Human health: What are digestive enzymes?

Enzymes are created by the body from amino acids and carry out thousands of different functions throughout every cell. Researchers have identified over three thousand so far and some believe there are tens of thousands yet to be discovered. Their roles include breaking down larger molecules, supporting immune function and aiding in the proper disposal of cellular debris.

Digestive enzymes are a subset of enzymes produced specifically to help the body dismantle large food molecules into tiny snippets which can then be processed and absorbed to support normal metabolic functioning.

The human body however was never designed to produce all the necessary digestive enzymes on its own. Throughout history, much of our enzyme supplies came from raw or fermented foods. The body only had to make up the difference between enzymes in our food and metabolic requirements. Now we eat little in the way of raw or unpasteurized fermented foods and most of our diets are heavily processed food-like substances. This makes it much more difficult to break foods down and gain the critically important nutrients required for normal functioning.

When you add the facts that
1) much of the nutrition has accidentally been bred out of our vegetables and
2) our livestock are typically fed highly unnatural diets

It’s not surprising that many healthcare professionals and researchers are taking a second look at the benefits of enzyme supplementation.

In the best of circumstances, our bodies’ ability to produce digestive enzymes steadily drops as we age. It’s estimated that those age fifty may have only 50% of the capability of those under twenty.

The most common digestive enzymes are:

Protease – This proteolytic enzyme group is responsible for breaking proteins down into fragments which can be much more effectively utilized and may help clear oxidized protein fragments from the blood stream.

Amylase – Responsible for the breakdown of carbohydrates (starches and sugars). The body also uses Amylase to help clear white blood cells which are the primary ingredient in pus. Those with diets very high in carbohydrates and sugars are at increased risk of being deficient in this enzyme and the possibility of developing abscesses. In North America this included most of the population. In fact the number one source of calories in the American diet is sugary baked goods and pastries according to a recently published study.

Lipase – Responsible for the breakdown of fats and lipids, Lipase cannot work well on its own. It requires bile from the gall bladder to break the larger fat globules into tiny droplets which offer enough surface area for Lipase to properly do its work. Those who have had their gall bladders removed should discuss taking a bile supplement such as ox bile with their health care practitioners.

Cellulase – Responsible for the breakdown of the cellulose in plant cell walls, this allows for a slow steady release of glucose from the digestion of these difficult to metabolize forms of carbohydrates. This helps regulate the dangerous and inflammatory effects of too much glucose being released into the blood stream too quickly.

Lactase – Necessary for the breakdown of Lactose or “milk sugar” into the simple sugars glucose and galactose. Unlike the familiar glucose, galactose is one of the eight identified essential sugars or glyconutrients. It aids in the development of long term memories and wound healing among other properties. Those who are seriously deficient in lactase will experience gastric distress from the ingestion of bovine (cow) dairy products unless taking a Lactase supplement.

More sophisticated broad spectrum digestive enzyme preparations such as DigestPlus Live Plant Digestive Enzyme include all of the above plus:

Invertase– This enzyme splits table sugar and more complex carbohydrates into its components of glucose and fructose. This helps prevent the negative effects of sugar fermentation in the gut. It also exhibits significant antioxidant properties. Taking excessive doses of invertase is not recommended except under medical supervision since the rapid breakdown of the very high carbohydrate/sugar loading of the average American would create undesirable blood sugar spikes; increasing the risk of pre-diabetes or diabetes.

Malt Distase – Assists Amylase in the breakdown of complex sugars known as polysaccharides such as amylose and other complex carbohydrates and sugars including cellulose.

Beet Root Fiber – Has been shown to increase the production of a critical antioxidant enzyme in the body known as Glutathione Peroxidase. This has long been identified as one of the bodies’ most powerful internally generated antioxidants More recently, mouse studies have demonstrated Glutathione Peroxidase’s ability to reduce the damaging effects of not only reactive oxygen species, but also of reactive nitrogen species. A powerful and rare double protection effect.

Because Glutathione Peroxidase is a selenoprotein, those not taking a nutrient compilation with selenium such as Equilib may wish to eat a couple of Brazil nuts each day.

It’s very important to note that there is a “U” shaped dosing curve for the benefits of Selenium. In other words, people don’t do as well with either too much or too little. The sweet spot for long term consumption indicated by clinical studies appears to be about 200 mcg/day. That’s micrograms, not milligrams. For those taking supplements such as Equilib; unless at very low doses, I would suggest not eating Brazil nuts at all. In every case, check the total amount of selenium in the total number of capsules you’re taking before regularly eating any brazil nuts.

Selenium levels per Brazil nuts are estimated to be about 95 mcg per nut, but actual levels may vary considerably due to variations in growing conditions and soil selenium levels, so supplementation may be the optimal choice.

Eat well.

The above is not intended as medical advice. As always, consult with your trusted healthcare professionals before making changes to your health regime.

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