The Living World of Enzymes

The Living World of Enzymes

Contributed by Naturopath Sigrid Grobys N.D.

Enzymes break large molecules down into smaller units, a process performed several times a day in our digestive systems where various enzymes literally digest dietary fats, protein and carbohydrates, processing them into smaller nutrients. They also cause molecules to be bonded together, building compounds such as cholesterol, fat molecules, estrogens, testosterone, as well as plenty of other hormones. They are crucial to speeding up chemical reactions and allow thousands of biological processes to take place in our bodies every minute.

Enzymes exist in most living organisms and can be found in many different types of food sources. Pineapples and papaya are particularly enzyme-rich. The enzymes in raw fermented foods can help start the process of digestion. Examples include cultured soybean products such as Japanese miso or natto; Korean kimchi; yoghurt and other curds in Mediterranean regions and India; as well as the traditional sauerkraut found in parts of Europe. Grains, nuts and legumes are also enzyme-rich, but they contain a number of enzyme inhibitors as well. Fermenting, sprouting or soaking such foods are traditional ways of releasing their enzyme content to make them useful for our own digestion.

Enzymes can also be bought in supplement form. These can be useful in addressing both digestion and musculoskeletal problems. Enzymes are the main actors within the digestive process, breaking down various food items into their component parts (protein, sugars and fats). Hence, a person who has weakened digestive enzymes may have entire food particles reach the small intestine. Bacteria then act on these food remnants and create toxic by-products as well as gases of fermentation. This leads to bloated-ness and irregular digestive transit. Since the membrane of the small intestine is only meant to receive small micronutrients, it becomes irritated and porous when it comes into contact with toxic bacterial products and larger food particles. A person can then develop what is commonly known as ‘leaky gut’ or the penetration of larger food particles in the blood stream with ensuing systemic health problems. Irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, gastritis and heartburn can be helped through the use of supplemental enzymes.

Enzymes can be absorbed into our bloodstream intact, where they can help break down products of inflammation and scar tissue. This means that they can help joint sprains and muscle strains heal faster. Individuals with back pain due to back surgery, slipped discs or poor posture can also benefit from enzymes. Because enzymes are destroyed at temperatures of around 48 degrees Celsius, a diet that consists mostly of cooked foods tends to be depleted of enzymes, which can put a strain on our digestive systems. As such, it is recommended that one supplement one’s diet with raw fermented foods or use supplemental enzymes as an alternative.