Enzymes: Beyond Digestion

October 29, 2012
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Enzymes aren’t just vital for digestion—they’re important for the function of every cell in the body. In order to maintain balance in the structure and function of cells, tissues and organ systems, there are millions of metabolic enzyme reactions happening in your body.

Where do enzymes come from? Enzymes are proteins made by the pancreas, liver, gall bladder and other organs—as well as by every living cell—to enable biochemical reactions. Digestive enzymes are particularly important because they break down food (including protein, fat and carbohydrates), a process that in turn provides energy to the body. Digestive enzymes are made primarily in the pancreas.

Enzymes are also available in raw foods in our diet (but once foods have been heated/cooked or processed, the enzymes become damaged and unavailable for assisting digestion of that food). Pineapple enzymes (known as bromelain) and papaya enzymes (papain) are two highly concentrated raw sources of enzymes that can be especially helpful, and both are commonly sold in supplements.

You may also want to supplement if you’re experiencing symptoms such as painful digestion, gas/bloating, heartburn and diarrhea/constipation. Supplementing with plant-based digestive enzymes can also increase the body’s capacity to produce other systemic, inflammation-fighting enzymes—more on that below.

Digestive Enzymes to try:
Digest Gold from Enzymedica
Integrative Therapeutics’ Similase
Rainbow Light’s Advanced Enzyme System
Papaya Enzymes from Pharmaca and Zand

The digestive tract isn’t the only place our body uses enzyme reactions, however. Systemic (also known as proteolytic or metabolic) enzymes can help break down inflammation in the body. Inflammation is mediated by the immune system and is a natural and necessary response in every cell of the body. However, higher levels of inflammation have been associated with aging and it’s important to maintain a healthy inflammation response.

Enzymes can help decrease inflammation in different bodily systems (e.g. joints, heart, lungs, blood, immune, breasts, prostate, skin), and supplementation with systemic enzymes can help with aches, pains and muscle soreness from everyday activity. Experts believe that systemic enzymes can also help cleanse blood of foreign invaders such as viruses, therefore strengthening the immune system as well as breaking down scar tissue in the body.

Are digestive and systemic enzymes one in the same? It’s believed that enzymes are utilized differently when taken at different times. When enzymes are taken with a full stomach, for example, they will work on digesting food. If taken on an empty stomach, they can help break down other proteins in the body, such as those causing inflammation.

But supplement forms of digestive and systemic enzymes generally contain different levels of enzyme activity to accomplish what’s desired. Though you may see some positive benefits by taking a high-quality digestive enzyme on an empty stomach, it won’t generally have the same effect as taking a formula that is optimized for systemic use.

Systemic enzymes to try:

Wobenzym from Garden of Life
Bromelain from Jarrow Formulas or Pharmaca
Enzymedica’s SerraGold (helps improve circulation, speed tissue repair, alleviate joint discomfort, support heart health and relieve respiratory complaints)
Enzymedica’s Natto-K (to support circulation)
Enzymedica’s ViraStop (to help breakdown toxins and debris in blood)

Ultimately, the body is designed to make the digestive and metabolic enzymes we need. But just like many other bodily functions, this process slows as we age. By supplementing with digestive enzymes the body can focus on making metabolic enzymes—the “energy of life” needed to forge every biochemical reaction in the body.

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