The organic benefits of Enzymes

By Jon Barron

The definition of Enzymes and their functions

Enzymes are large biologically stable molecules which are made up of mostly proteins that speed up or catalyze chemical reactions in living organisms. They play a critical role in everyday life. Enzymes regulate most parts of your body,  including all of your tissues, muscles, bones, organs, and cells.

Enzymes govern every single system in your body–and all of their parts. Your digestive system, immune system, bloodstream, liver, kidneys, spleen, and pancreas, as well as your ability to see, think, feel, and breathe–the very functioning of each and every cell in your body–all depend on enzymes. All of the minerals and vitamins you eat and all of the hormones your body produces need enzymes in order to work properly.

Each metabolic function in your body is governed by enzymes. Your stamina, your energy level, your ability to utilize vitamins and minerals, your immune system–all governed by enzymes. Perhaps it is not surprising that most inherited metabolic diseases ( like cancer, etc) occur because thanks to a faulty gene, a single enzyme is either not produced by the body at all, or is produced in a form that doesn’t work. This is typically how many diseases begin and why all doctors have that generic questionnaire asking you if any family member has had this disease or that disease in their history. Depending on that particular enzyme’s job, its absence means toxic chemicals can build up in your body, or an essential biochemical process may not be produced. Either way, the net result is disease…and often death.

Enzymes as organic catalysts

Enzymes allow many chemical reactions to occur within the constraints (temperature, oxygen levels, acid/alkaline balance, etc.) of a living system. As organic catalysts, they are involved in, but not changed by, chemical reactions and they do not alter the equilibrium of those reactions. Enzymes do not make a reaction occur that would not occur on its own, they just make that reaction happen much faster and much more efficiently within a microscopic level in our bodies.

Like all catalysts, enzymes work by providing an alternative pathway that requires lower activation energy for a reaction than would otherwise be required. This process is essential to human life. By bringing the reactants closer together, enzymes can help make chemical bonds weaker, thus helping reactions proceed faster than they can without the catalyst. The net result is that an enzyme can actually make a reaction many millions of times faster than would be possible without that enzyme.

This is important since these “reactions” govern every function in your body, not to mention the destruction of viruses, bacteria, and cancerous cells. It’s not hard to understand how increasing the speed of a chemical process in the body several times over could change things dramatically. And the most amazing part is that enzymes are not permanently altered in the process of catalyzing a reaction. They may be changed briefly during the process, but at the end of a reaction, enzyme molecules are unchanged from where they were at the beginning. This means that a single enzyme molecule can be used over and over to catalyze the same reaction.

Enzyme loss & gain in the body

A typical human does not need more enzymes to replace ones that are lost. The typical human body will need more of them so that they can act on more of the substrates at one time. Some enzymes are lost through different metabolic processes. If you take supplements you can build the amount in your body. In other words, the more enzymes present, the faster the reaction will go. In this case, faster is better! Also, although enzymes are not “used up” in doing their job, they can be used up by being eliminated–by being physically removed from the body. For example, digestive enzymes are not used up in the process of digestion. But they are “used up” by being pushed along with your food as it’s being digested and passed out of your body in your stools–thus the need for new digestive enzymes to process your next meal. Once again this is why supplements on a regular basis are recommended. Enzyme supplementation is critical on a regular basis to keep optimum health.

Another way to describe what enzymes do is to say that they create an environment that makes reactions in the human body more energetically favorable. When we use the word “environment” here, we are referring to a very small focused area where chemical transformations take place. With enzymes, the “environment” is a tiny place located on a single molecule. A very small, microscopic place inside one cell. This environment, referred to as an “active site” is a groove or pocket on the surface of the enzyme inside of which the substrate (the substance that is the focus of the chemical reaction) gets bound and then undergoes reaction. These reactions happen millions….even billions of times over and over. This pocket or groove is most often lined with amino acids whose side chains bind the substrate and aid in its chemical transformation.

Different types of Enzymes in the body

There are thousands of different enzymes in the human body. The exact number is unknown, but estimates range from 55,000 to as many as 75,000–the vast majority, as yet, unidentified–and each one is responsible for facilitating one specific chemical reaction required to keep the body running. When it comes to the vast majority of these enzymes, there is very little we can do to change their numbers and impact on the body. That said, many medications specifically try to do just that. They work by increasing or inhibiting either the production or efficacy of a particular enzyme–either in your body, or in the body of an invading pathogen. Penicillin, for example, works by dissolving the cell walls of invading bacteria, literally disintegrating them. The way in which it does this explains a lot about enzymes.

One essential component of the bacterial cell wall is transpeptidase, which accepts molecules of penicillin as a substrate attachment. The penicillin is then activated by the enzyme, which again is in the bacterium’s cell wall. The activated penicillin, which is now locked into the cell wall of the bacterium, then prevents normal peptidoglycan reactions which are needed to strengthen links in the cell wall. This progressively weakens the bacterial cell wall until it ultimately breaks down, disintegrates, and the bacterium dies.

Stomach acid and the correlation to Enzymes

Let’s remember the science: Enzymes are proteins, and some people think that your stomach acid digests them before they can have any beneficial impact in your gut–let alone enter your bloodstream. These people who make these claims can be proven wrong in many ways, but the simplest is to give three real world examples: pepsin, amylase, and lactase.

Pepsin is a powerful protein digesting enzyme that lives well in the high acid environment of the stomach.  It is produced in your stomach, and it not only works with the hydrochloric acid in your stomach to break down proteins, it actually requires hydrochloric acid to be produced in the first place.  Here’s the sequence: Pepsinogen is secreted by the chief cells in your stomach. By itself, pepsinogen is inactive and will digest nothing until it is converted into pepsin. Pepsin is produced when pepsinogen comes in contact with hydrochloric acid in the stomach. This is actually a remarkably elegant maneuver by your digestive system. Since pepsin literally digests protein, you don’t want pepsin active in the chief cells themselves or it would digest them. Thus the chief cells release inactive pepsinogen–pepsin’s precursor– which is converted into pepsin only after the pepsinogen has made its way out of the chief cells and into the stomach itself, where it is converted in the presence of stomach acid. Since the wall of the stomach is coated with mucous, it is protected from the active enzyme. Pepsin can only digest your meal and not your stomach.

On a related note, stomach acid doesn’t actually digest protein; it merely unfolds proteins. That’s where pepsin comes in. Pepsin is what breaks the bonds between amino acids that make up proteins; thus, it is the pepsin that digests proteins. The hydrochloric acid is merely the setup man in the process.

The claim that stomach acid destroys enzymes in orally ingested enzymes does not stand up to the prima facie evidence. The simple truth is that most supplemental proteolytic enzymes are too big and complex to be unfolded by hydrochloric acid and thus pass through the stomach unscathed by pepsin. Now it is true they can be “rendered inactive” by the high acid environment of the stomach, but that doesn’t mean that they are destroyed–simply that they are reactivated upon reaching a more alkaline environment such as that found in the intestinal tract or the bloodstream.

As always, the administrators here at Organically In hope that this blog post has helped you to understand more about how your body functions on a cellular level. Please take a minute to send us your feedback about this article. We appreciate your support.

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