Debanne, M.T.; Bell, R; Dolovich, J. Uptake of proteinase-alpha-macroglobulin complexes by macrophages. Biochem Biophy. Acta. 1975;411:295.
Barrett A. J: Starkey P.M.: The interaction of alpha-2m with proeinases. Biochem J. 1973;133:709.
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Dr. Ellen Cutler
Dr. Ellen Cutler has both a chiropractic degree and a medical degree. She is the author of four books including The Food Allergy Cure and MicroMiracles: Discover the Healing Power of Enzymes. Dr. Cutler is the founder of the BioSET[TM] Method which is taught at the BioSET[TM] Institute in Mill Valley, California. For more information, please visit us at For more information on enzymes and immune function--as well as listings of practitioners in your area who utilize enzyme therapy--please visit my web site,
Disclaimer: The entire contents of this website are based upon the opinions of the author(s). Individual articles are based upon the opinions of the respective author. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of the authors. You are encouraged to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.