Whole Foods, July 2007
Raw foods and enzymes supplementation may be the key to optimal health.
Enzymes have been under a keen scientific eye since the early 1900s. Even with a century's worth of information, however, we still have much to learn. One thing is certain, though: Life, as we know it, would not exist without them.
Enzymes are made up of a group of amino acids, and can also be called proteins. Some experts, notes Tom Bohager in his book Enzymes: What the Experts Know, "refer to enzymes as unique proteins that are biologically active or contain energy. It is this energy that makes it possible for enzymes to perform the work of life (1)." This is why he believes that enzymes should not be in the same category as all other proteins.
In particular, they work as catalysts of biochemical reactions in the body. A catalyst is a substance that accelerates a chemical reaction. Bohager gives the example of a fire burning faster when it is fanned. The air, in this case, would be the catalyst.
The biochemical reactions that enzymes catalyze in the body, many of which are essential, "would either happen very slowly or not occur at all without enzymes," explains Karen DeFelice, in her book Enzymes for Autism and Other Neurological Conditions (2).
Bohager adds, "Enzymes are responsible for the digestion of food, the assimilation of the nutrients found in food, the elimination of the non-essential and toxic ingredients, and with rare exception, every single reaction that takes place in every living cell." This fact, he says, makes life without enzymes impossible.
It is important to inform consumers of just how crucial enzymes are to health, because most do not realize their impact to the body's systems. It's simple; all of the body's functions require energy and energy cannot be used or produced without enzymes.
Further, each enzyme in the body has a specific job, and no two are alike, as far as nutrition goes, however, there are mainly three categories of interest, says Bohager: Protease - breaks down proteins. Lipase - breaks down lipids (fats). Amylase - breaks down carbohydrates; and Cellulase, a type of amylase, breaks down cellulose (fiber).
Within these categories, however, there are thousands of different enzymes. The body can manufacture all of them with the exception of cellulose, and this is why it is sometimes separated into its own category. It is important to know, however, that just because the body can produce enzymes, doesn't mean that we have enough for optimal health.
Dr. Edward Howell, while researching enzymes and enzyme therapy, found that the body has the ability to produce only a finite number of enzymes in a lifetime. An article titled "Your Enzyme Potential," provided by Enzymedica, based in Port Charlotte, FL, discusses his concept of enzyme potential. It says, "Studies dating from the 1940s prove that this ability varies in each of us and is dependent on our individual DNA. This enzyme-making potential gives our body's organs the ability to produce either metabolic enzymes or digestive enzymes (3)."
Digestive Enzymes. Out of these two main types of enzymes that our bodies make, digestive enzymes are the most widely known. Joyce Luteyn, M.D., in an article titled "Quit Your Belly-Aching with Probiotics and Enzymes" featured in the March/April 2007 issue of Total Health magazine, writes, "As a primary health physician with a diverse patient population, I see gastrointestinal complaints several times per day, and they are a very common cause of acute and chronic health problems in patients of all ages." Further, she says, "Irritable bowel syndrome, a common and frequently misunderstood motility disorder of the intestines, alone is one of the greatest causes of work loss in the United States (4)."
Symptoms and conditions such as these, notes DicQui Fuller, Ph.D., D.Sc., author The Healing Power of Enzymes, are indicators of an enzyme deficiency. Fuller adds, "The importance of proper digestion is mind boggling. Every function must be perfectly synchronized with every other function. When we lack a particular enzyme, vitamin or mineral, the resulting imbalance causes disease (5)."
Enzymes, in particular, play a crucial role in proper digestion. In fact, digestion would not be possible without them. The biological activity, or energy in enzymes, is what "enables the enzymes to beak down or digest proteins, fats and carbohydrates into their simplest components (amino acids, essential fats and sugars)," explains Bohager. "Enzymes also assist in the extraction of vitamins and minerals. Then the beneficial components are delivered to trillions of cells throughout the body, while those that are not essential or perhaps toxic are escorted out of the body (1)."
Metabolic Enzymes. Metabolic enzymes, unlike digestive enzymes, can only be produced within the body. Bohager notes tat most people are not familiar with them because of this reason. Their purpose in the body's processes, however, is essential. "They have been called the spark of life, the energy of life, and the vitality of life," says Bohager. This is because "they are the enzymes that make biochemical reactions possible within the cells for detoxification and energy production (1)."
