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21 April, 2005

ENZYMES are you getting enough?

Better Nutrition, March 2000, by Anthony Cichoke

By now, most of us are aware of the important roles that vitamins and
minerals play in helping our bodies to run properly and stay healthy.
But enzymes are a different story. Even though they've been around
forever, most people are not aware of what enzymes do or why they are so
critical to our existence. However, enzymes are essential for you to
live, function, fight disease, and heal any injury. Are you getting
enough of these "spark plugs" of life?

Enzymes are small protein molecules produced by the body. In fact, all
plants and animals produce enzymes. They are catalysts that either begin
chemical reactions or speed up chemical reactions already in progress.
Most enzymes work by breaking down matter. For instance, your digestive
enzymes are the "forces" that help break down last night's dinner into
its smallest components (that is, amino acids, mono- and di-saccharides,
esters, etc.). The enzymes in your digestive tract actually break apart
the bonds that hold together the various components of your food. Only
about three to five percent of enzymes join molecules together, or
synthesize, rather than break them apart.

Are you enzyme deficient?
Enzymes are essential for everything that goes on in the body, including
digestion, breathing, and circulation. Your body also uses enzymes to
fight disease, inflammation, and to slow down the aging process. In
fact, our body's ability to function, to repair when injured, and to
ward off disease is directly related to how strong and populous are our
enzymes. That's why an enzyme deficiency can be so devastating.
Enzyme-deficient diets, disease, chemotherapy, stress, physical
injuries, aging, or digestive problems can all affect our enzyme levels.
The first sign that you're not getting enough enzymes will probably be
disturbed digestion, including stomach upset, gas, and other forms of
indigestion. Many people notice a "bloated" feeling after eating beans
or cauliflower, or after consuming dairy products. This could be a sign
that they don't have the enzymes necessary to adequately digest their
food. Many foods, including beans, contain complex sugars. If these
sugars cannot be broken down, they will sit in the large intestine and
putrefy, leading to a bloated feeling and gas. This is easily corrected
by taking enzyme supplements designed to break down these sugars. Some
people suffer from diarrhea and abdominal pain after drinking milk. This
is because they may not produce enough (or any) of the enzyme, lactase,
which breaks down lactose, the milk sugar in dairy products. Lactase
supplements or lactase-treated milk can help improve the ability to
digest foods containing lactose.

But digestion is only one symptom of an enzyme deficiency. Illness of
any kind is an obvious sign that you're not getting enough enzymes, or
that your body's enzyme levels are depleted. As mentioned previously,
enzymes make your body work. Any illness or disease process, such as
cardiovascular disease, degenerative diseases, cancer, or even a slow
recovery rate after an injury, are all indications that your body's
enzymes are not working optimally.

Enzymes in Food
Some of the best sources for enzymes are fresh fruits, vegetables, and
sprouted grains. Just as your body needs enzymes to function, so do
plants need enzymes for growth, reproduction, and health. Foods are such
rich sources of enzymes that some enzyme supplements are actually
derived from food sources; these include pineapple (the source of the
enzyme bromelain), and papaya (the source of papain), as well as kiwi
and figs. Any live, fresh fruit, vegetable, or grain is a potential
enzyme source, but only if the enzymes have not been destroyed by heat,
radiation, or any of the other processes to which we subject our
modern-day foods. Unfortunately, a typical American fast-food meal
includes hamburgers (grilled or fried), French fries (boiled in oil),
and sugar-loaded soft drinks, all adding up to an enzyme-dead diet.
Frying, baking, canning, drying, irradiating - these all kill enzymes.
Another problem is the genetic alteration of food with its unknown and
potentially serious long-term side effects on our bodies. No wonder
we're fatigued and sick!

Even supposedly "fresh" food is often stored for long periods, or is
treated with pesticides, preservatives, and other toxins which all
reduce enzymatic levels. If you have digestive problems that interfere
with the absorption of nutrients, or if you have a depleted immune
system, or other health problem, even fresh foods may not be enough. Any
illness or injury can impact your health status and therefore, your
enzyme systems. In addition, as we age, not only do our bodies produce
fewer enzymes, those produced have lost their power-laden punch! Enzyme
supplements, available at your local health food store, can help all
these problems and may be essential for good health.

