ENZYMES: PART I
What are Enzymes?: A Review
Enzymes are naturally occurring chemicals that accelerate or facilitate chemical reactions in the body. Enzymes are sometimes called catalysts, and they are a fundamental component of the chemistry of life. It is recognized that there are two broad types of enzymes that need to be defined. The first types are termed “digestive” enzymes which are secreted by the gastrointestinal tract and are responsible for the digestion of food. The second types of enzymes are referred to as systemic or “metabolic enzymes” and they are the focus of the present discussion. The words metabolic or systemic enzymes imply that these enzymes support body chemistry and these enzymes are the most common types of enzymes that drive body functions and support body structures.
Functions of Enzymes
Enzymes act in a manner that causes many different changes in body structures and functions. Examples of the vital role of enzymes include growth of tissues, repair of tissues, chemical alteration of drugs or chemicals in the body, regulation of hormone secretion and even the balanced transmission of nervous impulses in the brain. When cancer or inflammation occurs in the body, different types of enzymes exert many different effects on body tissues. Enzymes must be present for breaking nutrients down into forms of building blocks that support the structure of the body. The function of enzymes themselves is often dependent upon the presence of vitamins and minerals, or other nutritional co-factors.
There are several thousand metabolic enzymes that work in harmony to run chemical reactions in all body tissues. A very important group of metabolic enzymes are antioxidant types of enzymes that remove free radicals or potentially damaging substances such as hydrogen peroxide. These free radicals are a common by-product of oxidative reactions, which damage tissues in many ways. These enzyme antioxidants are manufactured by the human body and examples include superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase and peroxidase. These three enzymes are very important in the body’s ability to detoxify itself and defend itself against oxidative damage. Such damage causes much disease and disability.
A simple example of oxidative damage to the body is muscle pain that occurs after heavy exercise. Muscular activity generates free radicals and that is why antioxidants are used increasingly by aerobic fitness enthusiasts and “weekend warriors” in the gym. These circumstances has lead great popularity of using green tea liquid concentrates in water bottles that accompany anyone involved in fitness pursuits. The use of balanced antioxidants is a favorite selection among professional trainers in the gym and their clients. Running to the gym is fun, but “hobbling home” is not!
One concept of nutritional support with enzymes involves how enzymes may actually go into the body and perform important functions in the nutritional support of a variety of body structures and functions. Again, disease treatment claims have to be avoided, but there is no doubt that metabolic enzyme support is used increasingly by practitioners of Integrative Medicine to alter body structures and functions in disease states. This kind of “metabolic enzyme” support remains in its infancy in terms of conclusive research. Metabolic or systemic enzyme support has been reported in medical literature as useful in many diseases such as, inflammatory disease, autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, infectious disease and even cancer management. (Again, disease treatment claims must be avoided for dietary supplements).
Conventional medicine has tended to reject the value of metabolic enzyme supplementation, otherwise called “systemic enzyme” support. Again, the idea is to give enzymes in supplements that go into the body (systemic) and cause beneficial effects on certain tissue functions, but this concept is close to a treatment concept. These circumstances make “in-detail” discussions of metabolic enzymes somewhat problematic, in any commercial or conventional medical context.
A major problem in acceptance of metabolic enzymes by modern science is the question: Whether or not “metabolic” enzymes are adequately absorbed by the human gastrointestinal tract? Some, but not all, well-conducted studies show that many types of enzymes are absorbed, including: combination enzyme preparations containing bromelain, chymotrypsin, pancreatin, papain and trypsin, even though their absorption is incomplete. Dietary supplements have been produced containing very important enzymes that are found in the human body, such as SOD, catalase and peroxidase, but these enzymes may not be efficiently absorbed, or they are unstable in their regular chemical forms.
The story of systemic enzyme support is not so simple because many factors alter the activity of enzymes, especially when such enzymes are used in dietary supplements. Several important factors affect enzyme activity in supplements or enzyme activity in the body. These factors include: the amount of material present that an enzyme can act on (substrate), acidity or alkalinity of the body, body temperature and the presence of other nutritional factors that are required to make enzymes function effectively, such as essential vitamins and minerals (co-factors).
It seems quite obvious that many enzymes are destroyed by stomach acid when they are taken as dietary supplements (e.g. lipase). This circumstance can be overcome to some extent by increasing the amount of enzymes that are administered in oral supplements; and in some cases by applying special coatings to the capsules that contain enzymes in dietary supplements (enteric-coating). These types of supplement formulations can be used to improve the tolerability of enzyme supplements and their absorption. I have taken this approach to formulate enzyme supplements that may be superior in several ways to existing enzyme products.
Enzymes Differ in Activity and Effects
There is a wealth of literature on the use of metabolic enzymes, but enzymes from different sources that are manufactured by different methods have variable biological activity. Therefore, quality enzyme supplements are made with checks on the activity levels of the enzymes that are used in the supplements. Enzyme supplements should be tested for the activity of their enzyme content.
Potential Use of Nutritional Support with Metabolic Enzymes
The most common and effective use of several metabolic enzymes is in the management of inflammatory disease. It is believed that in these circumstances enzymes can trigger repair mechanisms and alter blood circulation to inflamed tissues. These effects can be considered to be alterations of normal body functions or structures. This mechanism of action has led to favorable reports of systemic enzyme supplements in conditions such as arthritis, viral infections, sports injuries and sinusitis … to name a few conditions. However, the science that supports these reports of beneficial activity has been questioned by some physicians.
Reports of the successful use of metabolic enzymes in the nutritional support of cardiovascular health are of major interest because heart disease remains the number one killer in America. It has been suggested that several metabolic enzymes can balance body functions such as blood clotting or exert effects such as natural blood thinning (nattokinase). However, any attempts to self-medicate to alter blood clotting must be performed with much informed judgment and the supervision of a medical practitioner. Readers must understand that the maintenance of the balance between blood clotting and blood thinning in the body is critical for the prevention of clogging of blood vessels, both veins and arteries. Significant attempts to self-manage cardiovascular function may be associated with hazards, in some people.