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Enzyme Basics

Enzyme Functions

Enzymes are proteins that initiate change. The enzymes found in the human body are naturally occurring. They catalyze, or accelerate, all normal biochemical reactions in the body. Enzymes are responsible for all metabolic functions and many are absolutely vital for life itself. These proteins are highly specific regarding what they do and under what conditions they do it. Like a glove and a hand, the enzyme and substrate must fit correctly in order to work.

All food is composed of protein, fat, carbohydrate and fiber. Enzymes break down each of these into progressively smaller components until they reach their basic building block form. The body uses these building blocks to rebuild and heal itself, supply energy and remove toxins.

Carbohydrases, such as amylase, lactase and invertase, break down carbohydrates and starches. Proteases such as neutral bacterial protease and peptidase break down protein. Lipases break down fats and oils.



Plant/Microbial vs. Animal Enzymes

Plant and microbial enzymes have a much broader pH range and can work throughout the digestive tract. The pH environment of the digestive tract is highly variable and can range from very acidic in the stomach to quite alkaline in the small intestine. Most enzyme supplements derived from animal sources are enteric coated because of their lack of stability in the acidity of the gastric region.

Fortunately enzymes derived from microbial or plant sources are stable throughout a much broader range and are ideally suited for survival and activity throughout the gastrointestinal tract.



The Body’s Enzymes

The human body makes many different digestive enzymes. The digestion of food takes place in stages: beginning in the mouth then moving to the stomach and finally into the small intestine. When food enters the upper portion of the small intestine, the pancreas provides pancreatic enzymes to further break down the food. At each step, specific enzymes break down different types of food. Final breakdown of remaining small molecules of food occurs in the lower small intestine.



Enzyme Measurements Explained

Enzymes are best measured not by their weight but by the work they are capable of doing. This is usually expressed in some form of activity unit as a measure of potency. Many enzymes can be assayed using methods that are internationally recognized.

Use of these recognized assay procedures ensures that the methodology utilized can be reproduced to verify accuracy and legitimacy of the assay. Most microbial and plant enzymes used in dietary supplements are measured according to Food Chemicals Codex (FCC) assays.