Enzyme supplements
Enzyme supplements are obtained from a number of sources including
plants, animals (such as hog or calf pancreas), and microbial sources
(including bacteria and fungi). When enzymes were first discovered,
isolated, and named, scientists often gave enzymes names ending in the
suffix "-in" (for example, trypsin and pepsin). Now, enzymes are named
for the substance (or substrate) they work on and breakdown. The suffix
"-ase" is then affixed to the end of the word. For example, proteases
(prote-ases) break down proteins, lipases (lip-ases) work on lipids
(fats), and sucrases (sucr-ases) break down sucrose, and so on.
Enzymes can be taken individually or in combinations, or they can be
formulated with vitamins, minerals, herbs, phytochemicals (plant
chemicals), and other nutrients. I call such combinations Enzyme
Absorption System Enhancers (EASE). These combinations are beneficial
because they improve the absorption and bioavailability of other
nutrients, maximize enzyme activity when combined with these nutrients,
and reduce the drain on the body's own enzyme reserves, thus giving us
more energy. For this reason, it's actually a good idea to take enzymes
along with a multiple vitamin/mineral or herbs. This is also because
some enzymes need "buddies" to help them do their jobs. These buddies
are "co-factors" and "co-enzymes" and include minerals (such as zinc and
copper) and vitamins (especially the B vitamins) -- all the more reason
to eat a balanced, enzyme-rich, fresh food diet!

Although some substances (such as vitamins and minerals) help many
enzymes work better, there are others that actually inhibit the activity
of an enzyme. We encounter many of these substances every day that can
inhibit our body's enzymes, including most medicines (even aspirin).
What can enzyme supplements do for me?

Enzymes are particularly good at helping a number of conditions
including digestive problems and back pain.

Digestive problems
Many people use enzymes to improve their digestion. As mentioned
earlier, some enzymes can help you to digest beans, others improve milk
digestion, while others still work on the proteins in meat, or the
carbohydrates in fruits and vegetables. The type of digestive enzyme you
should take will vary depending on what type of digestive problem you
have and the types of foods you eat. For instance, people who can't
drink milk because of lactase deficiency can benefit from a supplement
containing lactase. If you don't digest beans, try a supplement
containing alpha galactosidase, or another carbohydrate-splitting
enzyme. Some people find that protease (also called proteolytic) enzymes
help relieve the gas and discomfort they suffer after eating beef.
When taking enzymes to treat digestive problems, take the enzymes just
before or with meals and follow the dosage directions on the label.

Back pain
Enzymes are very effective at reducing inflammation and speeding the
healing of pain of any kind, but particularly back pain. In my book, The
Back Pain Bible, I relate the story of a soccer coach who injured his
back and experienced severe pain starting in his back, radiating down
his right leg. Soon after the injury he started taking proteolytic
enzymes and was able to make a rapid and complete recovery. The
consulting orthopedic surgeon (who didn't believe in enzymes) was
dismayed at the patient's rapid progress.

Enzymes work to fight back pain by decreasing swelling and inflammation
without suppressing immune system activity. They restore overall and
local blood circulation, resulting in an increased rate of healing.
Also, enzymatic actions help the healing agents normally found in the
blood to reach the injured area more quickly, and improve the removal of
waste products, leading to a quicker recovery.

Proteolytic enzymes including papain, bromelain, serratiopeptidase, and
pancreatin (which contains many enzymes, such as chymotrypsin and
trypsin), as well as combinations of these enzymes are often used to
fight inflammation.

For pain and chronic illnesses, to be most effective, enzymes should be
taken between meals, on an empty stomach, preferably with water.
Regarding dosage, follow directions on the label, however keep in mind
that, initially, you may require higher doses (20-30 tablets per day).
Acute injuries usually show some improvement within a few days to a few
weeks, but chronic conditions may take longer. With conditions such as
rheumatoid arthritis, you may not see a change for up to four weeks, but
be patient. It takes time to flush toxins from your cells and body.
When you become pain-free you may return to a maintenance dose for
general health as per the label's directions. Research has shown there
are no side effects from long-term use of enzymes.

Enzymes are vital for life. However, the importance of enzymes, while
known by many people in the scientific community, still is a relative
secret for the average consumer. The more you understand about enzymes
and how they work, the more likely you will use enzymes to improve your
own health.

Klaschka, Franz. Oral Enzymes - New Approach to Cancer Treatment.
Grafelfing, Germany: Forum Medizin, 1996.
Wrba, Heinrich and Pecher, Otto. Wirkstoffe der Zukunft mit der
Enzymtherapie das Immunsystem Starken. Vienna: Verlag Orac, 1993.

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