What are digestive enzymes?
From the first bite we take, digestive enzymes begin their work of breaking down our food and transporting nutrients and toxins. Throughout the entire digestive process, our systems simply could not function without these amazing proteins. Digestive enzymes are proteins that act as catalysts. This means they can cause change and reactions internally without changing or destroying themselves. Over 3000 enzymes have been identified, falling into two categories - metabolic and digestive. Each type of enzyme is responsible for performing a different task.
Here are just a few of the many jobs that enzymes perform:
- Transport nutrients
- Aid digestion
- Transport toxins
- Rebuild tissue
- Purify blood
- Deliver hormones
- Promote homeostasis
With enzymes responsible for so many essential tasks, it's easy to see how a deficiency can lead to imbalance and cause noticeable health problems. Dr. Earl Mindell states, "A deficiency, shortage, or even the absence of one single enzyme can mean the difference between sickness and health." A deficiency in digestive enzymes can cause a host of problems, including increased inflammation and stress on the immune system, which in turn may be reflected in the flare-up of numerous skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, eczema, and even psoriasis. Keeping enzyme levels where they need to be can increase overall wellness, often reflected in healthier looking skin!
Digestive enzymes - essential for good health!
As soon as we take a bite of food, enzymes in our saliva immediately start breaking down that food. From there, the chewed and partially digested food travels down the esophagus and into the stomach, where an enzyme called pepsin, which is manufactured in the stomach, combines with hydrochloric acid to break food down even further. In the small intestine the now partially digested food gets inundated with still more enzymes. The enzymes in the small intestine are mostly manufactured in the pancreas, which produces 22 different kinds of enzymes to aid in digestion. During the process of breaking down food, the different types of enzymes work to separate different components of food such as proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and nutrients so that they can be utilized.
Without enzymes, we simply could not effectively process the foods we eat. Current research indicates that people who are intolerant of certain foods such as dairy may be deficient in the enzymes needed to break them down. Many enzymes are named according to the substances that they break down. For example, lipase is an enzyme that breaks down lipids or fats. Here is a short list of a few important digestive enzymes and their main purposes.
- Lipase - Lipase is actually the term for a number of different lipid-cleaving enzymes found throughout the body. This group contains pancreatic lipase, gastric lipase, and endothelial lipase, among others. Not only do lipase enzymes break down fats, but they are also involved in the inflammatory response of cells and metabolism. Lipase enzymes are especially important for skin health; after the fat molecules are split, some of their subcomponents are used to nourish the skin.
- Amylase - This group of enzymes is responsible for breaking down starches. Amylase enzymes are very prevalent in saliva, where they break starch molecules into maltose and dextrin. Salivary amylase is also known as ptyalin. Calcium is essential for these enzymes to function; without it they are unable to do their jobs.
- Protease - Proteins are broken down into amino acids by protease enzymes. Not only do these enzymes aid in digestion, but they also play an important role in blood clotting. Vitamin B12 cannot be absorbed unless protein-splitting enzymes such as protease separate it from carrier molecules.
- Pepsin - Pepsin is produced in the stomach, and in conjunction with hydrochloric acid breaks the bonds between certain amino acids, making them easier for the body to absorb.
When enzyme levels are insufficient, a host of problems may arise. Since enzymes are so important for good digestion, the most common signs of enzyme deficiency are seen in the digestive system. If food is not properly broken down during the digestive process, large masses of food may enter the intestines. When this happens, the food can putrefy in the gut and cause bloating, gas, problems with bowel movements, and general discomfort. Large particles of food may enter the blood stream and trigger the immune system to attack. In addition to suffering intestinal distress and an immune system response, it is most likely that the body has been unable to process valuable nutrients and vitamins during the digestive process. The entire system can become compromised, leading to systemic inflammation which in turn may cause skin conditions like psoriasis to worsen. Restoring intestinal health is very important in achieving improved skin health.
Enzyme depletion can negatively affect the skin in a number of ways. As previously mentioned, a properly functioning digestive system is very important to skin health, this being perhaps the most obvious culprit for enzyme deficiency-related skin problems. However, when you look at the enzymes themselves and how they work within our bodies, further problems relating to skin health can become apparent. A vicious cycle begins - food is not properly digested, vitamins and minerals are not absorbed, inflammation increases, and our bodies simply cannot keep up. Oftentimes the internal stress is reflected externally with flare-ups of skin conditions.
How do enzyme levels become depleted?
Digestive enzymes enter the system a number of ways. Our bodies manufacture the majority of enzymes in the salivary glands, gallbladder and pancreas. Many foods we eat, especially raw fruits and vegetables, also contain valuable enzymes. Unfortunately, when foods are heated over 118° F, most of the enzymes present in them are deactivated. Enzymes can also become depleted as we age; over time, our ability to produce enzymes drastically decreases. An October 2000 article in Vegetarian Times points out that "The amount of amylase present in the average 25-year-old's saliva is 30 times more abundant than in a 65-year-old's." Another factor contributing to the decline of enzymes in the system is poor dietary choices. When the organs in our body are stressed or overloaded with toxins, they may produce fewer enzymes. Something as simple as not drinking enough water and becoming dehydrated can drastically affect the number of enzymes within our mouths. Other factors that can cause a reduction in enzyme production include stress, heredity, drugs, or infections. People with Candida (yeast) may especially be at risk for a condition known as pancreatic insufficiency, which also can lead to enzyme deficiency. Candida can be especially devastating to those with skin conditions like eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis.
Increase your enzyme levels!
Enzyme levels can be reinvigorated a number of ways. One very easy way to help enzymes do their jobs more effectively is to simply chew your food slowly and thoroughly. If you consume lots of fried foods, sugars, alcohol, simple carbohydrates, and caffeine, changing your diet may bring vast improvement to how you look and feel. Enzymes do not live in over-processed foods, or even in foods that have been cooked. To help your system overall, consider including more fresh raw fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains in your diet. It is also recommended that you drink at least eight glasses of water per day, to keep you hydrated as well as to encourage proper elimination.
An enzyme supplement may also be a wise addition to your daily regimen. Supplements are an easy way to boost your enzyme levels. Many quality supplements like DermaEssentials include digestive enzymes as well as other vitamins and minerals. You are then able to increase enzyme levels and replenish vitamin and mineral stores that may have been depleted as well. Be sure to choose one that contains quality pharmaceutical-grade ingredients; lesser grades simply may not work as well.