Enzymes are energized protein molecules that play a necessary role in virtually all of the biochemical activities that go on in the body. They are essential for digesting food, for stimulating the brain, for providing cellular energy, and for repairing all tissues and cells. Life as we know it could not exist without the action of enzymes, even in the presence of sufficient amounts of vitamins, minerals, water, and other nutrients.
Enzymes are often divided into two groups: digestive enzymes and metabolic enzymes. Digestive enzymes are secreted along the gastrointestinal tract and break down foods, enabling the nutrients to be absorbed into the bloodstream for use in the various bodily functions.
There are three main categories of digestive enzymes: amylase, protease, and lipase.
- Amylase, found in saliva and in pancreatic and intestinal juices, breaks down carbohydrates. It begins to act as soon as you start chewing (this is why it is important to chew your food well.) Different types of amylase break down specific sugars. For example, lactase breaks down lactose (milk sugar), maltase breaks down maltose, and sucrase breaks down sucrose (cane and beet sugar).
- Protease, found in the stomach juices and also in the pancreatic and intestinal juices, helps to digest protein.
- Lipase, found in the stomach and pancreatic juices, is also present in fats in foods. It aids in digestion of fats
Metabolic enzymes are enzymes that catalyze the various chemical reactions within the cells, such as energy production and detoxification. Metabolic enzymes govern the activities of all the body's organs, tissues, and cells. They are the workers that build the body from proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Metabolic enzymes are found doing their specific work in the blood, organs, and tissues. Each body tissue has its own specific set of metabolic enzymes.
Two particularly important metabolic enzymes are superoxide dismutase (SOD) and its partner, catalase. SOD is an antioxidant that protects the cells by attacking a common free radical, superoxide. Catalase breaks down hydrogen peroxide, a metabolic waste product, and liberates oxygen for the body to use1. (Adapted from Prescription for nutritional healing by Phyllis A. Balch)
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