Within every living mammal, there are biological proteins insignificant in size, yet dynamically vital to the process of sustaining life. Among the countless number of metabolic reactions that occur there are enzymes driving the forces behind them. Enzymes function as catalysts, inducing anabolic or catabolic chemical reactions.
Since enzymes are within all living material, they may also be consumed in food; however, they are more abundantly produced within a healthy individual. Unfortunately, many factors such as: Aging, stress, injury, nutrient intolerance, illness and sometimes genetics all affect enzyme production. The good news is that there are supplemental enzymes which can make up for deficiencies.
Supplemental enzymes may be classified as either digestive or systemic. In order to comprehend digestive enzymes, the digestive process must be understood. Digestion occurs within the gastrointestinal tract and begins as soon as food is introduced to the mouth. Amylase (a carbohydrate enzyme) in the saliva is the first type of enzyme to begin digestion. Like all other enzymes, amylase is substrate specific; therefore, carbohydrates and sugars are the only substrates targeted to be digested in the mouth.
After the particular food has been masticated (chewed) it forms a bolus which travels down the esophagus and into the stomach. Within the stomach, acidity and gastric juices (full of enzymes) work together to further degrade food contents. Thus, creating a fluid-like substance referred to as chyme. In the intestines, chyme can be fully digested and absorbed or excreted. If the enzymes secreted from the pancreas and intestinal walls do not properly break down nutrients they may not cross the permeable intestinal wall and inevitably they will be discarded. The specific enzymes that are involved in digestion are proteases or peptidases, carbohydrases or amylases and lipases. All named according the substrate they break down (proteins, carbohydrates/sugars and fats). Now that we understand the digestive process is it apparent that digestive enzymes are imperative to breaking macronutrients down for absorption.
Without the help of these enzymes macronutrients will cause uncomfortable symptoms, and eventually be excreted, never to be utilized by the body. Digestive supplemental enzymes are orally ingested with food. This will insure that the enzymes will be taken along the same digestive journey, breaking apart molecules on their way through. Not only are food molecules broken down by enzymes in the digestive tract, but toxins are also among the substrates in which enzymes digest. Because digestive enzymes protect against toxins, they also play a role in immune health.
Unlike digestive enzymes, systemic enzymes must be taken on an empty stomach. Systemic enzymes are then absorbed into the circulatory system, where they can be dispersed throughout the body. Systemic enzymes are capable of affecting more of the body than digestive enzymes. Although both types of enzymes are crucial, systemic enzymes help build and maintain overall health and metabolic functions. Generally, systemic enzymes are proteases, enzymes that hydrolyze the peptide bonds within proteins; however, these proteins targeted are not food sources. Recall all food sources are broken down by digestive enzymes within the gastrointestinal tract. Thus, systemic proteases target proteins like fibrin.
Fibrin is responsible for blood clot formations that prevent hemorrhaging. When our bodies are in a stressed state, enzyme production is low and fibrin may accumulate. Excess fibrin is associated with increased inflammation, scar tissue and thrombosis (a serious condition affecting blood flow). When fibrin accumulation is prevented, the risks of thrombosis, scar tissue and inflammation are decreased. Systemic enzymes are utilized due to the regulatory effects they have on inflammation. It is thought that inflammation may be an underlying cause that exacerbates symptoms such as: swelling, pain, redness and warmth. Although inflammation is a natural immune response, it may cause more damage when tissue is chronically inflamed. The role of systemic enzymes to promote a healthy inflammatory response helps to alleviate and prevent chronic inflammation.
Enzyme supplements are intended to complement natural enzyme production. When the diet is not as well rounded as it should be, and when our bodies become less functional due to aging, supplements can fill in the gaps needed to maintain optimal health. Because enzymes are derived from natural sources, there are minimal risks associated with their use for therapeutic purposes.
The only contraindication in systemic enzyme use is for those using blood-thinning agents. Because nattokinase, a proteolytic enzyme used in some blends of supplements, already has blood thinning effects it may be recommended to not take them in conjunction with similar medications. Otherwise, supplemental enzymes are safe and do not interact with other medications. In some cases, people have lost dependency on medications with the aid of supplements. It is important to understand that although enzymes may be alternatives to some medications, they are only used to treat symptoms and to improve quality of life. They may not be a cure; yet they offer relief from symptoms that put limits on the life you should be living.References: http://www.astenzymes.com/serracor-nk McDowall, Jennifer. “Fibrinogen.” Protein Data Bank. November 2006. Web 20 February 2013. http://www.ebi.ac.uk/interpro/potm/2006_11/Page2.htm