An enzyme is basically a protein molecule, which acts as a catalyst to speed up a reaction. Think of an enzyme like a spark plug which initiates every reaction that occurs in the body. Some of the reactions which occur because of enzymes are nerve impulses, digestion of food, and detoxification. Each enzyme has a specific function. There are three primary categories of enzymes: metabolic, digestive, and food enzymes.
Although there are estimated to be between 40000 – 50000 enzymes present in human cells, only 24 of those are related to digestion. Of these 24 the three main digestive enzymes are proteases, amylases, and lipases. Proteases are enzymes which help to digest proteins, amylases for carbohydrates, and lipases for fats. These enzymes help to break down food so that the nutrients can be extracted and distributed throughout the body.
Our bodies naturally produce the enzymes that we need for digestion. However, according to the Law of Adaptive Secretion we only secrete enough enzymes to digest a particular food. This means that if we eat foods which are high in enzymes our bodies won’t have to secrete additional enzymes to aid in digestion. This can be very important because as we age or during an illness enzyme production declines until we have fewer and fewer enzymes to do the work needed for proper digestion. Also, when we cook, microwave or irradiate food it destroys or denatures these enzymes so that they are no longer useful. In order to help extend the life of many fruits and vegetables, they are actually sprayed with enzyme inhibitors. Therefore, if we eat foods that are devoid of enzymes the body will continue to use up its own personal stores which may already have been depleted. Without these essential enzymes digestion will become poor which can eventually lead to chronic diseases and a poorly functioning immune system.
In his book, Enzyme Nutrition, Dr. Edward Howell suggests that eating foods void of enzymes causes an enlargement of the pancreas, and also stresses associated endocrine glands, such as the adrenals, pituitary, ovaries and testes. One study conducted at Tufts Medical School found that 100% of the cases of obesity studied were deficient in lipase. Some research indicates that lowered lipases levels have been found in people with obesity, arteriosclerosis, and high blood pressure. Not only are enzymes effective in digesting food, but they also appear to be useful in the prevention and treatment of such conditions as vascular disease, inflammation, infections, auto immune diseases, injuries, stress, rheumatic diseases, and cancer.
Although enzyme therapy may take several weeks or months to be effective it is much safer and more effective in the long term than cortisone for inflammation and aspirin for improving circulation. Because enzymes help reduce inflammation and act as an immune modulator, they may be helpful in osteoarthritis, multiple sclerosis, pelvic inflammatory diseases, endometriosis, arthritis, chronic prostatitis, chronic pancreatitis, and urinary tract infections.
In summary we have concluded that enzymes are not only important to proper digestion, but they also help the body utilize vitamins and minerals, help the body detoxify, help modulate the immune system, help reduce inflammation, and may help with a host of diseases ranging from multiple sclerosis to cancer. Supplementing with a natural source of high quality enzymes or eating plenty of raw or minimally cooked fruits and vegetables may be just what is needed not only to improve your digestion, slow the aging process, but also to maintain optimum health.