Enzymes and Nutrition, Part I
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It is important in understanding enzymes and nutrition to really have a firm grasp of what enzymes are, where they come from, what role they play in nutrition. So lets ask a few key questions about enzymes and look at the answers. This will give us a much better perception of the importance of enzymes to our nutrition and our overall health.
What is the role of enzymes in nutrition?
To better understand digestive enzymes, we must first understand the role of NUTRITION in our health. The Oxford American Dictionary defines 'nutrition' as simply 'nourishment'. Another definition of Nutrition is the body's ability to use and metabolize food.
There are 45 known essential nutrients required in specific amounts in order for the body to function properly. The term "essential," as used here, means the body cannot synthesize them internally. Therefore all essential nutrients must come from outside the body 'from food and other vitamin and mineral sources. In addition to carbohydrates, fats (lipids), complete proteins, and water, there are at least 13 kinds of vitamins and at least 20 kinds of minerals required for proper metabolic function.
Once consumed, the food containing these nutrients must be digested, meaning they must be broken apart and reduced to a state that the nutrients can be absorbed into and transported by the blood stream to all parts of the body.
Our cells are genetically programmed to direct these nutrients to combine and interact with other nutrients and chemicals to create still other chemicals and compounds which, in turn, are used to build and repair the body's cells 'bones, tissue, and organs. This process is called metabolism. Each metabolic reaction is started, controlled, and terminated by enzymes.
Without enzymes we will have no metabolic activity. A body that does not consistently and efficiently metabolize the essential food elements necessary for life will be unhealthy, out of balance, and this condition will result in a severe susceptibility to disease. Many illnesses are the result of a dietary problem that causes toxemia inside of the body, a natural condition resulting from malnutrition 'whether from a malfunction of the body or from a lack of proper dietary intake.
How many different kinds of enzymes are there?
For our purposes, there are three major types or categories of Enzymes:
- FOOD ENZYMES
- METABOLIC ENZYMES
The two kinds of enzymes we are concerned with here are DIGESTIVE ENZYMES and FOOD ENZYMES. These two are active only within our digestive system. They have one main job 'to digest our food.
But the third type is important. They are the Metabolic enzymes which run the body. They exist throughout the body in the organs, the bones, the blood, and inside the cells themselves. They are 'genetically programmed' to regenerate and maintain their host. These enzymes do a great job carrying out their metabolizing mission as long as they are health and there are enough of them.
Digestive enzymes are manufactured within our body's organs. Digestive enzymes are secreted by the salivary glands, stomach, pancreas, and the small intestine. Technically, digestive enzymes are also considered to be metabolic enzymes whose metabolic role is to digest food. We are specifically distinguishing these particular enzymes here because they deal with digestion and they can be supplemented from an outside source.
In fact, these digestive enzymes become depleted when we eat too many overcooked foods, when we eat foods which are laced with antibiotics, when we eat foods which have traces (or more) of artificial fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides. Nor do those foods contain any systemic replenishing enzymes. Our body's stock of beneficial organisms (metabolic and digestive enzymes) also becomes depleted when we are ill and must take antibiotics. In these instances we must have outside sources of enzyme replenishment.
Digestive enzymes and food enzymes basically serve the same function, which is to digest our food so it can be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine into the blood stream. From this viewpoint the only real difference between food enzymes and digestive enzymes is whether they come from inside our body or from the food we eat.
This is accomplished in one of two ways. Food enzymes are already present within the foods we eat. Food enzymes exist naturally in raw food. If the food is cooked, however, the high temperature involved in the cooking process will destroy the enzymes. An alternative source, then, of enzymes is required. Such food sources as 'enzyme rich' supplements, i.e., 'greens' (not the leafy stuff like lettuce, etc.), is called for.
Why are enzymes so important for digestion?
Most food, when it is uncooked, contains enough natural food enzymes to digest that food. When you cook the food the enzymes are inactivated (denatured) and can no longer assist in the digestive (breaking down) process. Eating raw food is totally acceptable in some cases and quite unacceptable in others. We eat raw fruit and many raw vegetables, but less often do we eat raw meat, raw fish (not withstanding sushi), or raw pork. Eating uncooked rice is nearly a guaranteed trip to your dentist! So, obviously, we cook our food.
Here's where the problem occurs. Cooked food contains no enzymes because they have been destroyed. If you eat a meal consisting of a salad, a steak and a baked potato, there are likely enough food enzymes contained in the salad to digest it (break it down so your body can use its nutrients). But, there are no extra enzymes available to help digest the steak or the baked potato. Because the steak and potato are cooked, there are no FOOD ENZYMES available to digest them, so our body must take over and internally create the needed amount of DIGESTIVE ENZYMES to handle the digestive task.
The more we depend on our internally generated DIGESTIVE ENZYMES, the more stress we put on our body's systems and organs and the less time these systems and organs have for rebuilding and replacing worn out and damaged cells and tissue and keeping our immune system strong. Your body's top priority is making sure it has enough nutrients to run its systems. This means digesting food and converting it into nutrients. There is no activity more important to the body than this. This takes a lot of energy and enzymes, particularly if the body must make most or all of these enzymes. Remember that no food can be digested without digestive enzymes.
Dr. DicQie Fuller, in her book The Healing Power of Enzymes, emphasizes the importance of enzymes for digestion: "Eighty percent of our body's energy is expended by the digestive process. If you are run down, under stress, living in a very hot or very cold climate, pregnant, or are a frequent air traveler, then enormous quantities of extra enzymes are required by your body. Because our entire system functions through enzymatic action, we must supplement our enzymes. Aging deprives us of our ability to produce necessary enzymes. The medical profession tells us that all disease is due to a lack or imbalance of enzymes. Our very lives are dependent upon them!"
In Part II of this article we will discuss which enzymes digest which type of food, whether I have an infinite supply of enzymes, what happens when I start to run low on digestive enzymes, what I can do to maintain my enzyme level and whether there are certain enzymes I can take for specific health conditions.
Disclaimer: These articles in no way should be taken as medical advice on any product or condition, nor do they constitute in any way medical advice endorsing any specific product, specific result, nor any possible cure for any condition or problem. They are meant as a source of information upon which you may base your decision as to whether or not you should begin using a greens product as a dietary supplement. If in doubt, or if you have questions, you should consult your physician and, if possible, consult a second physician for a possible different opinion. The author bears no responsibility for your decisions nor for the outcome of your actions based upon those decisions.
About the Author
Loring Windblad has studied nutrition and exercise for more than 40 years, is a published author and freelance writer. His latest business endeavor is at