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Natural Living

The Enzyme Factor

Digestive problems got you down? An enzyme boost may be just what you need

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Does sitting down to your favorite meal often trigger indigestion? Do you consider certain foods off limits because they leave you feeling gassy and bloated? Do you find yourself popping antacids to soothe frequent stomach distress? If you’ve said yes to any of these questions, you may be suffering from low enzyme levels.

Enzymes are biologically active proteins that play a key role in every function that occurs in the human body. They’re essential for the breakdown of food and the absorption of nutrients. They play a critical role in maintaining heartbeat, muscle function, and hormone balance. In fact, enzymes are involved in at least 4,000 different biochemical reactions essential to life-and about half of these reactions involve digestion.

Form and Function

Enzymes are the match that sparks countless reactions, but each works in its own specific way. “Think of enzymes as tools, with each tool having a slightly different function,” says Tom Bohager, author of Everything You Need to Know About Enzymes. “You would never use a screwdriver to nail into a piece of lumber. It’s the same with different enzymes.” For instance, the fat-digesting enzyme lipase can’t break down protein. It can only impact dietary fat.

While there are an estimated 5,000 enzymes hard at work in the human body, they typically fall into two categories: metabolic and digestive. “Metabolic enzymes enable us to see, hear, feel, move, and think,” says Professor Walter J. Crinnion, ND, Chair of the Department of Environmental Medicine at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Arizona. “Every organ, every tissue, and all 100 trillion cells in our body depend upon the reaction of metabolic enzymes and their energy factor.” But, as important as they are, metabolic enzymes can’t be obtained through supplementation. They are only produced by the body’s own cells.

Digestive enzymes, on the other hand, are produced throughout the digestive tract to help break down the foods we eat into the nutrients our body needs. If food isn’t properly processed in the digestive tract, we can experience gas, bloating, and stomach upset.

Disappearing Act

When we’re young, our bodies have no problem creating all of the enzymes we need. As we age, however, this production begins to slow down. Over time, we can find ourselves deficient in the enzymes needed for good digestion or proper organ function.

Ideally, we could easily replenish the enzymes we need through our diets. Yet, while raw foods-especially fresh fruits and vegetables-are literally bursting with enzymes, cooking and processing destroys them. “Since most of the foods we eat are cooked or processed in some way, and since the raw foods we do eat contain only enough enzymes to process that particular food, our bodies must produce the majority of the digestive enzymes we require-unless we use supplemental enzymes,” says Crinnion.

Among the most important enzymes are protease, lipase, and amylase. Protease breaks apart protein. Lipase processes fat. And amylase digests carbohydrates. Without these enzymes, your body couldn’t process that cheeseburger you had for lunch.

A broad spectrum of supplemental digestive enzymes taken with each meal can help ensure that our bodies efficiently process the nutrients that we eat. Since we rarely eat foods that contain only protein, fat, or carbohydrates, it’s best to choose a supplement that contains a blend of all three.

Bonus Benefits

Research from around the world suggests that enzymes can boost immunity, ease inflammation, relieve sinus problems, enhance heart health, and help you recover from an intense workout. Topically, enzymes are used in beauty products to brighten and give skin a more youthful appearance.

If you’re taking enzymes for digestion, it’s best to take them either with meals or immediately after eating.

Go Shopping!

Derma E Fruit enzyme facial scrub uses the power of papaya enzymes combined with Dead Sea salts and cornmeal and apricot shells to brighten and exfoliate the skin.

Irwin naturals full-spectrum daily digestive enzymes contain a broad range of digestive enzymes and even fish oils. Liquid-soft gels are easy to digest and fast-acting.

Rainbow light advanced enzyme system combines plant-based enzymes with soothing herbs for optimal digestive health. Great for occasional indigestion bloating, and gas.