When it comes to health, an anti-inflammatory diet could be said to be our first line of defense. We have seen how important digestion is and how we can support it with foods that heal our digestive tract. Only when this is the case can we ensure nutrients are absorbed and our immune system works at peak performance. A very important role in an anti-inflammatory diet is played by enzymes. Enzymes can be used to strengthen our gastrointestinal health and support all the different organs in the body. For example, did you know that just your arteries have 98 different enzymes, each with a unique job? Did you know that the act of thinking is made possible by a specific enzyme? You could say that every action in our body is controlled by enzymes. We have over 5,000 enzymes that create perhaps 25,000 different reactions. Stephen Blauer, in his introduction to the book ‘Enzyme nutrition’ (1) asserts that without enzymes we would be ‘nothing more than a pile of lifeless chemical substances, vitamins, minerals, water and proteins. In both maintaining health and in healing, enzymes and only enzymes do the actual work. They are what we call in metabolism, the body’s labor force’. In fact, enzymes are responsible for all functions of a living body: movement, breathing, heartbeat, thinking, etc. According to Dr. Hiromi Shinya, MD ‘Life itself is an ‘integration of enzyme reactions’ and it will end when the worn-out metabolic enzyme activity of the body drops so low that it is unable to carry on vital enzyme reactions’.
Since enzymes are so important, it would be in our interest to learn to improve our enzyme potential. How can we do this? Mainly through diet, highly processed foods lack the enzymes our body needs. But also through lifestyle, stress, smoking, alcohol, etc can exhaust the enzymes in our body. In our previous blogs we mentioned enzymes as part of the supplementation protocol to heal the gut. In this blog, we will look closely at what enzymes are, how they benefit our health and what functions they have in the body. We will focus on Dr. Hiromi’s research on enzymes as detailed in this book ‘The Enzyme Factor’ (2) and Dr. Edward Howell’s book ‘Enzyme Nutrition’.
What are enzymes?
An enzyme is a generic term for a ‘protein catalyst’ that is made within the cells of all living things. The definition of ‘catalyst’ is ‘a substance that causes a chemical reaction to happen more quickly’. (3) This means that without enzymes, any of the many reactions that happen in the body on a daily basis could potentially take decades to happen.
Enzymes are also unequivocally tied to life, in this sense, whenever there is life, whether in plants or animals, enzymes always exist. This is why enzymes take part in all actions necessary to maintain life:
- Supply of energy
- Digestion and absorption
- Metabolism of old cells being replaced by new cells
- Breakdown of toxins
- Maintenance of homeostasis
- Repair and regeneration cells
- Support of the nervous, endocrine and immune systems
- Maintenance of the immune system and other life activities
According to Dr. Howell, enzymes are ‘the life element without which many chemical reactions cannot occur…In the human body, enzymes have a life force of their own that doesn’t come from the food that enzymes metabolize. Instead, enzymes use this life energy to metabolize food…This life force can be seen by a radiation they emit… From a biological point of view, enzymes contain proteins and some vitamins and it’s the proteins that act as carriers of enzyme activity factors.’
Living things would not be able to sustain life without enzymes. More than 5,000 of these vital enzymes are produced in the cells of our body and we also produce enzymes from the enzymes in the food we eat daily. There are so many different types of enzymes because each has a specific job. Dr. Edward Howell in his book ‘Enzyme Nutrition’ explains there are three different kinds of enzymes: metabolic, digestive and from raw foods. Digestive enzymes are probably the ones you have heard of, we will first explain these, followed by metabolic enzymes and enzymes from raw foods will be the topic of our next blog.
Generally speaking, there are just a few types of digestive enzymes: Proteases digest protein, amylases digest carbohydrates and lipases digest fats.
Digestive enzymes start working from the moment we put food in our mouth. In this sense, we could say digestion starts in the mouth and it is why a very healthy habit that we can start implementing with every meal is to make sure we make a conscious effort to chew our food thoroughly, at least 30 times for each mouthful. This will ensure that food is broken down into small particles that can be absorbed and will take a load off our digestive system. The act of chewing stimulates release of saliva which contains a starch digesting enzyme named ptyalin. This enzyme operates only on cooked starches.
