Anyone who has any understanding of health has got to be taking digestive enzyme supplements with every single meal they eat. Unfortunately, most people think of enzymes (if they think of them at all) as necessary only if they have some kind of digestive problem. And, yes, it's true that people suffering from digestive problems, hiatal hernias, ulcers, and the like, have benefited greatly from using digestive enzyme supplements. But if that's all you think enzymes are for, you've missed the point.
Dr. Howell, in his book on enzyme nutrition, puts it quite clearly when he says that a person's life span is directly related to the exhaustion of their enzyme potential. And the use of food enzymes decreases that rate of exhaustion, and thus, results in a longer, healthier, and more vital life.
Now that's about as clean as you can get. But if that's not enough, let's go into the enzyme story in a little more detail.
Health Depends on Enzymes
Enzymes are proteins that facilitate chemical reactions in living organisms. In fact, they are required for every single chemical action that takes place in your body. All of your cells, organs, bones, muscles, and tissues are run by enzymes.
Your digestive system, immune system, blood stream, liver, kidneys, spleen, and pancreas, as well as your ability to see, think, feel, and breathe, all depend on enzymes. All of the minerals and vitamins you eat and all of the hormones your body produces need enzymes in order to work properly. In fact, every single metabolic function in your body is governed by enzymes. Your stamina, your energy level, your ability to utilize vitamins and minerals, your immune system -- all governed by enzymes.
Enzymes in Food and The Body
As it happens, they are produced both internally (most notably in the pancreas and the other endocrine glands) and are present in raw foods that we eat. At birth we are endowed with a certain potential for manufacturing enzymes in our bodies, an enzyme “reserve,” if you will. Nature intended that we continually replenish that reserve through proper nutrition and eating habits. Unfortunately, that just doesn't happen. Let's take a look at why.
Most people believe that when you eat a meal it drops into a pool of stomach acid, where it's broken down, then goes into the small intestine to have nutrients taken out, and then into the colon to be passed out of the body -- if you're lucky. Not quite.
What nature intended is that you eat enzyme rich foods and chew your food properly. If you did that, the food would enter the stomach laced with digestive enzymes. These enzymes would then "predigest" your food for about an hour -- actually breaking down as much as 75% of your meal.
After this period of "pre digestion," hydrochloric acid is introduced. The acid inactivates all of the enzymes, but begins its own function of breaking down what is left of the meal.
Eventually, this nutrient rich food concentrate moves on into the small intestine. Once food enters the small intestine, the pancreas reintroduces digestive enzymes to the process. As digestion is completed, nutrients are passed through the intestinal wall and into the blood stream.
That's what nature intended. Unfortunately, most of us don't live our lives as nature intended!
The Death of Enzymes: Cooked Food
Processing and cooking destroy enzymes in food. (Man is the only animal that cooks his food.) In fact, any sustained heat of approximately 118 - 129 degrees, destroys virtually all enzymes. This means that, for most of us, the food entering our stomachs is severely enzyme deficient. (Actually, there are some enzymes present from our saliva. The amount, however, is minuscule since we only chew our food about 25% as much as is required.) The result is that most of our meals enter our stomachs woefully devoid of enzymes.
The food then sits there for an hour, like a heavy lump, with very little pre-digestion taking place. Even after the stomach acid has done its work, the meal enters the small intestine largely undigested.
At this point, the pancreas and the other organs of the endocrine system are put under tremendous stress since they have to draw reserves from the entire body in order to produce massive amounts of the proper digestive enzymes. The less digestion that takes place before food reaches the small intestine the greater the stress placed on the endocrine systems. Recent studies have shown that virtually 100% of all Americans have an enlarged pancreas by the time they're 40. Is it any wonder that diabetes is so rampant in the United States.
There's also major research showing that enzyme deficient diets contribute to a pathological enlargement of the pituitary gland (That's the gland that regulates all the other glands.). And there is research showing that almost 100% of people over 50 who die from "accidental” causes have defective pituitary glands.
The bottom line is that regular supplementation with digestive enzymes takes stress off the pancreas (and the entire body) by providing the enzymes required for digestion. In other words, digestive enzyme supplements just may be one of the best insurance policies you can give your body so you can enjoy a long and healthy life.
