Many of us appreciate the concept of taking vitamins and minerals to enhance health. Because our food supply is so devoid of nutrients, we recognize the need to supplement. Few of us, however, realize the importance of taking enzymes.
Enzymes are truly the source of life. Cells have just so much energy in a lifetime. When that energy is compromised, we get sick or die. Enzymes are our "sparkplugs". They serve as catalysts. A catalyst is any substance that accelerates chemical reactions on a cellular level and lowers the energy needed for a reaction to take place. These crucial reactions would not happen were it not for enzymes. Therefore, enzymes dramatically influence all functions of the body including immune function, digestion, quality of life and even how long we will live. All living systems control activity through enzymes and every living thing relies on them for life.
Just like proteins, enzymes are made up of amino acids. They are not consumed during their chemical activity and are utilized again and again. It is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of reactions that take place in our trillions of cells every second and that our health and longevity are determined by them. Enzymes are required for proper vitamin and mineral function. They stimulate their chemical reactions with the help of cofactors, substances that must be present for the proper functioning of the enzyme. Minerals like magnesium and zinc serve as these cofactors. As an example, over three hundred enzymes need zinc as a cofactor for optimal function.
Scientists have identified more than 5,000 enzymes. Further research will no doubt reveal thousands more. Enzymes work by breaking things apart and they do it very quickly. Millions and millions of molecules undergo these chemical reactions in a minute. Most cellular reactions occur about a million times faster than they would without enzymes. Two significant categories for enzymes are digestive enzymes and metabolic enzymes.
Digestive enzymes help to break down our food. Although we've all heard "you are what you eat", that is not entirely accurate. In reality, you are what your body absorbs from the food you eat. Enzymes are the catalysts that allow for the digestion and assimilation of food because they have the ability to break down the nutrients in food making them available to us. In that sense enzymes are responsible for life itself.
Different digestive enzymes serve different purposes. Like snowflakes, enzymes are relatively unique to each reaction and different enzymes catalyze different reactions. Think of enzymes as tools. You wouldn't eat broth with a fork. The better choice of tool would be a soup spoon. Mother Nature has supplied us with enzymes that break down different types of food. It is like having the correct key to open a particular door in order to have access to the house.
The chicken sandwich with pickles, lettuce, tomato and ketchup requires lots of different "keys" to unlock different doors. Proteases break down the chicken because it is a protein. Protein is needed for muscle and tissue repair and for making hormones and enzymes. Lipases break down the fats in the meal. Dietary fat supplies energy and is a key factor in maintaining cell membrane integrity. Without fat, we could not absorb the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, K and carotenoids. Carbohydrases break down the carbohydrates of the bread. Carbohydrates are a source of fuel and influence brain chemistry as well.
Proteins, carbohydrates and fats, known as macronutrients, feed us, feed our cells and in essence are responsible for our overall health. Significant research shows that the greater the burden on the digestive system, the greater the challenge on the immune system to function optimally. Digestive enzymes and gastric secretions decline significantly with age. As much as 50% of acid production can be compromised by age 60. Poor food choices, cooked and processed foods containing few nutrients and enzymes, along with a lack of raw foods in the diet all contribute to a challenged immune system that is less able to protect us. The subtle signs of undernutrition and malnourishment may show up as fatigue, moodiness, foggy thinking as well as the obvious heartburn and gas long before the crushing diagnosis of the major killers, heart disease and cancer.
The body always chooses digestion as its priority. This leaves little energy for the production of the metabolic enzymes required for other important cellular actions. Production of protease, necessary for proper immune function, actually decreases and leaves the immune system compromised and less active. Whatever energy is necessary to produce these enzymes is now being directed to the production of digestive enzymes.
Digestion is the "hardest" work your body does, using 60 to 80 percent of the body's energy to digest a single meal. Breaking down the meal you just ate actually uses more energy than any other bodily function. This constant expenditure of energy leaves little available to the other important systems including cardiovascular, reproductive, neurological, and immune. Supplementing with enzymes can take the burden off the body and contribute to overall health by reducing pancreatic and digestive stress. Taking enzymes allows the body to use metabolic enzymes properly rather than for digestion.
Enzyme deficiencies can be detrimental to health because so much of our ability to repair injured tissue, stave off disease and produce energy is related to the quality and quantity of the enzymes we produce. Poor diet alone is only one factor. Illness, stress, aging, chemotherapy, injury, digestive disorders and genetics contribute to lowered enzyme levels.
Certain enzymes act as antioxidants protecting the cells from free radicals. The best known are glutathione peroxidase, superoxide dismutase, and catalase. Helping the immune system to work optimally is paramount to health because it is our immune system that defends us from bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites. If the immune system is not working properly and is underactive, we can be vulnerable to these foreign invaders. But, if the immune system is overactive we can face autoimmune disorders where the body attacks itself.
Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and Hashimoto's disease are examples of autoimmune disorders where the body's recognition mechanism does not operate properly and begins to manufacture antibodies against its own tissue and organs. Immune imbalances can play a significant role in contributing to illness. Researchers say that approximately 50 million Americans suffer from autoimmune problems. Similar malfunctions occur in the case of allergies where immune cells are produced in response to specific allergens. Enzyme supplementation has been known to aid the body's recognition and surveillance system by helping identify the intruder as non-harmful.
There are simple truths that either enhance wellness or detract from it. Making good food choices that include some raw food in the form of fruits and vegetables, support the body's mechanisms for producing both digestive and metabolic enzymes. Simply put, enzymes are the potentiators of life. They are able to aid in rebalancing all systems of the body leading to higher levels of health.