Maybe you’ve heard the word “enzymes” in conversation or in the news, but weren’t exactly sure what it meant or why you should care. Well, they play a key role in digestion and inflammatory diseases so if you’ve been having some difficulty in those departments, now’s the time to start paying attention.
In short, enzymes are proteins that are made by our cells, and many different types of enzymes exist. According to Tamara Duker Freuman, MS, RD, CDN, “Digestive enzymes facilitate the chemical breakdown of food into smaller, absorbable components. Enzymes called amylases break down starches into sugar molecules; proteases break down proteins into amino acids; and lipases break down fat into its component parts.” In addition to these three types, cellulases digest fibers and a deficiency of these can cause gas, bloating, and bowel and vaginal yeast infections.
The Importance of Enzymes
The function of enzymes is to reduce the amount of activation energy required for a reaction to occur. Vitamins, minerals, and hormones all depend upon enzymes to produce chemical reactions to function properly. The human body often becomes depleted of enzymes due to pesticides, chemicals, genetic engineering, pasteurization, and cooking food at high temperatures (microwaving).
These are some of the many functions that enzymes carry out in your body:
- Reduce inflammation
- Produce energy
- Absorb oxygen
- Deliver nutrients to cells
- Carry away toxins
- Regulate hormones
Symptoms of Enzyme Deficiency
The following are typical symptoms of an enzyme deficiency:
- Trouble digesting fatty foods
- Feeling bloated
- Having heartburn
- Skin rashes and breakouts
- Mood swings
- Joint pain
Foods Rich in Enzymes
Fortunately, enzymes exist in raw food, which is why raw food diets are sometimes recommended to people with digestive problems. When you cook or process foods, enzymes are destroyed. It’s important to note that even some raw foods inhibit enzymes and neutralize the ones that your body produces. Some of these types of foods include lentils and raw peanuts.
But ultimately, these are some enzyme-rich foods to incorporate into your diet to maintain a healthy gut:
But if your diet includes a lot of cooked and processed foods, you may want to look into nutritional supplements to ease bloating and gas after meals. According to the book, Enzymes for Autism and other Neurological Conditions, proteases (enzymes that break down proteins) are often taken between meals by people who have autoimmune conditions or are recovering from illnesses or injury.
Your body uses up enzymes when exposed to extreme hot or cold temperatures and with strenuous exercise. Enzymes also decrease with age. These are all reasons to consider a natural enzyme supplement if you don’t get enough of them in your diet alone.
Other Tips to Maintain a Healthy Gut
If your gut isn’t healthy, chances are the rest of you isn’t either. Conditions like diabetes, dementia, cancer, chronic fatigue, and many others have been linked to gut issues, and people who are developing these conditions often exhibit low enzyme levels. To keep your digestive tract working smoothly, boost absorption, and rid your gut of toxins, keep these healthy tips in mind:
- Swap out processed foods for raw, uncooked foods
- Get tested for food allergies if you are experiencing reactions after eating
- Eat more fish or take omega-3 supplements to ease inflammation in the gut
- Eat probiotic-rich and fermented foods, like yogurt and sauerkraut
- Manage stress and exercise every day