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Enzymes

The microscopic enzymes have many important functions in the body, despite their small size. Enzymes are protein-based and help break down the food we eat so that all of the nutrients can be properly absorbed.

  • Enzyme function + coenzyme
  • The various enzymes involved in digestion
  • Tips and advice

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Enzyme function

The body has lots of enzymes with different properties and functions. Enzymes consist of proteins in microscopic molecules, which initiate chemical reactions in the body and help to increase or decrease the speed of the reaction. Our cells contain lots of enzymes, of which they can each contain up to 1000. The enzymes are needed so that the food we eat can be broken down and we can absorb the nutrients. Even vitamins, minerals and hormones cannot function properly without the presence of enzymes.

Coenzymes are small molecules that bind to the enzymes and contribute to their function, helping to transport chemical groups between the enzymes. Coenzymes are made from vitamins, including several B vitamins and Q10 which act as coenzymes and are then largely recreated in the body to keep the concentration at a balanced level.

The various enzymes involved in digestion

Digestion is an advanced process that is constantly going on in the body. Enzymes play a major role in making everything work, and fulfill their function from the mouth down to the intestines.

When we chew food, the enzyme amylase is secreted in the oral cavity via saliva. Amylase helps in the breakdown of carbohydrates. In the stomach, the food ends up in the stomach acid, where the enzyme pepsin breaks down proteins from the food. Pepsin depends on the amount of stomach acid to function fully. When the food then reaches the duodenum, the enzyme amylase continues to break down carbohydrates while the enzyme lipase handles fat breakdown and trypsin breaks down proteins.

In general, you can divide the different enzymes into three groups:

Metabolic enzymesWork in the bloodstream, organs and tissues.
Digestive enzymesMade naturally in the body and help to break down food so that the nutrients are absorbed.
Food enzymesSupplied to us through the food we eat. We get food enzymes mainly from fruit and vegetables, and they help with digestion just like the body's own digestive enzymes.

Tips and advice

Digestive problems can manifest as abdominal pain, loose or hard stools and, if nutrient uptake is poor, can also give rise to lack of energy. There can be many different reasons why problems arise; prolonged stress, poorly chewed food or lack of enzymes. Some of us even lack certain enzymes, and a common problem is the lack of lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose from dairy products. Lactose intolerance is a common problem that is best remedied by excluding dairy products or choosing lactose-free products.

In case of digestive problems, it is important to review your habits and diet to find out what is causing the problems. Make sure you have a basis of a nutritious, varied diet and eat in a calm, de-stressed manner. Eating a one-sided diet can be the cause of some problems. People who eat a very high protein diet or have a diet that consists mostly of carbohydrates can experience similar problems even if it is due to different diets.

There are also a number of foods and supplements you can use to promote digestion. Wheatgrass, papaya and aloe vera have been shown to contain a high proportion of enzymes. If you eat a diet high in protein, supplements with the enzymes bromelain, protease and papain are preferable, as these enzymes help to break down proteins. Even for carbohydrate-rich or high-fat diets, there are enzyme supplements with the appropriate enzymes amylase and lipase. If you are lactose intolerant, there is the lactase enzyme available for occasions on which you want to be able to eat dairy products without having stomach problems.

Another tip to keep in mind is that enzymes that we intake through food have been shown to be heat sensitive and are destroyed to some extent at temperatures above 48 degrees. Therefore, it is preferable to eat some raw foods regularly. Older people in particular may need to think a little more about what they ingest, as our body's own enzyme production decreases with age. In short, a balanced and varied diet as well as a supplement of the right type of enzymes when needed is the best solution for a happy stomach.

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