The Role of Enzymes in Nutrition
Enzymes are minute protein structures found within each living cell, where they perform specific jobs. For classification purposes, enzymes are divided into three categories: digestive enzymes, food enzymes and metabolic enzymes.
Nutrition is essentially the processes by which an organism digests food and uses it for growth and maintenance. When we put food into our mouth, the body takes over and begins to process the fuel. As the food travels from the stomach to the small intestine, metabolic functions take place.
Because the body creates a certain amount of enzymes, it is equipped to get right to work. Since foods also have enzymes of their own, these two types of enzymes work together to break down the food particles so the metabolic enzymes can take over. Because enzymes are found in all living cells, when food is cooked, food enzymes are destroyed.
The enzymes made by the body's own organs (through secretions from the salivary glands, stomach, pancreas and the small intestine), are called digestive enzymes. Digestive enzymes' only job is to digest food.
As digestion takes place, the enzymes break down the food, extracting the nutritional components and sending the remainder out as waste product. Once the food has been digested, it is absorbed through the walls of the small intestine, and the metabolic enzymes move it into the blood stream, and on to all parts of the body.
Food enzymes enter the body along with the food that is ingested. While enzymes exist in raw foods, most enzymes in cooked food are destroyed. Even steaming foods kills enzymes (freezing does not). So adding a few raw items, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, aids the body in digesting foods by adding natural enzymes to the digestive workforce.
Food enzymes come from both plant and animal sources, though not all food products have good enzymes. Soy products have enzyme inhibitors that actually block protein digestion. Vegetarians who rely on tofu and bean curd to handle their protein needs may be inadvertently sabotaging their digestive tract and inhibiting proper cell division. The only sure way to make sure you get enough good food enzymes is to eat a balanced diet.
Metabolic enzymes are found throughout the body in specialized groups designed to handle the exact needs of each individual organ, the bones and blood, as well as each individual cell within the body. These enzymes control new growth of all body cells and maintain all tissue. In essence, they are the worker bees who keep the hive running at tip-top shape.
As long as the metabolic enzymes are given healthy, nutritious foods from the digestive tract, they can continue to do their job well. However, when there is little or no nutrition being passed on to the metabolic enzymes, they become challenged and might perform poorly.
Are Enzymes Replaced?
Digestive enzymes are not indestructible and do not last forever. Over time, and when the body is taxed due to improper diets, enzymes can weaken and become useless. Additionally, as we mature our body becomes less efficient at creating new enzymes. Add pollution, processed foods, microwave cooking, free radicals and now genetically modified foods to the mix, and a significant loss of enzymes occurs.
When this happens, undigested food begins to pollute the body, which is then vulnerable to a host of illnesses and diseases. Some issues that can begin to manifest when enzymes are overstressed include adult onset diabetes, blood pressure issues, fibromyalgia, heartburn, hyperactivity in children, kidney and liver disease, migraines and PMS.
The best thing you can do is, no surprise, observe a healthy, varied, and balanced diet rich in fresh produce, whole grains, fiber, and healthy fat.