As the food moves through the digestive system, digestive juice in the stomach contains hydrochloric acid and pepsin. Hydrochloric acid provides the level of acidity in which pepsin is most active and it is pepsin that does most of the work breaking down proteins, not the acid. Pepsin is known as a proteolytic enzyme, with chymotrypsin and trypsin being the other two proteolytic enzymes. (5)
But pepsin doesn’t break down proteins completely, so there is more work to be done. As the strongly acidic food mixture from the stomach enters the small intestine pancreatic juice is released, a strong alkaline secretion. Then, one of the electrolytes, sodium, neutralizes the acid from the stomach so the digestive enzymes in the small intestine can do their work. The enzyme amylase begins breaking down starches (both raw and cooked) into sugar. Lipases start breaking fats into fatty acids and glycerol. Bile is secreted into the intestine along with pancreatic juice, and the bile salts in the bile act like soap, combining with the fat so it can be more easily acted on by the lipases.
When the pancreatic juice and bile have completed their work, finely broken up food particles are drawn into the intestinal wall where more enzymes complete the work of digestion. Then the digested food particles are assimilated into the blood and lymph vessels, where it is distributed throughout the body where the body needs it.
The food enzyme stomach
Something very interesting regarding enzymes and digestion concerns raw foods and what Dr. Howell called the ‘food enzyme stomach’. He asserted that in humans, the upper part of the stomach has no enzymes but instead, this part of the stomach is where raw foods go to be digested by the enzymes present in them. The carbohydrates, proteins and fats from raw foods are initially digested by saliva. After chewing and swallowing, digestion continues in the food enzyme section of the stomach for 1/2 to 1 hour or until the rising acid is inhibited. Then, stomach enzyme pepsin takes over. If food is cooked and therefore lacks enzymes, it sits in this food enzyme stomach waiting, where harmful bacteria possibly swallowed with the food, may attack the contents of the stomach while they are waiting, causing digestive distress. This is the reason he recommends raw foods and/or enzyme supplements.
The ‘Law of Adaptive Secretion of Digestive Enzymes’
Dr. Howell coined this term to refer to the optimal scenario in which the enzymes from food help with digestion so the body can save enzymes and use them to run the entire body. According to it, enzymes have biological and chemical properties that when ingested, whether from food or supplements, increase digestion, lowering the drain on the body’s own enzyme potential. He emphasized that cooking foods destroys its enzymes, forcing the body to produce more and enlarging digestive organs, specially the pancreas. When this happens, the enzyme potential may be unable to produce an adequate number of metabolic enzymes to repair the body and fight disease. In most people, enzymes are being used up and never replenished.
He explained that the body makes less than two dozen digestive enzymes and it uses up more of its enzyme potential supplying these than it uses to make the hundreds of metabolic enzymes needed to keep the organs and tissues functioning. ‘The body values its enzymes dearly and won’t make more than needed. If enzymes are present in the food, the body will produce less concentrated enzymes for digestion.’
Enzymes and disease
For Dr. Howell, health is directly tied to how much we conserve our enzymes. He believed that most of the human race are at least “half sick” because they live in the “minus diet” (food minus its enzymes). He compared our enzyme potential to a “checking account which could become dangerously deficient if not continuously replenished”. With this concept he introduced a new way of looking at disease. In this sense, the human body is at all times working to maintain homeostasis (balance). That is why when large amounts of highly toxic free radicals accumulate in the body, enzymes in the body work to detoxify these free radicals.
Food enzymes add life
Dr. Howell believed that enzymes are the most precious assets we have. We should take care of them and not depend on the ones we inherit only. Wasting them can lead to disease and even death. For this reason, he saw that disease could only be explained in terms of the ‘food enzyme concept’. In this regard, he saw diseases as having only two causes:
- Enzyme deficiency, which speeds up the development of cancer, heart disease, arthritis, premature aging silently and treacherously.
- When cause number one is well advanced in its progress, then things like carcinogens, bacteria, smoking, food additives etc can really wreak havoc.
While digestive enzymes are crucial, they only have the job of digesting food. Metabolic enzymes, on the other hand, are used everywhere in the body, they literally run the body. Each and every organ and tissue in the body has its own particular metabolic enzymes that do a specialized work. According to Dr. Howell, good health depends on each of these enzymes doing their job. A shortage is certainly a problem.
Metabolic enzymes take the protein, fats and carbohydrates which digestive enzymes helped us digest, turn them into a healthy body and keep everything working properly, repairing damage and healing diseases.
