Learn More About Enzymes
What are enzymes?
According to dictionary.com, enzymes are "any of various proteins, such as pepsin, originating from living cells and capable of producing certain chemical changes in organic substances by catalytic action, as in digestion." This definition takes a very broad look at enzymes and what they are in the overall scheme of things. Enzymes are paramount in cellular processes such as digestion. They facilitate chemical processes with great speed and precision, and enzymes are highly specific to their function.
Pepsin for instance, is an enzyme produced in your pancreas, which then travels to the stomach where it helps to break down proteins into more digestible absorbable pieces. Enzymes are basically little tool sets used by the body for specific functions, and just like a tool they can perform their tasks without wearing down or breaking easily.
Enzymes fall into two broad categories, one being metabolic enzymes and the other being digestive enzymes. Metabolic enzymes facilitate processes within your cells, such as the breakdown of a free radical known as hydrogen peroxide by an enzyme called catalase. These intracellular enzymes also facilitate energy production and require such cofactors as vitamin B, vitamin C and other vitamin cofactors to complete their tasks. Digestive enzymes are the other broad category. They are usually produced in the pancreas and are absolutely required for the proper breakdown and absorption of food during digestion.
Why are enzyme supplements important?
Enzymes are becoming more important due to increased understanding about their functions and roles, as well as their fragile nature. A characteristic of this fragile nature is their susceptibility to heat. Temperatures above 120°F start to denature and unravel enzymes, causing permanent damage. After an enzyme has been destroyed it is useless. As our food becomes more processed, and we rely on quick rather than nutritious meals, the enzyme content of this diet exponentially decreases. Age also plays a factor in the body's own decreased ability to produce enough enzymes to keep up with the demanding nature of today's diet.
This is precisely the reason why enzymes are so important, because the food we eat is largely enzyme devoid. Take for instance, a typical steak dinner, including a salad and baked potato. The salad would retain most of its enzymes due to its raw edibility. The baked potato and steak would have all of their enzymes virtually destroyed by the heat involved in their preparation. The steak and potato would require your body to increase its enzyme production as a means of dealing with the digestion of these two foods.
Let us now run the same scenario, only this time, our herbivore has taken an enzyme supplement 5 to 30 minutes before he or she consumed the meal. The food enters the stomach and the body, wanting to remain relatively in balance the body realises that the proper enzymes are already available for digestion and does not place a rush order for enzymes with the pancreas. Your pancreas can now focus on other tasks that would otherwise go on the back burner.
A more detailed look at enzymes
Have you ever heard of the phrase lactose intolerant? This is a label given to people who cannot efficiently process lactose, a complex sugar found in dairy products. Often these people either avoid dairy products or take the enzyme lactase before eating dairy products. By taking the enzyme orally, you can boost your body's natural ability to process lactose into simpler, more absorbable sugars. Let's take a look at some of the most common enzymes available on the market:
- Amylase refers to a group of enzymes which break down sugars and starches.
- Betaine is responsible for the digestion of fats and proteins
- Bromelain is an enzyme capable of digesting protein
- Cellulase helps to break down plant cell walls
- Invertase is an enzyme that helps break down sugars
- Lactase is required to break down lactose (a primary sugar found in milk)
- Lipase is the enzyme required to break down fats and lipids
- Maltase is an enzyme that breaks down disaccharide maltose to the simple sugar form
- Ox Bile extract helps improves bile secretion which helps ease digestion
- Protease refers to a group of enzymes whose function it is to break down proteins
- Pepsin helps digests protein
- Trypsin aids in protein digestion
Your own personal enzyme production is a factor of your age and genetics. Some telltale signs that you are not producing the right amount of enzymes include:
- Irritable Bowel
People that have pancreatic disorders, indigestion, cystic fibrosis, and Crohn's disease can also benefit from enzyme supplementation.
What is the usual dosage, and are they safe?
Suggested dosing is provided by the particular supplement purchased and enzymes are largely considered safe. Children with cystic fibrosis, for an unknown reason, have suffered deleterious effects due to the consumption of digestive enzymes. It also is very strongly recommended that you stay within the suggested servings labeled on the particular supplement you’re using. Keep in mind that you are ingesting enzymes that can break down protein, fats and carbohydrates.
If you decide to take far more than the recommended dose you could cause harm to your digestive tract. These possible problems do not mean that enzymes should be feared. However, they should be respected and used as directed. Keep in mind that your own body naturally produces these enzymes anyway. Consider supplementation due to the enzyme devoid food that we are consuming, as well as factors such as age and genetics.