At Integrative Nutrition, we like to keep things simple, so we don’t often get into the molecular components of food. But today we’ll make an exception for enzymes, because understanding what they are and how they work might just add years to your life!
Enzymes are proteins that catalyze, or speed up, chemical reactions in the body. At least 75,000 enzymes are thought to exist in the human body, divided into metabolic enzymes that help our bodies and systems function, digestive enzymes that break down food, and food enzymes that come in raw foods to essentially help those foods self-digest.
Our bodies are constantly producing enzymes, and we are continuously expending them.
Here’s where things get interesting. When you use up more enzymes than your body is able to replenish, it’s like drawing down your bank account and borrowing on your health’s credit. Over time, as your body becomes limited in the chemical reactions it executes, your cells start to get deprived of nutrients, and this can cause dysfunction, disease, inflammation, and premature aging.
Similarly, enzymes can be drained on some functions to the detriment of others. For example, eating a diet low in raw, living, naturally enzyme-rich foods and high in processed, synthetic, or “dead” foods creates a burden to increase the body’s production of digestive enzymes to break down all those unhealthy molecules. This increase takes up energy that reduces the creation of metabolic enzymes, and some functions might begin to suffer. This can result in minor symptoms at first, such as feeling tired, and if continued can escalate into things like dental caries, thinning hair, acne, allergies, headaches, impaired vision, constipation, etc. If the imbalance continues, more serious consequences are inevitable with time.
Here’s a quote from Dr. Edward Howell in Enzyme Nutrition to explain this effect:
“The length of life is inversely proportional to the rate of exhaustion of the enzyme potential of an organism. The increased use of food enzymes promotes a decreased rate of exhaustion of the enzyme potential.”
This means that eating more enzyme-rich foods helps with digestion and frees up the enzymes your body creates on other vital functions.
These foods include:
· Raw or lightly cooked vegetables
· Fermented foods (such as kefir or sauerkraut)
· Apple Cider Vinegar
Of course, this doesn’t mean you must eat these foods exclusively! But the more enzyme-rich foods you consume, especially when combined with other healthy foods such as whole grains, good fats, organic meats, eggs, and beans, the less you’ll exhaust your reserves.
Additional ways to avoid wasting enzymes include getting plenty of sleep, reducing stress, and exercising.
Working with the body’s natural rhythms is what holistic nutrition is all about! Check out our Curriculum Guide for more information, theories, and ideas to bring more wellness into your life.