Enzymes, Part 1 ~ Broad-Spectrum Digestive Support
Enzymes, Part 1 ~ Broad-Spectrum Digestive Support
“Enzymes are substances that make life possible. They are needed for every chemical reaction that takes place in the human body. They are the manual ‘workers’ that build the body from proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, just as construction workers build our homes.”— Dr. Edward Howell, Enzyme Nutrition: The Food Enzyme Concept, 1985
Enzymes can be a complex, confusing subject and hopefully we will be able to educate our readers on these vital “sparks of life.” This edition of Evergreen’s newsletter will focus on digestive enzymes.
What are Enzymes?
Enzymes are energized protein molecules which stimulate chemical reactions throughout the body. There are three broad categories of enzymes:
- FOOD ENZYMES are contained in all raw food and begin working in the mouth and upper portion of the stomach before the body begins its own digestive process. All raw foods contain only enough enzymes to digest that particular food. The cooking and processing of food destroys all of its enzymes. Because of these reasons, our bodies must produce the majority of the digestive enzymes we require.
- DIGESTIVE ENZYMES are secreted along the digestive tract to break food down into nutrients and waste. This allows nutrients to be absorbed into the bloodstream. They begin their work at least 30-60 minutes after eating.
- METABOLIC ENZYMES are made in the body and are responsible for running all organs, tissues and cells. Metabolic enzymes are produced by our cells, liver, pancreas, gallbladder and other organs.
Digestion, absorption and elimination require digestive enzymes. The body’s production of digestive enzymes may be compromised by many factors, including diet, age and lifestyle. Typically the modern American diet is very low in enzymes from food due to processing and cooking. In addition, a diet too high in simple sugars, animal proteins and fats will exacerbate problems. Enzymes in the body are rapidly depleted metabolizing these foods. Because of a lack of functioning enzymes, nutrients are not properly absorbed and undigested food may ferment in the intestines, rather than being efficiently eliminated. These toxins may then stress the liver and kidneys. According to Dr. Howell, the leading researcher on (plant and food) enzymes, “we see that diets deficient in enzymes cause a 30% reduction in lifespan.”
Fortunately, Enzyme Supplements are Available
Human digestive enzymes, produced mainly in the pancreas, include pepsin, trypsin, lipase, protease and salivary amylase or ptyalin (pronounced TIE-len) and other amylases. Our bodies do not make cellulase, an enzyme necessary for the digestion of fiber, so it must come from the raw foods we eat.
Supplemental digestive enzymes may alleviate many common digestive issues, including indigestion and heartburn. In addition, they may alleviate allergies due to minimizing the presence of antigens in the form of incompletely digested proteins in foods.
Various Kinds of Digestive Enzymes
Pancreatin as a supplement comes from an animal source. It contains the three main classes of digestive enzymes: proteases for protein digestion, amylases for carbohydrate digestion and lipases for fat digestion.
Protease breaks down proteins into amino acids, which are essential for the construction of enzymes, cells and hormones. There are several kinds of protease including:
- Pepsin is a proteolytic (protein-digesting) enzyme derived from porcine stomach and is the main component in gastric juices.
- Bromelain and Papain come from the pineapple and papaya, respectively, and are also proteolytic enzymes. They will not assist in carbohydrate and fat digestion.
Lipase breaks down fats (lipids) and is essential for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. It is also used to build cell membranes and maintain a healthy balance of triglycerides and cholesterol.
Enzymes that break down starches and sugars help provide energy to fuel the body as it works.
Amylase is needed for the digestion of carbohydrates and assists in the production of energy. A deficiency may result in allergies and acidosis.
Cellulase breaks down fiber membranes to free locked-in nutrients. It increases absorption of plant foods and protects against Candida.
Lactase breaks down lactose (milk sugar) from dairy products. Two-thirds of the world population do not produce lactase. Cramps, gas and diarrhea are often caused by the inability to digest lactose.
Sucrase breaks down sucrose, a carbohydrate found in sugar. Excessive sucrose and salt in our diet affect the production of sucrase, resulting in weakening of white blood cells.
A broad-spectrum digestive enzyme supplement will contain the three main classes of enzymes mentioned above. In addition there may be enzymes for lactose and gluten/casein digestion, as well as specific enzymes for hard-to-digest legumes and cruciferous vegetables. Some products will contain animal-source enzymes such as pancreatin or pepsin. There are also many vegan plant-sourced enzyme supplements available.
How are Enzymes Measured?
Some confusion arises from the way in which enzymes are measured. Generally they are not measured by a weight, such as milligrams, in the way herbs or minerals are measured. Weight measurements alone do not provide enough information to determine enzyme potency from one product to another. Enzymes are measured by their potency or “activity.” This may depend upon such factors as the type of compound the enzyme can break down (substrate). For example, a protease may be measured by “GDU” which stands for gelatin-digesting units.
Which Enzyme Do I Need?
Evergreen Nutrition has a large selection of digestive enzymes in our digestive health section. From Florida-based Enzymedica comes a complete line of all-vegan products ranging from several strengths of broad-spectrum blends to targeted support for specific needs. Their unique Thera-blend formulas assure maximum enzyme activity throughout the various pHs of the digestive tract.
Digest Gold is a staff favorite and with good reason. It represents the highest potency digestive enzyme blend on the market, to assist people suffering from chronic issues. When stress is reduced to the system responsible for breaking down and assimilating foods, more energy and thus more metabolic enzymes are made available to other systems of the body for overall health. For your convenience, it is also available as Digest Gold + Probiotics. Next in line is Digest, a high potency, multiple-enzyme formula and for those who only need a little help, there is Digest Basic. For children, Enzymedica offers chewable Kid’s Digest in tasty fruit punch flavor. All of these broad-spectrum enzymes aid the digestion of food while reducing the body’s need to produce digestive enzymes.
For more specialized needs, Digest Spectrum is designed to address all major food intolerances. Included in this blend is support for digestion of gluten, casein (milk protein), lactose and phenols. For people with severe gluten intolerance or celiac disease, GlutenEase is formulated using a unique combination of proteases that is high in DPP-IV activity to assist in breaking down gluten and gliadin as well as casein. This product is ideal for cross-contamination support and is also available as GlutenEase Extra Strength. Lypo Gold contains enzymes for the whole meal but also contains the highest available potency of an exclusive lipase blend to digest fat. It is helpful for those people without gallbladders and also helps the body absorb vitamins A, E, D and K, the fat-soluble vitamins. And last but not least, Lacto is for breaking down lactose (milk sugar) and can be helpful for those with lactose intolerance.
Our own Evergreen Nutrition label offers convenience with our Chewable Peppermint Enzyme, a complete, plant-based enzyme complex. Also available is Plant-Based Enzyme Complex with Herbs which, in addition to enzymes, includes several herbs that have been used traditionally to support the digestive process. Both products are gluten free and vegan and Evergreen Club members get an additional 15% off.
Our next newsletter will focus on enzymes for inflammation, specifically the powerful proteolytics. Stay tuned.
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