Another very important job enzymes have is producing energy. Bernard Jensen, in his book ‘Come Alive!’ states: ‘Without energy, you and I couldn’t walk a step or wink an eye, and most of us never stop and think how we get that energy. Energy is created in the cells of our bodies by a nine-step process that requires an enzyme-assisted change at each of the nine steps. Your ability to walk or wink depends upon nine enzymes and sugar. Sugar is the food source of energy and it comes from carbohydrates manufactured by the action of sunlight on chlorophyll in plants. And what do you suppose is in the middle of each chlorophyll molecule? A magnesium atom. The process is called photosynthesis- a multi-step process with an enzyme at work in each step.’
Dr. Jensen further explains that enzymes cooperate with each other. ‘Dozens of enzymes may cooperate in making a big change on some substance, each enzyme making a small change, then passing the substance on to the next enzyme. When we consider that there are over a thousand enzymes at work in the human body, we may begin to see how important it is to provide all the nutrients needed for all these processes to work correctly.’
He further stated: ‘Studies show that the substances enzymes work on have to become linked to the enzyme before any chemical reaction can take place. There is a particular part of the enzyme molecule that must be attached to a particular part of the substance molecule for action to begin. This active site is a physical-lock-and-key connection. Each ‘key’ will only fit into one kind of ‘lock’ and that is how enzymes can be so specific in their activity with only one substance. What is important about this enzyme activity is that it changes the substance it operates on in order to fit into a certain place at a certain time in a step-by-step digestive process.’
To get enzymes, we have to eat raw. Cooking destroys enzymes (at 300 degrees), pasteurization (at 145 degrees) will destroy them too although not as much as cooking. When we eat raw food the body does not have to secrete as many enzymes as with cooked food and less stomach acid is secreted. Digestion in this case takes longer and more food is digested. Also, food enzymes lessen the strength of excessive high digestive enzymes such as pancreatic juice and saliva. According to Dr. Howell, the food enzyme stomach gives our digestive organs a break.
Cooking destroys enzymes
Dr. Howell put so much emphasis on the fact that cooking destroys the delicate enzymes in food that he went as far as to assert that disease and cookery originated at the same time. He supported his theory by saying that animals living in the wild subsist on raw foods high in enzymes and do not have the degenerative diseases we have. This, despite the fact that animals have a highly stressed life (running from predators). Humans, on the contrary, are exposed to less physical tension, yet our health is inferior. He believed that the theory that stress causes all disease is not accurate. The proof he gave for this is that animals in the wild are free of disease, it is only lab animals that are fed our diet that develop diseases. He further supported his theory by saying that wild animals have adrenal glands that are double the size as that of lab animals, proving they produce more adrenalin. On the contrary, lab animals do not have the need to stress reactions triggered by adrenals so their adrenals are smaller. If the stress theory was right, wild animals should be amongst the sickest, but they are not. The reason they are healthy is their raw enzyme diet.
Enzymes at varied temperatures
Something remarkable about enzymes that Dr. Howell observed is that they do more work at slightly warmer temperatures, at least four times more work on food at 100 degrees F than at 80, 8 times more at 120 and 16 times more at 160, but at this temperature, they wear out in 1/2 hour and no longer do any work. In other words, while enzymes do more work at higher temperatures they are used faster. This fact points to something you may have experienced at least once in our lifetime: fever. The increased temperature in a fever induces faster enzyme action and hence is unfavorable for bacterial action, while white blood cells assisted by enzymes eat up the germs. The extra work enzymes do during a fever causes some to wear out and be expelled through urine.
Strenuous physical exercise will have the same exhausting effect on enzymes. This is what the author calls ‘wear and tear’, ‘the waste products and ‘spent’ fractions of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and enzymes are excreted as feces, urine and sweat, as well as by the lungs, after serving as food’. Since enzymes are used up, they have to be replenished through raw foods or supplementation.
Enzymes and your heart
Dr. Howell performed an experiment in his lab where he demonstrated that excessive physical work followed by rapid heartbeat and other body functions associated with rapid living resulted in an exhaustion of enzymes. In his experiment, at cooler temperatures the lab animals were sluggish, their heart rate was slow but the animal lived longer. When the temperature was higher, the heart beat faster and the movements were faster, but in both cases the total number of heartbeats was the same, proving that the organism has a fixed amount of enzyme activity to use up.
With his experiments he concluded: ‘Life is an enzyme process, ending when the enzyme potential becomes depleted beyond a certain point…the enzyme potential determines not only the length of life, but how effectively the organism can maintain a high state of health and deal with disease’.
He also observed that enzyme activity in the human body becomes weaker with age, for example the enzyme in saliva is 30 times stronger in young adults than in older people. Unless enzymes are supplemented, the pancreas must ‘steal, beg and borrow’ those stored in the whole body to make enough enzyme complex. Not only does this tiny organ (which weighs 3 oz) need vast amounts of enzymes, it needs protein to equip the enzyme complex.
