Recently a long-term Health Coaching friend of mine asked a question about enzymes on my Better Health at Any Age Facebook page.
I realized then that, as much as I have read and understood about the important of food enzymes and the place they play in our overall health, I have never written about them. Woe to me!
So here it is! This could well be a game changer piece of information for you and/or someone you love. Fasten your seat belt!
We are aware of the necessity of vitamins and minerals for health, and we know that the best way to get them is from unprocessed plant foods. Enzymes are at least that important – to be without them would be like trying to run a car without fuel. They are at the core of all living processes.
Enzymes are proteins produced by all living organisms, and life itself depends on them. They are composed of proteins and organic compounds, and, like workers in other complex systems, are directed by the needs of a higher organism. For example, enzymes within a plant seed have the purpose of supporting the growth and propagation of that seed.
In terms of human life, enzymes are needed for every bodily function: walking, talking, breathing. They themselves are “alive,” and act in our bodies as catalysts and initiators for all our vital processes. Enzymes within our digestive systems disassemble food into more easily assimilated components, and they can remain intact and be utilized even if the host organism is no longer alive, a factor which is important in our digestive processes.
Chemically, enzymes are the workhorses that drive metabolism to use the nutrients we take in. Biologically, they are our life energy. Every vitamin, mineral and hormone requires enzyme assistance to perform their functions in the body.
There are three types of enzymes: metabolic, digestive, and food. The human body comes equipped with a good supply of both digestive and metabolic enzymes, while food enzymes are taken into the body when consuming raw and living foods.
Metabolic enzymes initiate and maintain all metabolic activities in the body, which are numerous and diverse. They include, for example, processes such as the expiration of carbon dioxide from inhaled oxygen, or the processing of glucose into energy.
Digestive enzymes take care of food digestion, breaking down the carbohydrates, proteins, and fats into smaller usable forms. Amylase takes care of digesting carbohydrates, protease handles proteins, and lipase dismantles fats.
As we age, the enzyme “package” of metabolic and digestive enzymes with which we were born gradually becomes depleted. Those enzymes are not replaced as we go along in our lives — a 60 year old has 50% fewer enzymes as a 30 year old. Enzyme depletion, lack of energy, disease, and aging all go hand in hand. Unless we stop the one-way-flow out of the body energy, our digestive capacities weaken, obesity and all manners of chronic illness set in, lifespan shortens. If the body is unable to provide digestive enzymes, food molecules cannot be digested properly. This can lead to digestive disorders like lactose intolerance.
Depressing? There’s good news ahead!
Metabolic and digestive enzymes are called edogenous (produced in our own bodies.) Exogenous enzymes are found in foods we eat (from outside our bodies).
Food enzymes, the exogenous ones, are a part of the magic in all the plant life we eat- fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. Some of them regulate the ripening processes while others break down the foods or organisms once they are past their prime, and still others that work within the plant to generate a new one. Amazing!
All food has its own enzymes that serve it in life. When we consume it, these enzymes become the property of the eater, are now its food enzymes, and begin immediately to work for the eater’s benefit. The enzymes in animals helps its own breakdown for the good of the eater, making it somewhat easier to digest. Only enzymes from whole plant foods give the body what it needs to work properly. Our bodies cannot independently absorb food. Rather, we must have the help of the food itself.
And there’s more. Cooking food to a temperature of 118 degrees Fahrenheit, (hot to the touch), destroys all its enzymes. As our own enzymes become fewer with aging, we more than ever need to keep them replaced with the naturally occurring enzymes in whole, raw foods to keep our digestive systems working optimally.
The truth is that “a human being is not maintained by food intake alone, but rather by what is digested.
Every food must be broken down by enzymes to simpler building blocks…The more one gets from exogenous enzymes, the less will have to be borrowed from other metabolic processes supplied by the pancreas. The enzymes contained in raw food actually aid in the digestion of that same food when it is chewed. One can live many years on a cooked food diet, but eventually this will cause cellular enzyme exhaustion which lays the foundation for a weak immune system and ultimately disease.” (from Intuitive Eating, by Doctor Humbart Santillo ND)
We are born with a limited amount of enzyme energy that has to last and serve us a lifetime. Alissa Cohen, in Living on Live Food, (my first and favorite Raw Food Book!), calls it an “enzyme bank account.” It needs regular deposits all through life from eating exogenous enzymes, those in unprocessed natural foods, to keep us headed toward and long and healthy life. .
There is more to this enzyme story. Watch for my next newsletter/blog for the values of an enzyme-rich diet and some foods that are particularly valuable in this regard.