Enzymes – Health Benefits and Natural Food Sources

Enzymes are proteins that catalyze (increase or decrease) chemical reactions. When enzymatic reactions occur, the molecules at the beginning of the process (substrates) are converted into different molecules (products). Enzyme activity can be affected by other molecules called enzyme inhibitors. Many drugs, medications, and poisons are enzyme inhibitors. Enzyme activity is also affected by temperature, chemical environment, and the concentration of substrate. Some enzymes are used commercially for different purposes such as in antibiotics,household products, meat tenderizers, and for digestion. The enzymes used in household detergents break down protein or fat stains on clothing. The enzymes for digestion break down foods into smaller molecules, thus providing assistance for efficient digestion and the absorption of each nutrient.

There are two major types of enzymes: synthetases and hydrolases. The synthetases (also known as metabolic enzymes) help to build body structures by making or synthesizing larger molecules. The hydrolases (also known as digestive enzymes) use the process of hydrolysis to break down large molecules into smaller ones by adding water to the larger molecules. The best natural food sources of enzymes are fresh fruits, vegetables, and fresh juice made from them.

Superfoods That are Rich Sources of Enzymes:

Bee Pollen - As the main food source for honey bees, bee pollen captures the essence of every plant from which it collects pollen. Bee pollen has been called "nature's perfect food" because of it's dense nutritional quality. Bee pollen is packed with vitamins, minerals, trace elements, enzymes, and amino acids. It contains 18 amino acids; vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, and B12; niacin; pantothenic acid; folic acid; vitamins C,D,E, choline; inositol; rutin and other bioflavonoids; calcium; magnesium; iron; zinc; ten types of enzymes; coenzymes; and many other nutritional factors.

Aloe Vera Juice - For centuries aloe vera juice has been recognized for it's numerous health benefits both internally and externally. Although aloe vera provides external benefits for the skin, it's especially useful in relieving a variety of conditions inside the digestive tract. Aloe vera juice provides anti-inflammatory action in the digestive system, it helps to detoxify the bowel, it neutralizes stomach acidity, and it relieves constipation and gastric ulcers. Aloe Badensis Miller (the most nutrient dense of all aloes) contains at least 75 nutrients and more than 200 active compounds including 20 minerals, 22 necessary amino acids, and 12 vitamins.

Sprouts - When we eat sprouts, we're actually eating very young versions of entire plants. Sprouts are one of the most concentrated sources of nutrition. They're rich in enzymes, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and phytonutrients. Sprouts can be made from a variety of seeds. Some of the most commonly consumed sprouts are made from beans, lentils, broccoli seeds, alfalfa seeds, and clover seeds. Sprout kits are available at sprout specialty food stores such as sproutpeople.com.

Cereal Grasses (Wheat Grass and Barley Grass) - Not only are wheat grass and barley grass high chlorophyll foods, they contain many other nutrients and enzymes including the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD). Superoxide dismutases are a class of enzymes that provide important antioxidant defense in nearly all cells exposed to oxygen. Without SOD cells are highly susceptible to damage and inflammation.

Although wheatgrass and barley grass are very similar, barley grass is more easily digested. Wheatgrass juice is usually tolerated well by people who are allergic to wheat and gluten. Barley grass is a great alternative for those who can't tolerate wheatgrass. Although barley grass is milder and bitter compared to the slightly sweet wheat grass, both cereal grasses contain similar nutrients. Some studies suggest that barley grass is especially beneficial for boosting energy levels, improving stamina, and providing clarity of thought. Barley grass is also known to improve the texture of the skin and to heal the dryness associated with aging. Studies indicate that wheatgrass is especially beneficial for cleansing the lymph system, restoring balance in the body, helping to remove toxic metals from cells, and it restores vitality.

Microalgae (spirulina, chlorella, and wild blue-green alga) - These three types of microalgae contain more chlorophyll than any other foods on the planet. Aside from cereal grasses, microalgae are considered by most health experts to be the healthiest foods on the planet. In addition to chlorophyll, microalgae are a rich source of complete protein, beta-carotene, enzymes, and nucleic acids (RNA and DNA).

Green Leafy Vegetables - Like other chlorophyll rich foods, green leafy vegetables are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and phytonutrients. There are several types of green leafy vegetables and each provides it's own set of unique beneficial nutrients. Green leafy vegetables include chard, collard greens, mustard greens, bok choy, kale, dandelion greens, parsley, broccoli, and romaine lettuce.

