Exploring Enzymes

By Organic Spa Magazine / January 15, 2014

A renowned integrative MD explains how enzymes can help us heal.

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Enzymes have long been an overlooked secret to helping our bodies heal. Every plant contains naturally occurring enzymes that help us digest the plant’s nutrients, making them more readily available to the body. These enzymes help in improving digestion, aid in absorption, reduce inflammation, and in the case of fiber, help the intestines better eliminate toxins. (I think there are untold other ways they help the body’s unimaginably complex machinery operate better, too, as enzymes facilitate nearly every process in the human body.) Nature designed things so that we would get plenty of these from our food—they are literally all around us!

Trouble is, too often, these plant enzymes are lost in our diet because our food is so often processed, not so fresh (picked long ago and far away), or cooked—the slightest bit of heat, over 140ºF, destroys them. You can take enzymes with food to help with digestion in a very straightforward way. Or you can take them between meals so they are absorbed into the bloodstream—and this is when they can do some amazing things.

Perhaps most relevant here: They can reduce inflammation directly in the liver. They can also improve circulation, promote healing of tissue throughout the body, help with glycation (simply put, the body’s processing of sugars on a molecular level), and boost kidney function. Here’s a brief guide to choosing the enzyme/supplement that best meets your needs:

If you have trouble digesting beans An enzyme called alpha galactosidase will help digest undigestible starches in beans that cause gas/bloating/cramping. Beano is a readily available product you can find in any pharmacy, as well as Bean Assist by Enzymedica.

Photograph by Robin Jolin

If you are lactose intolerant You can take the enzyme lactase to help break down the lactose in dairy products. Good products include Identify Dairy by Enzyme Science, Lacto by Enzymedica, and Lactaid.

If you are gluten intolerant Gluten-digesting enzymes DPP IV can help digest trace amounts of gluten for individuals who dine out and are exposed to gluten contamination, which can cause local and systemic inflammation. Products I like include GlutenEase 2X by Enzymedica and Identify Gluten by Enzyme Science.

If your digestion is sluggish Most good general enzyme formulas include proteases to help with protein digestion, amylase for carbohydrate digestion, and lipases for fats. These will maximize digestion when taken with meals and absorption of critical nutrients when taken between meals. Some excellent formulas are ATPro Digest Gold by Enzymedica, Vital-Zymes Complete by Klaire Labs, Similase by Integrative Therapeutics, and Critical Digestion by Enzyme Science.

If you have inflammation-related disorders For any kind of inflammation disorder—arthritis, headaches, IBS—proteolytic enzymes can be powerful medicine. Taken between meals, they can help reduce systemic inflammation and promote absorption and are an excellent choice for anyone who feels he or she may need a bit of liver repair, as they help all bodily tissues (including organs). An excellent product in this category is Wobenzym N, which contains a proprietary mix of pancreatin, papain, bromelain, papain, trypsin, and chymotrypsin. A recent powerful addition to the repertoire of anti-inflammatory enzymes is serratiopeptidase, found in Enzymedica’s Serra Gold.

There is ongoing research on using enzymes to break up common chemicals in food that produce (nonallergic) reactions. Some of these include the biogenic amines histamine and tyramine. (Hist-DAO by Xymogen is one of the new enzyme products.)

Reprinted from The Detox Prescription by Woodson Merrell, MD, with Mary Beth Augustine, MS, RDN and Hillari Dowdle. Copyright (c) 2013 by Woodson Merrell, MD. By permission of Rodale Books. Available wherever books are sold.

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