All of what you've just read should be convincing to you; but just in case it's not, let me give you three real world examples of the power of digestive enzymes in action.
- F. M. Pottenger, MD., and D. G. Simonsen conducted a series of studies to determine what if any impact cooked food had on health. They put two groups of cats on diets of meat and vegetables, identical except that in one group the meat was raw, and in the second group the meat was cooked. The results were astounding. The group on raw meat maintained normal good health throughout the experiments and showed no sign of degenerative diseases, but the group on cooked meat showed an astonishing break-down of health in all the animals, including:
- Incomplete development of the skull and other bones
- Bowed legs
- Curvature of the spine
- Paralysis of the legs
- Thyroid abscesses
- Cyanosis of the liver and kidneys
- Enlarged colon
- Degeneration of motor nerves throughout the brain and spine
- And by the third generation, this group could not reproduce
- And here's one with lab rats. After all, everyone puts great stock in lab rats. Studies done with laboratory rats have shown that rats eating raw foods live about 30% longer than rats eating diets devoid of enzymes.
- Or did you know that the classic Eskimo diet consists of 80% saturated fat. That's 80% saturated fat. But it's primarily from raw fat and raw meat. And in a study of 3,000 of these people not one of them had high cholesterol, heart disease, arteriosclerosis, or high blood pressure. And only one of the 3,000 was even slightly overweight.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating that you live on seal blubber and dairy like the Eskimos and the Price Pottinger cats. But, can there be any doubt in your mind that live enzymes in your diet make a dramatic difference in your overall health and longevity?
As Dr. Howell said: a person's life span is directly related to the exhaustion of their enzyme potential. And the use of food enzymes decreases that rate of exhaustion, and thus, results in a longer, healthier, and more vital life. The question for you, then, is: how could you not be insisting that everyone you know and love use enzymes every time they eat. How could you not be using them every time you eat?
This is a no brainer. In addition to a longer, healthier, and more vital life, you will also experience a number of short term benefits. These include:
- You should notice a significant reduction in indigestion and heartburn problems resulting from too much acid in the stomach.
- Since complex carbohydrates are now being substantially digested before they enter the intestinal tract, you should experience relief from gas and bloating. (Some people may actually notice an increase in activity for several days as their digestive systems come alive.)
- Look for improved digestion of dairy products caused by lactose intolerance.
- Diminished food allergies due to more complete protein digestion.
- Greatly reduced flatulence due to more complete carbohydrate digestion.
- Since the digestion of enzyme deficient food is an extremely energy consuming task, within a few days of enzyme supplementation you should notice an increase in energy levels.
- Relief from hiatal hernias.
- Relief from ulcers. (Digestive enzymes help with ulcers in two ways. First, they help digest so much of your meal during the 40-60 minutes of predigestion that your body requires less acid in the actual digestion phase. This means that taking digestive enzymes will help lower the levels of acid in your stomach. (Those who suffer from chronic low levels of acid need not worry. Digestive enzymes supplements help here too by breaking down so much food in the predigestion phase that less acid is actually required. And over time, decreased demand results in increased reserve capability.)
But Which Enzymes Should You Use?
The fact is you'll benefit from any good vegetarian based digestive enzyme supplement. But look for one that contains:
- A variety of proteases, including Papain (to aid in the digestion of protein). Papain, which comes from papaya, is so effective in digesting proteins that it is often used as a meat tenderizer.
- Amylase (for the digestion of starches and carbohydrates).
- Lipase (to digest fats).
- Cellulase (invaluable in breaking down fiber cellulose into smaller units).
- Lactase (which works in the digestion of dairy products).
- I also used to recommend using large amounts of bromelain in the formula --not so much anymore.
- Bromelain is a great proteolytic enzyme found in pineapples. It digests protein, and it helps reduce inflammation and swelling in joints. Unfortunately, a significant number of people are subject to side effects--such as diarrhea and stomach and intestinal discomfort--when they use bromelain. It can also cause allergic reactions, especially in people who have other allergies.
But There's Even More
Pancreatic enzymes are part of a substance called pancreatin (or pancreas juice) produced in the pancreas. This complex includes the enzymes protease, amylase, and lipase and is released both into the intestines and the bloodstream.