Metabolic Enzymes (Synthetases)

Metabolic enzymes carry out a variety of functions in the body. They flush toxins from the body, they help to produce energy, and they ensure the correct function of every organ. They're a major component in the reproduction and replenishment of cells. One of the most important functions of metabolic enzymes takes place within the blood. Metabolic enzymes process nutrients that are provided by foods, and they distribute them to every area of the body in order to replenish cells. The pancreas is the primary organ that produces and releases metabolic enzymes into the body.

Metabolic enzymes are necessary throughout life and for the aging process. A lack of metabolic enzymes accelerates several conditions in the aging process such as wrinkles, bone loss, and other conditions that generally come with aging. Studies have shown that as we get older, fewer enzymes are produced in the pancreas and there are fewer enzymes found in the various cells of the body. For this reason, many people turn to enzyme supplements to increase their level of enzymes in the body. Although enzyme supplements are an option, they're not necessary. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and fresh juice made from them are often referred to as "live foods" because they contain active enzymes. Since enzymes are extremely sensitive to heat, they're found in higher amounts within raw foods. By consuming whole plant foods and fresh juices, the body not only gets the enzymes but it gets many other nutrients as well.

Digestive Enzymes (Hydrolases)

Digestive enzymes provide relief for the digestive system because they break down proteins. There action is especially beneficial for those who have digestive conditions such as IBS, Ulcerative Colitis, Celiac Disease, and Gluten Sensitivity. The human digestive system has 4 major sites of digestion: the oral cavity, the stomach, the duodenum, and the jejunum. Digestive enzymes are naturally secreted by different glands: the salivary glands, the glands in the stomach, the pancreas, and the glands in the small intestine. When foods are consumed, they must be broken down into simple, soluble, and diffusible substances before they can be absorbed into the body. Digestive enzymes start their action in the oral cavity by using saliva to break down food starches into smaller molecules. The various digestive enzymes help to break down the different components of foods such as starches, proteins, fatty acids, and sugars.

Digestive enzyme supplements are becoming more popular as more people are learning that they have food allergies and digestive conditions. Most, but not all, digestive enzymes in supplements are extracted from natural foods. Although digestive enzyme supplements are available, the best way to obtain them is to eat natural foods that contain them. Raw fruits, vegetables, and "live food" juices are excellent sources of enzymes. There are three classes of digestive enzymes: proteolytic enzymes (proteases) which are needed to digest protein, lipase enzymes which are needed to digest fat, and amylase enzymes which are needed to digest carbohydrates (such as starches and sugars).

Natural Food Sources of Digestive Enzymes:

Pineapple (bromelain) - The bromelain in most digestive enzyme supplements is extracted from pineapple stems, since they have the highest concentration of the nutrient. The core and flesh of pineapple fruit contains good amounts of bromelain as well. Bromelain is a group of powerful proteolytic digestive enzymes and provides several other health benefits, most of which are still under investigation. Studies have revealed that bromelain is also effective in fighting cancer growth. It blocks growth of a broad range of tumor cells in several types of cancer including breast, lung, colon, ovarian, and melanoma. Pineapple is also a great source of several other nutrients including manganese, vitamin C, and potassium.

Green Papaya (papain) - Like the bromelain in pineapple, papain is a group of proteolytic digestive enzymes. Papain, often extracted from papaya, is another major ingredient in digestive enzyme supplements. Papain is also added to most enzyme supplements that are formulated specifically for pain relief (arthritis, sports injuries, etc.). Papain may also have anti-inflammatory properties. Papaya is an excellent source of several other nutrients including potassium, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.

Mangoes (magneferin, katechol oxidase, and lactase) - In India, green mango powder (amchur) is often used as a tenderizing agent for meats. Mango lassi is a common drink in Indian restaurants and it's made from a combination of mangoes, yogurt, and spices. Not only are mangoes a rich source of digestive enzymes, they're also an excellent source of potassium, vitamin A, and beta-carotene. Mangoes are also a good source of vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and fiber.

Kiwifruit (actinidin) - The actinidin enzyme in kiwifruit eases digestion due to it's proteolytic enzyme qualities. Actinidin is also found in pineapples, papayas, and mangoes. Aside from kiwi being a great source of digestive enzymes, it's also a great source of several other nutrients including vitamin C (almost twice the amount in an orange), magnesium, and potassium. Kiwi also acts as a blood thinner without the adverse side effects of asprin.

Figs (ficin) - Used as a meat tenderizing agent, ficin is another protease (proteolytic) enzyme that eases digestion. Ficin is found primarily in figs. Figs provide several other health benefits as well. They're an excellent source of fiber and a good source of calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

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