I’m sure you have seen the commercials for laundry detergents using “enzyme action” to rid your clothing of stains. Perhaps you’ve heard of enzymatic products for cleaning other items, like certain metals? But do you really know what enzymes are?
According to the dictionary, enzymes are “a substance produced by a living organism that acts as a catalyst to bring about a specific biochemical reaction.” So every single act of breaking something down and putting things together in the body (or pretty much any living organism) is made possible by enzymes. Every single action form the replication of DNA and RNA all the way to breaking down nutrients is made possible by these specialty protein powerhouses. What I am going to concentrate on, here, are the enzymes responsible for digesting foods. These are commonly known as DIGESTIVE ENZYMES.
Digestive Enzymes are classified as hydrolases. These are the types of enzymes which break things down into tiny building blocks. There are many different types of enzymes. Each is specific to a certain type of food or food component. An example is pepsin and trypsin working specifically on proteins; or, lipase working directly upon dietary fats. But, where do these enzymes come from? Are we just born with them? Do we consume them?
Starch digestion begins in the mouth with the enzymes contained in saliva. This breaks down simple sugars as the food is mechanically broke down by the action of chewing. In the stomach, hydrochloric acid and pepsin work to break down the proteins as the stomach itself churns and works the food around (incidentally, did you know acid is required for the production of pepsin? hmmmm). The small intestine is where the liver and pancreas sends enzymes to break down the long chains of proteins into smaller and smaller amino acids which can then be adsorbed by the small intestinal walls, into the blood stream and sent out to the cells for fuel. These are the enzymes which the human body is responsible for producing by itself. This is a list of enzymes, along with their sources and functions: https://scioly.org/wiki/index.php/Digestive_Secretion_List
There are wsome enzymes present in the foods we eat which can act as digestive aids. An example of this is bromelain and its ability to help break down meats. When I was a kid, my grandma used to cook pork with pineapple. I’m sure it was because she liked the taste, but she was helping make that pork easier for our stomachs to digest. Many veggies and fruits contain enzymes with various beneficial roles.
Any damages to the lining of the gut (stomach and/or intestine) can impair the body’s ability to secrete enzymes and/or absorb the broken down food products. This can be very concerning as painful conditions like indigestion, acid reflux, etc often occur. And if you noticed my note above, acid is required for the activation of some enzymes. What catch 22!
The next series of post installments will deal with enzymes. I want to investigate their functions, benefits, and how you can use them to help yourself.