By Brigitte Mars
In 1878, Willy Kuhne, a German physician, philosopher, and physiology professor, coined the word enzyme to indicate a biocatalyst outside the living cell. Enzymes are “living sparks,” a delicate animated force needed for life and every chemical action and reaction in the body, as well as in plants and animals.
Enzymes are made of tiny proteins, or amino acids. Enzymes help synthesize, join together, and duplicate entire chains of amino acids. Minerals, vitamins, and hormones cannot work without their presence. Breathing, blinking, circulation, sleeping, eating, digestion, nutrient absorption, thinking, moving, working, growing, blood coagulation, immunity, dreaming, sexual activity, excitement, reproduction, and sensory perception are all dependent on metabolic enzymes.
The three main sources of enzymes
The three main sources of enzymes include food enzymes, digestive enzymes and metabolic enzymes.
Enzymes that we ingest are called exogenous enzymes, meaning they come from an outside source. Exogenous enzymes help in the digestion of the foods in which they are contained. Light, heat, and pressure can deactivate them. In fact, enzymes begin being destroyed at temperatures exceeding 114 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, they are destroyed in all cooked foods. When raw food is consumed, its enzymes assist in the preliminary digestive process, so that a large portion of the meal is partially digested before it reaches the lower stomach, and fewer endogenous enzymes and acids are needed.
For years nutritionists were taught that exogenous enzymes had no more value than their amino acid content, because stomach acid would break down the enzymes before they could be absorbed. That is no longer believed. When food is consumed, acid secretion is very low for the first thirty minutes at least. As food sits in the upper section of the stomach, the exogenous enzymes aid in their own digestion, which enables the body to do less work later. After 30 to 45 minutes, the bottom portion of the stomach opens, and the body secretes endogenous enzymes and acids. Yet, even here, exogenous enzymes are not inactivated until the acid level becomes prohibitive (which takes up to an hour). Therefore, enzymes do survive many aspects of digestion.
Enzymes made by the human body are endogenous and also referred to as digestive enzymes. They use nutrients from food, which get absorbed by the blood stream to repair the body and remove worn-out material. They operate in all tissues, organs, and cells and are essential for all bodily activity. These occur naturally in the body, are produced mainly in the pancreas, and to some degree in the stomach and small intestines. Their function is to break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins into more available nutrients.
A decrease in the quantity and quality of our endogenous enzymes is a natural result of aging. However, the typical Western lifestyle depletes the body of enzymes, thus rushing us headlong toward premature aging. Cooked food, alcohol, drugs, tobacco, carcinogenic exposure, radiation, excessive sunlight, chlorine, fluoride, many medications, and stimulants draw enzymes from our limited endogenous supply, as the body must produce more endogenous enzymes in order to process those substances.
Examples of digestive enzymes include:
Protease: breaks down protein chains into smaller amino acid chains and finally into individual amino acids. Proteases are found in the stomach and small intestines and include trypsin, chymotrypsin, peptidases, elastases, and cathepsins. Proteases are inhibited by alkaline factors such as sugars, starches, and fats.
Amylolytic enzymes (also known as amylases) are found in high concentrations in the mouth, saliva, and small intestines. Amylases help digest carbohydrates, including sucrose, maltose, and fructose.
Lipolytic enzymes (also known as lipases) are produced by the gastric juices of the stomach lining and the small intestines. Lipases digest fats, including triglycerides, phospholipids, and sterols such as cholesterol by converting them into fatty acids and glycerol. Lipases are found in high levels in mother’s milk but not in pasteurized milk or canned formulas, as pasteurization destroys lipases. Without lipases, fats are hard to digest and more likely to cause weight gain.
Lactase: breaks down milk sugars
Cellulase breaks down the bonds that occur in fibrous foods.
Enzymes cannot be synthetically reproduced. (Most of the pharmaceutical enzymes available are derived from pigs’ pancreas, but can also be plant based, often from the aspergillus fungus grown on soy or barley cultures, whose residues are removed before being sold as enzyme supplements.
We now know that most disorders are inflammatory in nature. Almost every disorder with an itis ending indicates inflammation of that part of the body, such as sinusitis, colitis, and arthritis. Enzymes reduce inflammation. Decreased enzyme activity has been found to contribute to chronic conditions such as allergies, arthritis, colitis, skin disease, diabetes, and cancer. It also results in weight gain, lethargy, inflammation, digestive impairment, and loss of skin elasticity and muscle tone—all symptoms of aging.
In 1946, Dr. James Summer, winner of the Nobel Prize, claimed that the “middle-aged feeling” was due to diminished enzymes. The work of Dr. Edward Howell, author of Enzyme Nutrition offered proof of this theory; Dr. Howell said that by age fifty, people usually have only 30 percent of their endogenous enzymes left.
Enzyme therapy has been used to treat arthritis, autism, autoimmune disorders, bruises, contusions, cystic fibrosis, fat intolerance, inflammation, multiple sclerosis, pain, pancreatic insufficiency, shingles, sports injuries, varicose veins, and viruses. Enzymes are the enemy of cancer; they break away cancer cells’ protective fibrin, make the cells less sticky (thus preventing metastasis), and alert the immune system to their presence. To run out of enzymes is death.
Over 3,000 enzymes have so far been identified, and researchers believe that many thousands more may yet be discovered. Including more raw enzyme rich raw foods and possibly adding an enzyme supplement can help in achieving ultimate health.