In the intestines, pancreatin works to help digest the proteins, carbohydrates, and starches of our meals. Supplementation with digestive enzymes along with a meal helps share the workload of your body's own pancreatic enzymes and can aid in digestion. But what happens if you take enzymes between meals?
As mentioned earlier, pancreatic enzymes are not only released into the small intestine, but also directly into the bloodstream. Why?
Protein molecules that are only partially digested in the small intestine are absorbed into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, the immune system treats them as invaders provoking an immune reaction. Antibodies couple with these foreign protein invaders to form circulating immune complexes (CIC's). Now, in a healthy person, these CIC's may be neutralized in the lymphatic system. But if the immune system is in any way compromised, CIC's accumulate in the blood, where they initiate an "allergic" reaction. As the number of CIC's builds, the kidneys max out and can no longer excrete all of the CIC's, so they begin to accumulate in the body's soft tissues, causing inflammation.
It is here that the pancreatic enzymes in our bloodstream come into play. Pancreatic enzymes are able to break down CIC's so that they can pass through the kidneys for excretion.
What does that mean for us? Well, if enzymes are taken between meals, the body doesn't need the enzymes for digesting food, so they make their way directly into the bloodstream to aid in the elimination of CIC's.
But it gets even better. Because of their ability to digest foreign proteins, pancreatic enzymes (both those produced in the body and those absorbed into the bloodstream from taking supplemental digestive enzymes) work to clear out infecting organisms such as viruses, scar tissue, and the products of inflammation. For this reason, pancreatic enzymes are frequently used by Naturopaths to treat a variety of conditions, including lung infections, tooth infections, bone fractures, and as a body strengthener before surgery. Specifically, pancreatic enzymes have been used by many healers to aid in a variety of disease conditions, including inflammation, viral disease, multiple sclerosis, and cancer.
Note: A dedicated proteolytic enzyme (high protease) formula, will be even more effective in this regard than a digestive enzyme formula forced to do double duty. Ideally, you should use a dedicated digestive enzyme formula with your meals and a dedicated high protease formula between meals.
There is a fun experiment you can perform (that will work with any good digestive enzyme formula) and that will actually let you see the benefit of enzyme supplementation in just a few minutes.
- Make two bowls of instant oatmeal.
- Crush (or mix) a couple of digestive enzyme capsules into just one of the bowls of oatmeal.
- Wait 45 minutes.
Now check. If the formula you are using is any good, there should be a pronounced difference in the two bowls. The untreated bowl should be as expected: congealed, lumpy, stick to your ribs consistency. The bowl with the enzymes will look quite different. It will be “digested” and have the consistency of watery gruel. Which oatmeal would you rather have work through your body: the one that's stuck to the bowl like cement, or the enzyme bowl that's predigested? Which oatmeal do you think is less stressful to digest?
A Note On Ulcers
Digestive enzymes help with ulcers in two ways.
- First, they help digest so much of your meal during the 40-60 minutes of predigestion that your body requires less acid in the actual digestion phase. This means that taking digestive enzymes will help lower the levels of acid in your stomach. (Those who suffer from chronic low levels of acid need not worry. Digestive enzyme supplements help here too by breaking down so much food in the predigestion phase that less acid is actually required. And over time, decreased demand results in increased reserve capability.)
- Second, protease will begin breaking down the protective coating of the H. Pylori bacteria responsible for so many ulcers. In other words, it will actually begin to digest it. This is the prime reason digestive enzyme supplements are so helpful for those who have ulcers.
A cautionary note. There is one concern when using digestive enzymes with ulcers -- and that's if you have a severe existing ulcer. What happens is that the protease can actually begin to digest severely damaged stomach lining tissue. This can cause noticeable discomfort for several days. To avoid this discomfort, if you have a severe ulcer, start with small amounts of the supplement with your meals and build up slowly.
As I mentioned earlier, a person's life span is directly related to the exhaustion of their enzyme potential. And the use of food enzymes decreases that rate of exhaustion, and thus, results in a longer, healthier, and more vital life.
At a minimum, you must use a good digestive enzyme supplement with each and every meal you eat -- particularly any meal that contains either processed or cooked food.
A couple of times a week at night (or more often if you think of it), before bed, take your digestive enzyme supplement on an empty stomach.
**For more information about digestive enzymes and how they differ from proteolytic enzymes, click here: About Digestive & Proteolytic Enzymes.