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Tiny forces are at work behind thescenes. Twenty-four hours a day these micro-elements are busy transporting, building and breaking down; they never take a sick day. In fact, they’re even more active when we’re under the weather. Enzymes are performing thousands of specialized functions in the body without our conscious command.

Three main categories
There are three main categories of enzymes: food enzymes, digestive enzymes and metabolic enzymes. Food enzymes are already contained in the food we eat. However, these enzymes are very heat sensitive and are destroyed at temperatures as low as 116ºF. Metabolic enzymes are manufactured by the body and play vital roles in allowing us to see, feel, hear, think and move. In addition, metabolic enzymes are involved in the detoxification of the body and its cells as well as with energy production. For the sake of simplicity we will be looking mostly at digestive enzymes in this article. There are over 20,000 enzymes produced by the body just to keep us within homeostasis. About 20 of those are responsible for the digestion of the three macronutrients (those being carbohydrates, proteins and fats). Most people living in a western culture eat relatively small amounts of unheated food compared to the rest of the species on the planet. (Fun fact: out of the two million species that have been identified by scientists on earth, humans are the only one that heats its food, thus reducing its nutritional value.) This is where digestive enzymes can help.

Almost everyone has experienced some type of digestive ailment after a meal. Whether it’s from eating too much or eating something that just doesn’t agree with our system, our body will let us know when we’ve pushed its limits. These signals can often manifest in a variety of ways such as heartburn, upset stomach, gas, constipation or worse.

Different people are usually more prone to suffering more from one or the other but sometimes an individual will get hit by a few of these at once. The results can be very uncomfortable. Sometimes a food allergy may play a role in some of the previously mentioned ailments. If one is aware of such an allergy, it is possible that taking a digestive enzyme could help. Let’s just say for example that someone is lactose intolerant, and they suffer every time they consume cheesy pizza. One option would be to stop eating all dairy products. The other option (since option one is inconceivable to most Americans) would be to take the enzyme lactase in supplement form before they eat dairy. This can minimize the uncomfortable results which arise from their body’s inability to produce lactase.

Several companies have even made enzyme blends that can help people that have problems digesting gluten. Most everyone can attest to the boisterous results that come from eating beans. Fortunately, alpha-galactosidase can help break down the complex sugars that are found in legumes and a number of other vegetables that are tough for our bodies to digest.

Most common types
Many enzymes that are sold in stores are sourced from aspergillus and are grown in laboratories on a medium such as soy or grains. This method produces the four most common types of enzymes on the market. Protease, amylase, cellulase and lipase—which are considered plant enzymes—are all grown this way. However, there are other sources as well. Pancreatin and chymotripsin are sourced from the pancreas of pigs or oxen. Pepsin and tripsin are taken from the stomach and intestines of animals as well. There are also some enzymes that are taken directly from plants. Bromelain, which comes from the stem of the pineapple plant, qualifies as one. Bromelain is known to help with digesting protein and is widely used for its anti-inflammatory effects. Papain is another fruit sourced enzyme that can help with indigestion and inflammatory issues. Both of these fruit sourced enzymes are classified as proteolytic (protein digesting) enzymes, which helpthe body utilize amino acids. These enzymes are therapeutically used after injuries and even surgery to expedite the healing process.

The future of therapeutic enzyme use looks promising. These little sparks of life have caught the attention of scientists and seekers of optimal health around the world. More discoveries are being made everyday about the benefits of these precious little proteins. Last time I checked I found blends of enzymes formulated to help with a wide variety of ailments. Allergy alleviating, candida conquering, mucus mellowing, heartburn helping, and parasite paralyzing, enzyme therapy will most likely play a major role in the future of natural health.

It seems obvious that the best thing to do is to incorporate a larger percentage of food that still contains its natural enzymes. If that sounds unappealing then definitely consider supplementing with a multiple digestive enzyme. Even if there are no current symptoms people can benefit from adding in a digestive enzyme with meals. You will be doing yourself a favor because your body will not have to work as hard to break down and assimilate your chosen source of fuel and as a result there will be more energy freed up to tackle other tasks. Many people erroneously mistake the lethargy and full feeling after eating as a sign of satiety. The truth is that our dietary choices should leave us feeling energetic and enthusiastic, not wanting to pass out on the couch in front of the TV. So, the next time a large, cooked, multi-ingredient meal presents itself, help your stomach out and throw in a few extra enzymes that should’ve been there in the first place.