Note from Jan:
We always make sure we take digestive plant enzymes with every meal.
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Enzymes are one of the most critical compounds used by literally every part of the body, and life itself would not be possible without them. Digestive enzymes, one of the major types, play many vital roles. They can be obtained from certain foods, and the body is also equipped to manufacture them “in-house,” but virtually all humans need additional digestive enzymes from a quality supplemental source in order to assure an ample supply.
What Are Enzymes?
Enzymes are specialized protein molecules that are involved with basically every chemical reaction that occurs in the body. They act as a catalyst, which in chemistry is defined as a substance that accelerates or enables reactions but does not structurally affect or change the outcome. Enzymes can be compared to a spark that starts a fire, or like the workers who build a house. The construction materials are the components of the house, but without the workers, it would never come to exist.
However, scientists have found that enzymes are more than a neutral catalyst. They are in fact proteins that are charged with electrical energy, so in a sense they have a life of their own. As research continues to unfold, it is becoming clear that the role of enzymes is critical to all life functions, and is a major determining factor in our overall health and longevity.
How Do Digestive Enzymes Work?Digestive enzymes that are manufactured by the body are primarily secreted by the pancreas and sent to the gastrointestinal tract. Secondarily, the oral cavity creates digestive enzymes in saliva, and specialized ones are also found in the stomach and small intestine. The main job of digestive enzymes is to break down the food we eat into nutritional compounds that can be optimally absorbed into the bloodstream and then delivered as nourishment throughout the body. Many researchers believe that the presence of enough digestive enzymes is so critical that a lack of them is a major source of the disease process in the body and that enzyme levels are directly related to how we age and how long we live. In his book “Enzyme Nutrition” Dr. Edward Howell states “the length of life is in direct proportion to the rate of exhaustion of the enzyme potential of an organism.”
In a nutshell, the more enzymes, the healthier we are and the longer we live. So, just let the body make enzymes and reap some from the food, right? Well, unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
It is thought that people are born with a genetic limitation on how many digestive enzymes they can produce — some of us can make more than others. Secondly, as we age, we tend to manufacture fewer enzymes. Thirdly, it is said that our body is made to handle only one cooked meal per day, enzyme-wise.
Certain foods are great sources of digestive and other enzymes, mainly raw, whole foods such as fruits and vegetables. However, when food is cooked, literally all enzymes are killed. Most Americans eat mainly cooked foods, and very little raw foods. Before the days of the convenience of supermarkets and fast food restaurants, we got most of our food enzymes from the foods that were in a natural state when ingested. The Standard American Diet, which is practiced overseas also, is one that uses more cooked food than food in its natural state and therefore lacks the enzymes that a more natural diet provides. What happens then is the body tries to compensate by making more enzymes and is unable to keep up, often overloading the pancreas and other organs.According to Emily Kane, ND, “The Dept. of Anatomy at the University of Minnesota, has shown that rats fed for 135 days on an 80 percent cooked food diet resulted in an increase pancreatic weight of 20 to 30 percent. What this means is that the pancreas is forced to work harder with a cooked food diet. A youth of 18 may produce amylase levels 30 times greater than those of an 85 year old person.”
Also, food is almost always adulterated by over-cooking, irradiation, pre-packaged processing, pasteurizing and/or microwaving. Processing of this type tends to destroy the abundance of natural enzymes. Modern day farming practices also reduces the enzyme and nutrient content in the soil through the use of pesticides, fungicides, and inorganic fertilizers. For these reasons, supplementation with digestive enzymes is necessary and prudent for good health.
Insufficient amounts of digestive enzymes can lead to many health problems:
- If food is not digested well, malnutrition and obesity can result.
- Without digestive enzymes, the gastrointestinal cannot efficiently eliminate waste from the body. These accumulated toxins produce disease.
- When enough enzymes are not available, the immune system suffers too. (Remember, 80% of immune system function is in the intestinal tract.)
- Other potential consequences of digestive enzyme deficiency include: food allergies, acne, constipation, diarrhea, Chron’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, ulcers, fatigue, arthritis, and other inflammatory diseases.
Types of Digestive Enzymes
- Amylase — breaks down starch, glycogen, and saccharides.
- Bromelain — used for swelling and inflammation.
- Catalase — destroys hydrogen peroxide that can form in the cells.
- Cathepsin — helps digest the meat from animal sources.
- Cellulase — used to digest the fiber membrane of plant foods.
- Chymotrypsin — helps to digest amino acids. Most often used for pancreatic insufficiency.
- Glucoamylase — helps to break down maltose, the sugar from grains.
- Invertase — allows digestion of sucrose.
- Lactase — used to break down milk sugar.
- Lipase — breaks down fats into fatty acids and glycerol.
- Mylase — dissolves starch.
- Pancreatin — used for impaired digestion.
- Pectinase — breaks down foods such as apples, carrots, beets, tomatoes, and citrus fruits.
- Papain — breaks down protein and used in relation to gluten intolerance.
- Protease — breaks down amino acids into their component parts; also used to treat some medical conditions.
- Trypsin — used to speed the healing of wounds, and for inflammation.
Why Digestive Enzyme Supplementation is Necessary
Even if we are wise enough to choose and able to access foods such as raw, organic fruits and vegetables — including enough variety to gain all needed enzymes — it is difficult at best to meet our body’s enzyme needs without supplements. When we take a quality digestive enzyme supplement that is properly formulated to be bioavailable and usable, we take a tremendous load off the pancreas to produce enough enzymes. This frees the body up to supply other types of needed enzymes to the entire body. Supplementing with digestive enzymes allows for maximal nutrients and efficient operation of the digestive system. This combination results in a synergistic process that can have far-reaching positive effects on all of our organs and systems.