Enzymes. They govern every metabolic function in your body. Without them, most chemical reactions in cells would be too slow, creating wide-ranging effects such as diminished energy, stamina, immune system function, hormone production, and absorption of basic vitamins and nutrients. Could it be that old “middle-aged” feeling of slowing down could be related to enzyme deficiencies? Perhaps!
Keeping a healthy supply of enzymes in your body can be tough. Enzyme production naturally decreases with age, and the typical American diet of over-processed foods does not favor enzyme production. Even bad habits like standing while eating or eating on the run can deplete your enzyme supplies by straining digestion. The effects of dwindling enzymes in your body can range from mild digestive trouble to severe organ damage.
Ready for a science lesson? Enzymes are proteins made up of amino acids. There are over 5,000 known enzymes placed in one of three categories: metabolic, digestive, and food. Metabolic enzymes play a role in all bodily processes from breathing to maintenance of the immune system. They build and repair cells in the blood, tissues, and organs and help neutralize and prepare for elimination of poisons and carcinogens. Digestive enzymes are manufactured by the pancreas and are responsible for breaking down the bulk of partially-digested food from large food molecules into smaller units, which can be absorbed into the body’s cells. Food enzymes are found in raw foods and act to initiate digestion in the mouth and stomach. The trouble is, the process of cooking food destroys naturally-occurring enzymes, and the body must then rely on its own supply of digestive enzymes to carry out digestion.
If “enzyme-less” food is the norm, then your body’s enzymes become depleted more rapidly. Relying strictly on your body’s own digestive enzyme production not only impacts healthy digestion and nutrient absorption, it can also cause enlargement of your pancreas, which struggles to produce more and more enzymes for denatured foods. Eventually, your body must start “stealing” from your metabolic enzyme resources to cover basic digestive activity. Beyond creating severe nutritional deficiencies, a scarcity of the right kinds of enzymes can lead to the shrinking of other vital organs, including your brain!
Three Enzymes Critical to Digestion
To avoid such stealing, it’s important to support healthy digestive enzyme populations, including your PALs in digestion: protease, amylase, and lipase. Protease digests protein, and has been studied for decades in conjunction with immune support, inflammation, and cancer. Everything making you sick happens to be either: (a) a protein or (b) protected by protein! You see, bacteria, parasites, and fungal forms of invaders are all proteins, and viruses and cancer cells are all protected by proteins. Thus your immune system is inconstant need of protease to fight the bad guys. Amylase digests carbohydrates along with dead white blood cells. Low amylase is thought to be a factor in blood sugar imbalances, hypoglycemia, type II diabetes, carbohydrate cravings, and allergies.
Lipase digests fat and fat-soluble vitamins along with balancing fatty acids. Lipase deficiency is thought to contribute to high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and difficulty losing weight, which are all considered markers on the road to heart disease. Lipase deficiency can also affect cell permeability, preventing normal flows of nutrients into and wastes out of the body.
What Can You Do to Increase Healthy Enzyme Stores?
1. Choose enzyme-rich natural foods. Plant foods noted for exceptionally high enzyme content include: extra virgin olive oil and other unrefined oils, raw honey, grapes, figs, avocados, dates, bananas, papaya, pineapple, kiwi, and mangos.
2. Beware of enzyme inhibitors. Grains, nuts, legumes, and seeds are also rich in enzymes; however, they also contain enzyme inhibitors, which protect seeds from germinating prematurely! Raw peanuts contain an especially large amount of enzyme inhibitors; however, any seed—including potatoes and eggs (which are “seeds” of a different kind) — has enzyme inhibitors.
Unless deactivated, these enzyme inhibitors can put an even greater strain on your digestive system than cooked foods. Sprouting, soaking in warm acidic water, sour leavening, culturing, and fermenting are all methods used to deactivate enzyme inhibitors, thus making nutrients in seeds more readily available. Be gentle in your cooking techniques.
Relying more on raw foods and gentle cooking methods like lower heat and steaming helps. High-heat techniques like frying and microwaving rob foods of natural enzymes as well as vital nutrient content. Keep vitamins and minerals in healthy supply. Enzymes depend on an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals, particularly magnesium, to perform their magic. And, without trace minerals, many enzymes cannot function at all.
3. Reduce the use of digestive medications. Many over-the-counter products are acid blockers. By continually blocking gastric acid long-term, you can inhibit your body’s natural ability to break down food and get rid of waste. Additionally, these products also upset the balance of friendly bacteria and enzymes essential to healthy digestion.
4. Take supplemental enzymes. Taking an enzyme-rich supplement with meals can ensure sufficient enzymes to avoid excessive acid and to support optimal digestion and metabolic processes. Of course, you’ll want a product that includes all three PALs (protease, amylase, and lipase with activity levels proven through independent testing).
If you’re looking for some additional reading, check out the book: Enzymes & Enzyme Therapy: How to Jump-Start Your Way to Lifelong Good Health by Dr. Anthony J. Cichoke, and preface by Abram Hoffer, M.D., Ph.D.
Fast fact: Dr. Hoffer is famous for his use of “orthomolecular” medicine, otherwise known as treating various health conditions through nutrition. He even collaborated with Linus Pauling once upon a time!