The solution to a highly stressful lifestyle is to eat raw foods and/or supplement with enzymes in order to ‘cut down the secretion of digestive enzymes and allow the body to make enough metabolic enzymes’. He believed we should take supplemental enzymes as faithfully as vitamins and minerals, especially when not eating raw foods.
The enzyme factor
Dr. Hiromi Shinya, M. D. is considered another pioneer in the world of enzymes and nutrition. He began seriously researching the relationship between food and health over 40 years ago. Having examined many stomachs and intestines of Americans he has found a close connection between diet and gastrointestinal health. Dr. Hiromi is the pioneer of colonoscopy surgery, he developed the technique, which is named after him, and helped design the instrument used. He also worked with Dr. Leon Ginsburg, Dr. Burrill Bernard Crohn and Gordon Oppenheimer, the discoverers of Crohn’s disease. He was also the first person in the world to successfully excise a polyp using a colonoscope without having to perform an incision into the abdominal wall. Through his years of experience, he learned that ‘when a person’s gastrointestinal system is clean, that person’s body is easily able to fight off diseases of whatever type.’
Dr. Hiromi believes all the functions in the body are intertwined, a problem in one will impact the health of all. Ignoring this interconnection is counterproductive when it comes to health. He was also the first doctor to recommend breast cancer patients to have their colon examined, because he believes in treating the patient’s body as a whole unified organism. The basis of his philosophy is the relation between diet and the health of the digestive system.
He also believes that enzymes are so important that ‘our health depends on how well we maintain, rather than exhaust, the enzymes in our body’. He calls these enzymes ‘source enzymes’ because they are a general type of enzyme that are then converted into each of the 5,000 specialized enzymes, depending on the need and specific activity. He also calls them ‘miracle enzymes’ because they have the key role of healing the body.
Like Dr. Howell, Dr. Hiromi believes that we are born with a limited number of enzymes. If we exhaust them, they are not available in sufficient numbers to properly repair cells, so over time cancer and other degenerative diseases develop. Many factors in our modern society consume our precious enzymes: processed foods, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, food additives, agricultural chemicals, environmental pollution, electromagnetic waves, emotional stress, etc.
The deterioration he has observed in the intestines of many patients show a direct correlation between life-style and diseases like fibroids, hypertension, arteriosclerosis, heart disease, obesity, breast cancer, prostate cancer and diabetes. ‘When your intestines are unhealthy, your body is gradually weakened from the inside’.
Some of the contributors to poor intestinal health according to him are:
- High consumption of meat and milk without enough fiber.
- Medications like stomach acid suppressors, H2 blockers and proton-pump inhibitors.
All of these further accelerate the deterioration of the stomach lining. He explains that if stomach acid is suppressed with medication, the gastric mucosa atrophies and this may lead to the development of stomach cancer. Also, if stomach acid secretion is suppressed, the secretion of pepsin and hydrochloric acid which activate digestive enzymes is also suppressed resulting in indigestion. Moreover, insufficient stomach acid makes it more difficult to absorb iron and minerals such as calcium and magnesium. People who have had gastrectomies (removal of the stomach) are always anemic because they no longer secrete stomach acid and are unable to absorb iron. Furthermore, suppressing stomach acid destroys the bacterial balance in the intestine, resulting in a weakening of the immune system.
Dr. Hiromi asserts there is not such a thing as too much stomach acid. According to him, acid is produced because it is necessary to maintain the balance and overall health of the body. By overriding such natural mechanisms we will also shorten one’s life. To avoid these medications, he explains, it is necessary to understand how heartburn occurs in the first place, so it can be prevented.
This is how it happens: Overeating and/or indigestion cause acid to build up and flow back into the esophagus. Because the esophagus is alkaline, it is susceptible to acid and can result in scratch-like sores/erosions. If stomach acid flows up to the esophagus, it is like rubbing alcohol on a wound, causing symptoms of pain or discomfort commonly known as heartburn. The relief one feels after taking antiacids comes from suppression of further stomach acid secretion. Suppressing stomach acid makes the symptoms of heartburn disappear, but it puts a lot of stress and damage to all the parts of the body. By taking digestive enzyme supplements, however, stomach conditions will markedly improve.
