When considering a plan for weight loss, a healthy lifestyle, sleeping, eating, and any other aspect of holistic health, one usually thinks about supplements that include protein, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that can help fill the gaps in both diets and exercise. Few, if any, sources quote the beneficial use of enzymes. Enzymes are often overlooked because they are thought to already be part of your internal processes, but in some cases, you may need additional support, particularly if you are having trouble breaking down the food you eat in your stomach and mouth.
In this article, we'll talk about what enzymes are, how they benefit the body, who should take them, and answer the question: are enzymes vegan?
Enzymes are extremely beneficial proteins that help to metabolize food in the body. They speed up the chemical reactions to further break down food that we may be having trouble with. Enzymes are part of our body, and play a key role in digestion, gallbladder, liver, and immunity. Too many enzymes can cause acid reflux, and too few enzymes can cause stomach problems and irritation of the tract from unprocessed foods. Enzymes also work as a warning system in our blood, as doctors use blood samples and test these proteins to check if we are low on certain vitamins and minerals, or if we are at risk of certain diseases.
Enzymes are naturally produced in our bodies but are also found in certain foods. While there are many different types of enzymes (as all living things are or have enzymes), we will focus on beneficial enzymes that aid in digestion in this article, as this is the primary reason most take these kinds of supplements. Proper digestion is important as this is the primary way we receive energy into our bodies from the food we eat. Without the proper enzymes breaking down the food, we are not getting as much from our food as we can. Enzymes also help with muscle development, and certain nerve functions, regulate breathing (diaphragmic) and eliminate harmful toxins.
Now that we've established what enzymes are, and what they do - let's go over the burning question: why are they so beneficial? Enzymes are proteins that are held together by amino acids (building blocks) which means that anything you eat can be further used to create beneficial enzymes that break down certain foods. This is one of the most important reasons enzymes are so beneficial, as they regulate the body's functions and can be created from almost anything you eat, further repeating the cycle.
Enzymes can be found in your saliva, pancreas, stomach, and your small/large intestines. The main types of digestive enzymes are:
Carbohydrase: metabolizes and breaks down carbohydrates, and transforms them further into the sugars your body uses for immediate and short-term energy.
Lipase: metabolizes and breaks down fats into their appropriate fatty acids, which are stored in the body. This is used as an emergency, sustained, and long-term energy.
Protease: metabolizes and breaks down protein into amino acids which are used as building blocks for the body, including muscles and even other enzymes
Another very important enzyme is lactase, which is used to metabolize lactose in dairy milk, but this is of no benefit to vegan dairy alternatives.
Enzymes are produced in the body, but we may find that we are sometimes in need of some digestive support. Naturally, these can be found in most fruits and vegetables. Honey, for example, contains amylase (a type of carbohydrate) and protease. Mangoes and bananas also help break down carbohydrates. Avocados are great fruits, as they are one of the few that naturally contain a high amount of lipase. Certain fermented foods such as kombucha and sauerkraut contain high levels of most enzymes.
Enzymes help in digestion and the regulation of certain body controls, so additional enzymes in your diet are recommended if you are not digesting food well, or if you have a digestive illness. If you frequently experience stomachaches, gas, and irregular bowel movements and consistency, this may be a sign that you need more enzyme support. The gluten "allergy" (celiac disease), for example, prevents the patient from producing the enzyme necessary to break down proteins found in wheat and certain cereals. This is why the emergency of the gluten-free diet has become extremely popular.
Other diseases, such as Crohn's disease, EPI, Cystic fibrosis, and pancreatic/liver issues would negatively affect your ability to produce sufficient enzymes.
How do enzymes affect chemical reactions?
Enzymes are catalysts, which are used to speed along chemical reactions. While these have benefits in the lab, medical and scientific experimentation, the most important reason we can relate to this is that it speeds along with the chemical digestion and metabolization of foods. The enzyme has a unique shape that is called an active site, and when that shape fits with the substrate (protein, lipid, etc) it will speed along the chemical reaction, in addition to the proper pH and temperature level.
Can I take enzymes and probiotics together?
Yes, it is completely safe to do. Often, you may even need to take both additional digestive enzymes and probiotics to enhance the efficacy of metabolization inside your body, especially if you are taking antibiotics while also experiencing stomach, liver, or pancreas issues. It is important to know what foods you are sensitive to when consuming them, as you can subsequently enrich your diet with the proper combination of the two.
Where are enzymes made?
Enzymes are made inside the body through amino acids, which are the "building blocks" of most things inside our body, including developing and repairing muscles after a workout. Enzymes are created in a cooler or lukewarm body, as increased heat will destroy the enzymes and certain amino acids. This is why digestion and regeneration are much more difficult when sick with a fever.