What is an Enzyme?
Without enzymes, there would be no life. Enzymes are the worker bees that make things happen.
Enzymes act as biological catalysts. They accelerate biochemical reactions within our cells and affect every function of the body, from digestion to breathing. Functionally, enzymes facilitate cellular reactions that may not otherwise occur, by lowering the threshold of energy required for those reactions to take place. Some enzymes are even capable of reversing a standard reactionary response by sufficiently lowering the required activation energy enough that the reaction favors the opposite direction.
Tens of thousands of different kinds of enzymes are believed to exist in the human body, each with a specific purpose. There are three general categories of enzymes: digestive enzymes, metabolic enzymes, and food or plant enzymes. The digestive enzymes category consists of the enzymes produced within your own body to help break down food into its basic components for digestion. Metabolic enzymes are found throughout our entire body – in our organs, bones, blood, and even within the cells that produce them. They function in support of our heart, lungs, kidneys and brain. Food and plant enzymes are naturally present in raw food. They generally serve the same function as digestive enzymes, but these are the enzymes that we may take in through our diets, as opposed to the ones our bodies produce. We can obtain these enzymes through eating fresh, raw and uncooked foods like fruits, vegetables, eggs, unpasteurized dairy, meat and fish.
The modern diet generally revolves around processed and cooked food, but these processes destroy the naturally occurring enzymes contained in the food. This places a heavy burden on our bodies to subsidize the enzyme requirement for breaking down that food.
Raw food contains the necessary proportion and types of enzymes required to digest itself. This remains one of the biggest benefits of a diet centered around raw food. The major components of the food (sugar, protein, starch, fat) and their respective caloric amounts determine what type and quantity of enzymes are also present. For example, the enzyme amylase is found in high carbohydrate fruits like apples and peaches. Fruits that are high in fat, such as avocados, contain the enzyme lipase.
Below, we will focus on enzymes we obtain from food sources (animal, plant and fungal) and their respective usefulness.
There is a homeopathic theory called the “Law of Similars” which some believe may apply to animal sourced enzymes. Although the source of animal-based enzymes we consume don’t originate from a human body, it is thought they may be similar enough that the human body might do a better job recognizing and utilizing them. However, it is important to note that this is merely a theory.
Reliance on obtaining digestive enzymes from animal sources is challenging, because a majority of the meat and other animal byproducts we consume are processed, pasteurized and/or cooked, which destroys the natural enzymes. For vegetarians or vegans, animal enzymes are hardly an option, and consuming raw meat or eggs is a dangerous endeavor, due to the risk of bacterial contamination.
From a digestive perspective, there are several important disadvantages associated with animal-based enzyme sources. Temperature sensitivity is one of these. The human body does not generally have the same temperature as the animal host of these enzymes, which can be destructive to the enzyme upon entering the gastrointestinal tract.
Animal-based enzymes also function exclusively within a limited pH level range, which renders them fairly ineffective in the gut. They become unstable in a low pH level (acidic) environment, resulting in the enzyme being destroyed before it can perform its function. This pretty much eliminates the stomach as an operational environment. As a result, to take in animal enzymes, they are better delivered into the body within a protective enteric (polymer) coating capable of withstanding the stomach’s acidity. This means that the enzymes don’t become available to the body until they reach the small intestines. The most common type of animal enzymes used for dietary supplementation are pancreatic enzymes. However, for the reasons outlined above, the general consensus is the best sources of enzymes are plant and fungal.
Fruits and vegetables are commonly consumed in their raw, natural form. This alleviates the overarching issue with animal-based enzymes by preserving the integrity of the enzymes themselves. Additionally, plant-based digestive enzymes are effective over a broad scope of pH levels. This range is generally believed to be between 3.0 and 9.0, which is highly compatible with the human gastrointestinal environment. As a result, plant-based enzymes are well-suited for supporting comprehensive digestive health.
Four important enzymes often found in plants are protease, amylase, lipase and cellulose. Protease breaks down protein that can be present in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese and nuts. Amylase assists your body with the breakdown and subsequent absorption of carbohydrates and starches. Lipase aids the digestion of fat. When your diet includes lipase-rich foods, it eases the production burden on the gall bladder, liver and pancreas. Cellulase is present in many fruits and vegetables, and it breaks down food fibers, which increases their nutritional value to our bodies. The presence of cellulase in plant-based sources is important, because it is not naturally present in the human body.
Fruits and vegetables are an ideal source for enzymes. They are enzyme-rich and easily consumed without needing to be cooked or processed, ultimately preserving the full functionality of the enzymes.
Fungal Enzymes have numerous uses. They are critical in the production and preparation of many food products, like beer, soy sauce, miso, baked goods, dairy and processed fruit. One of the oldest known applications is the role of yeast in alcohol fermentation. Fungal enzymes are commonly produced from a fungal source called Aspergillus. For example, Aspergillus oryzae is used in the preparation of sake and soy sauce, while Aspergillus sojae is also used in soy sauce preparation, as well as in miso soup.
One of the most popular and well known culinary fungi is the mushroom. Some mushroom species produce enzymes, including hydrolases, esterases, and phenol oxidases. Fungi and their enzymes can also be found in yeast spreads and certain types of cheeses, such as Camembert and blue cheeses.
Fungi can contain a variety of enzymes, such as protease, amylase, lipase, cellulase and tilactase (supports lactose absorption). Like plant enzymes, fungal enzymes are acid stable and can survive within the pH range of the stomach. They are also suitable for a vegetarian diet, unlike animal-sourced enzymes.
In summary, if you’re interested in increasing your enzyme intake efficiently, the usefulness of plant-sourced and fungal-sourced enzymes outweighs that of animal-sourced enzymes.
To support general digestive health, try supplementing with Enzymedica Digest Chewables, Enzymedica Digest, Enzymedica Digest Basic +Probiotics, Enzymedica Digest Basic, EnzymedicaDigest Gold +Probiotics, or Enzymedica Digest Gold with ATPro.
To support with digestion of a high fat diet like the ketogenic diet, try supplementing with Enzymedica Lypo Gold.
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