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Digestive and Systemic Enzymes Keep Us Alive

The vast majority of enzymes are very special proteins in our body that are vital for life. Without their help, the chemical reactions cells need to stay alive wouldn’t happen, or happen fast enough.

There are about 3,000 enzymes identified in the human body, and as many as 50,000 we have yet to discover. Enzymes are present in every cell.

Enzymes are catalysts that increase the rate at which chemical reactions happen in our body. Enzymes will temporarily change shape to encourage an interaction and then return back to their original form to be used again. Some enzymes can last weeks, while others last only minutes.

An enzyme can repeatedly support the same chemical reaction by lowering the amount of energy needed to get a reaction started and accelerating their rate. This speeding up process is called catalyzing reactions and it can accelerate things immensely.

Enzymes found in raw food assist the body during the digestive process. Other enzymes in our digestive system break down food into usable material. Metabolic enzymes, also called systemic enzymes, in our blood and tissue rearrange chemical groups, help form bonds between different molecules, transfer chemical groups or make oxidation reduction possible.

Each enzyme is very specific. When active, some work by themselves while others function as part of a group where several sequences are needed for a specific outcome. Like the two step process of converting tryptophan to serotonin for use in the brain.

Sometimes the process releases energy by breaking down large molecules into small, simpler ones. This is called catabolism, and it can free up vitamins and minerals. At other times the process uses energy to combine smaller molecules into larger ones that help cells build and repair themselves. This is called anabolism.

Digestive enzymes are an integral part of the digestive process. As soon as food is put into our mouths, enzymes are at work breaking it down into small enough units, called colloidal particles, to be absorbed through the intestinal wall.

Each digestive enzyme breaks down specific foods like proteins (protease), carbohydrates (amylase), fats (lipase), fiber (cellulase), dairy (lactase), sugar (sucrase) and grains (maltase). Ideally, our body will produce most of the enzymes we need for digestion and the rest we get from food.

Due to the prevalence of digestive disorders, enzyme production in our body may not be optimum. We also tend to destroy most food enzymes during processing and cooking.

Immediate signs of digestive enzyme deficiency include indigestion, heartburn, bloating and cramping pain after meals. You may also experience food intolerances, allergies, bad breath or body order, dry or flaky skin, even nausea and diarrhea.

Metabolic, or systemic enzymes, are more responsible for maintaining overall health and assist in energy production.

Our body’s ability to repair tissue when injured, reduce chronic inflammation, and protect us from disease is directly dependent on these enzymes. They get nutrients into cells, break down fats in your blood, and clean up cellular waste and toxins.

Enzymes can also decline as we get older. I read that by the time most of us reach 70 we will only have 20% of the enzymes we had when we were 20. The good news is that digestive enzymes can be supplemented and have been found to be supportive in the gastrointestinal tract.

You can also spend more time chewing, reduce overall consumption to reduce need to digestive enzymes, eat more enzyme-rich foods, and don’t chew gum.

Supplementing systemic enzymes (nattokinase, bromelain, papain) is challenging to do as they are hard to absorb and tend to break down in the stomach.

The one I’ve seen receiving the most attention for effectiveness is serratiopeptidase, often shortened to serrapeptase. To be most effective, though, it must be enterically coated. Stop by and we can talk more.

Scott Porter is a Functional Medicine Pharmacist at Sandpoint Super Drug. He is a member of the Sandpoint Wellness Council.

Photo: Couleur / Pixabay

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