He explains though, that the pancreas, liver and gallbladder play a key role in determining the amount of metabolic enzymes the body will produce. Another fator in the production of metabolic enzymes is that digestion takes precedence in nearly all of the body's processes. "over the years, we use up so much of our enzyme potential making the digestive enzymes necessary to digest our food." This supply begins to run short with age and our "ability to keep up with the digestive enzyme requirement begins to suffer," says Enzymedica. Moreover, our metabolic enzyme count also begins to suffer because our body is using its enzymes potential to produce digestive enzymes rather than metabolic enzymes (3).
Bohager notes that Howell's theory of enzyme potential has caused debate. "When the theory suggests that there is a borrowing of one type of enzyme, such as metabolic, to serve digestively, the theory runs into problems," he says. But, in favor of Howell, he says, "If we consider that life requires energy and there is only so much energy to go around, the more energy you expend digestively, the less energy you will have systematically (1)."
This trade off, if true, is not ideal since people can replenish their digestive enzyme count with raw foods and enzyme supplements, but metabolic enzymes can only be made from within. Many consumers may not know that they constantly running their enzyme count by eating cooked and processed foods.
Food Enzymes. Bohager explains, "Food enzymes are introduced to the body through the raw foods we eat. However, raw food manifests only enough enzymes to digest that particular food, not enough to be stored in the body for later use (1)" Further, when foods are cooked or processed the enzymes they supply are destroyed.
In our modern fast-food society, much of our food is enzyme damaged. Nature did not intend for us to freeze, can or cook everything we eat. Adding raw foods to your diet is an easy way to gather some needed enzymes but unless a person's diet consists of a majority of raw foods, supplementation would be beneficial.
A March 2007 article in Better Nutrition written by Vera Tweed, titled "Restore Your Digestive Health," suggests that enzyme blends that help assimilate a broad spectrum of nutrients are the most beneficial (6). She lists key digestive enzymes to look out for: Anylase, Bromelain, Cathepsin, Cellulase, Glucoamylase, Invertase, Lactase, Lipase, Papain, Pectinase, Protease
Giving consumers guidance on enzyme blends will not only give them a better understanding of how they work, but will also help them pick a product that is right for them. DeFelice gives the illustrative example of a lock and key. "Think of an assortment of enzymes as keys on the key ring. Each specific enzyme (key) works in one specific way on one specific substrate (the lock). She goes onto say that if you don't have the right "key," the "lock" wont' open no matter how many enzymes you have (2). Researching different enzymes will give you and your customers a better understanding of which keys open which locks.
THE COMPLETE PACKAGE
It is clear that enzymes are involved a great deal in the digestive process, but they are obviously responsible for much more than just settling bellyaches. Energy production, for instance, is especially important when dealing with the immune system. Freeing up systemic energy, DeFelice says, will help balance the immune function. "Remember," she says, "that by some estimates the act of digestion consumes as much as 80% of our daily energy (2)."
Going further into energy production is the topic of physical fitness. Keeping fit and healthy must involve enzymes that will deliver nutrients throughout the body. Bohager says, "Often there is a tendency to fill the body with vitamins, proteins and specialty supplements that lack the necessary enzymes to deliver these essential nutrients in their proper amounts to their proper places (1)."
DeFelice, through her research and observation, has found that enzymes can also be extremely beneficial in dealing with neurological problems such as autism, ADHD, migraines and more. She explains that an extensive nerve network (the enteric nervous system) runs along the entire gastrointestinal tract. "So anything that affects the gut directly affects the nerves," she says. "This leads to digestive enzymes having a direct impact on neurology (2)." Also supporting this theory is DeFelice's observance of a correlation between individuals with digestive problems and neurological difficulties.
Dr. Anthony Cichoke, in his book Enzymes and Enzyme Therapy also speaks of enzymes and enzyme therapy being used in cases of arthritis, HIV/AIDS, skincare and breast and prostate cancers. He says, "Our body's ability to function, to repair when injured, and to ward off disease is directly related to the strength and numbers of our enzymes (7)." So when you boil it down, enzymes take part in all of the body's functions and research into their specific benefits is still advancing.