In addition, in the stomach mucosa there are tiny projections called villi that secrete stomach acid. Acid suppressants make the villi shorter, weakening their function. This is what is known as ‘mucosal atrophy’. As this condition progresses the gastric mucosa becomes thin, causing inflammation, which will make the sufferer more prone to H. Pylori and other types of bacteria, worsening the stomach inflammation and in the end increasing the chances of stomach cancer.
Liver and enzymes
An organ where enzymes are of extreme important is the liver. This key organ uses enzymes to detoxify some very toxic compounds that if not broken down could be deadly. Breakdown of toxins is so important for health that the liver has a two-step detoxification system that uses enzymes at each step to accomplish this task. When the liver is overloaded, like in the case of excessive consumption of alcohol, the body will use more of our source enzymes, leaving other organs lacking. This is why it is important to maintain our enzymes and not use them up.
The liver detoxifies toxins by a 2-step process:
- Phase 1 is responsible for breaking things down into smaller raw materials. These are then shunted to….
- Phase 2, which builds new substances from the raw materials, by adding molecules to them (this process is called ‘conjugation’).
For this to be possible ‘enzymes work to subtract molecules from substances and break them up into smaller more useful units, just like the process of food digestion in the gut. Phase 1 is completely dependent on these enzymes, whose speed of metabolism is in turn affected by things like genetics, exercise and the presence or absence of certain substances/supplements in the diet that can either speed them up (induce them) or slow them down (inhibit them). After the enzymes have broken down some of the substances, some very toxic end products (metabolites) remain and they must quickly be shunted to phase 2 pathway in order to make them safer for the body to use. Heavy metals in particular can make these enzymes dysfunctional.’
In Phase 2, new substances are added/conjugated to the toxic and good metabolites produced in phase 1 in order to make them easier to transport, more stable and/or more functional for the body…particular enzymes are waiting to add something else and create a new substance. Mostly specifically, amino acids are added, such as glycine and taurine, as well as other substances such as glutathione, sulfate, and methyl.
Where do these conjugation substances, used in phase 2, come from? We must supply them via our diet and/or make them in our body through enzyme-dependent chemical reactions….many of these conjugation substances can be derived from big proteins that you eat’. (6)
According to Dr. Lam in his article ‘Detoxification and Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome’, ‘Toxin overload can burden our liver, triggering Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome” (7). Similarly, Dr. Keith Nemec in his article ‘The brain body connection. The first of the four major systems that maintain health’ asserts: ‘A weakened digestive lining allows chemicals and toxins to enter the blood. This overloads the liver and when the liver can no longer “detoxify” these chemicals they spill over into the general circulation causing premature cell death. This is seen as organ and gland dysfunction which produces symptoms, conditions and diseases.’ (8)
Dr. Hiromi’s research showed him that if a part of the body needs and consumes a large number of enzymes, other parts of the body tend to lack their own necessary enzymes. For example, if a lot of alcohol is consumed a higher number of enzymes will be used up by the liver to break down alcohol, creating a shortage of necessary enzymes for digestion and absorption in the stomach and intestines.
Enzymes made by intestinal bacteria
Of the more than 5,000 types of enzymes working in the human body Dr. Hiromi distinguishes between two main types of enzymes: those made inside the body and those coming from outside in the form of food. Among enzymes made in the body about 3,000 kinds are made by intestinal bacteria. What creates an intestinal environment that allows intestinal bacteria to produce enzymes? Eating high enzyme foods. Because the number of enzymes we are born with is finite, it is then key to consume and efficiently use enzymes made by other living things.
To sum up, all of the more than 5,000 types of enzymes are needed in order for people to conduct their life activities. The reason for this number is that each enzyme has only one function. If one specific organ uses up an excessive number of enzymes, it will deplete the source enzymes and create a shortage of enzymes in those other areas. The body then will have a difficult time maintaining homeostasis, repairing cells, supporting the nervous, endocrine and immune system, etc. Homeostasis is so important that the body is able to up regulate itself to the number of enzymes it needs if this balance is affected. This is only made possible if we have enough source enzymes stored in the body. Since the levels of source enzymes decrease with age and they are not produced automatically, eating in a manner that doesn’t waste enzymes allows our body to produce the energy it needs. This is the secret to living a long healthy life and keeping disease at bay, according to Dr. Hiromi.
- Howell, Edward. ‘Enzyme Nutrition’. Wayne: Avery Publishing Group, Inc., 1985.
- Shinya, Hiromi. ‘The Enzyme Factor’. San Francisco: Council Oak Books, 2007.
- Jensen, Bernard. ‘Come Alive!’ Escondido: Bernard Jensen, 1997.