The importance of enzymes
Enzymes assist with the digestion of food, the absorption of nutrients, and the delivery of those nutrients throughout the body. Every single metabolic function- from your stamina, your energy level, your ability to utilize vitamins and minerals, to your body’s immune system will all be governed by enzymes.
The body cannot absorb nutrients from food unless there are sufficient digestive enzymes available to break them down.
Digestive enzymes are secreted by the pancreas into the small intestine where each is responsible for breaking down a specific compound. There are eight primary digestive enzymes:
- Lipase: helps digest fats.
- Amylase: breaks down starch molecules into more absorbable sugars.
- Proteases: breaks protein molecules into single amino acids.
- Cellulase: breaks down fiber
- Maltase: converts complex sugars from grains into glucose
- Lactase: digests milk sugar (lactose)
- Phytase: helps with overall digestion
- Sucrase: digests sugars
The process of digestion begins in your mouth starting with the saliva. This is where enzymes (primarily amylase) begin to break down carbohydrates. As food passes into your stomach, the proteins are broken up by the protease enzyme. From there, the food passes into your small intestine, where lipase breaks down the fats, and amylase finishes off the carbohydrates. After the food has been broken down sufficiently, the nutrients will be absorbed and transported through the blood stream with the help of enzymatic activity.
Video on the role of enzymes during the digestive process
There are thousands of different enzymes at work in your body
Digestion begins with very your first bite. Chewing and mixing the food with saliva activates enzymes so they can assist in the job of digestion. When the food that you eat contain sufficient amounts of their own enzymes that can help take some of the work load away from your pancreas. Unfortunately cooking your food destroys most of them.
When we eat foods that are cooked and depleted of their own enzymes your body must make up the difference by directing enzymes to help in the digestive process. This is an expensive proposition as enzyme production consumes a lot of energy. If your body is responsible for supplying the enzymes that are used in saliva, gastric, pancreatic, and intestinal fluids, it must curtail enzyme production that could be used for other purposes. Thus, other tissues and organs, including the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, and muscles won’t get all the enzymes that they need to function well and repair themselves. This enzyme “relocation” and the resulting deficiency that can occur may set the stage for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and many other chronic health problems.
Losing enzymes as we age – The body progressively loses the ability to produce enzymes, with major drops occurring roughly every ten years of life. At the beginning this may not be noticeable, however as this progresses, you may soon discover that you cannot tolerate certain foods like you did before. This may also be accompanied by feelings of reduced stamina, heartburn, gas, constipation, bloating, allergies, ulcers and a general lack of energy.
Think of your body’s enzyme supply as a limited bank account – by making deposits into your enzyme stores instead of the constant withdrawals (being the norm for most people eating the Standard American Diet) you will extend the life of this essential resource. Researcher Dr. Edward Howell spent his entire professional life studying enzymes. He believed you were born with a limited enzyme-producing capacity, and that your life expectancy depends on how well you preserve your “enzyme potential.” His theory is that if you don’t get enough enzymes from the food you eat, then a great strain is placed on your digestive system to “pick up the slack,” i.e., produce enough enzymes to accomplish the task. A deficiency in digestive enzymes then reduces the availability of your metabolic enzymes. Howell believed this metabolic enzyme deficit is at the root of most chronic health problems. Link to Dr Edward Howell’s research
Five ways to increase your enzyme potential:
- Increase your intake of raw, living foods- by eating raw foods, you supply your body with the amino acids and the enzyme co-factors that are needed to help boost your own natural enzyme production.
- Eat fewer calories- the average person spends about 80 percent of their available energy digesting food, so less food consumed = less energy expended.
- Chew your food thoroughly- chewing stimulates the production of saliva. The more time you spend chewing, the longer the enzymes in your saliva have to get to work, lessening the workload of your stomach and small intestine.
- Avoid chewing gum- as it tricks your body into believing it is digesting something so it pumps out digestive enzymes unnecessarily wasting this precious resource.
- Take digestive enzymes with your meals.
Soaking and sprouting increases the enzyme content.
Nutritional inhibitors and toxic substances found in nuts, grains, and seeds can be minimized or eliminated by soaking and sprouting. These compounds are enzyme inhibitors such as phytates (phytic acid), polyphenols (tannins), and goitrogens which protect the plants from predators. Soaking neutralizes the enzyme inhibitors that are present, and encourages the production of numerous beneficial enzymes. The action of these enzymes also increases the amount of many vitamins, especially B vitamins.
Sprouting- for an inexpensive way to obtain fresh, nutrient-dense food, try sprouting (or germinating seeds). Sprouts are rich with vitamins, minerals, proteins, and enzymes and deliver them in a form which is easily assimilated and digested. Since sprouts are live foods, they will continue to grow slowly, and their vitamin content will actually increase after you harvest them. Compare this with store-bought vegetables and fruits, which start losing their vitamin content as soon as they’re picked. Interestingly, germination initiates a chemical transformation in the seed grains that naturally neutralizes the phytates (enzyme inhibitors), thus making them super healthy. Sprouting is a very effective way to add raw foods to your diet. If you can supply a jar, some screen or netting, and rinse the sprouts twice a day, you can grow delicious, organic sprouts in less than a week.
Growing your own sprouts means having access to your own private supply of fresh organic vegetables every day from a small piece of counter space and a little bit of effort. These seeds multiply up to fifteen times their original weight. Excellent sprouting choices include alfalfa, almonds, broccoli, cabbage, fenugreek, garbanzos, lentils, mung, peas, radish, red clover, and sunflower seeds. Be sure to refrigerate your completed sprouts and ideally you want to eat them very soon after you pick them. You can find Kitchen Seed Sprouter online.
Other enzyme-rich foods include:
- Raw honey (the enzymes actually come from the bee’s saliva)
- Bee pollen
- raw dairy
- raw pastured eggs- you can add them into your smoothies
- juicing wheatgrass
- fresh coconut water
- naturally fermented foods
Eat live foods and drink enzyme-rich beverages
- Water Kefir is made from sugary water, coconut water and fruit juice and then allowed to ferment. This breaks down the sugar leaving an enzyme-rich probiotic beverage.
- Milk Kefir – is produced by adding kefir grains to goat or sheep’s milk and letting the mixture ferment for a day. The fermentation of milk by the bacteria and yeasts in kefir starter breaks down lactose in the milk. That’s why kefir is suitable for those who are otherwise lactose intolerant
- Kombucha Tea – is a fermented tea beverage that is rich in many of the enzymes and bacterial acids your body produces and/or uses to detox your system, thus reducing your pancreatic load and easing the burden on your liver.
- Including fermented vegetables in your diet
How to make a water kefir
Video on how to make your own fermented vegetables. Read more about that process here.
How to choose a quality digestive enzyme:
Taking a digestive enzyme with your meals and when you take your supplements will help with the proper digestion and assimilation of nutrients throughout the body, allowing for a higher functioning metabolism and immune system. Some suggestions for finding quality brands are:
- Those manufactured by a reputable company.
- Do not have artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners.
- Contains a broad spectrum of enzymes.
- If you are a vegetarian then look for plant based enzymes.
- Always take a digestive enzyme with your multivitamin helps to ensure that they are utilized fully.