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DR. KESTNER: The perplexing role of digestive enzymes

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Think about a delicious food for a moment. Maybe a chocolate shake. Or a fresh-baked, hot pizza. Maybe a juicy steak. Or a tasty garden-fresh green salad.

Is your mouth watering a little? Then you have just released a new batch of digestive enzymes into your mouth and digestive tract.

Before I write any more about enzymes, let’s mention the chemical reactions in your body. Right now and every minute throughout your life, your body is carrying out hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of minute chemical reactions.

There are too many various chemicals in your body to list in this entire newspaper. These chemicals are constantly undergoing transformations that occur to drive the life processes.

Some of the chemical transformations are simple, involving only two types of molecules, such as the reactions needed to maintain your body’s acid/base balance. Some are more complex, such as those involving neurotransmitters and hormones.

Many of these chemical reactions do not readily occur unless a third type of molecule, an enzyme, is present. The enzyme is a special type of protein that acts as a catalyst, which aids in the transformation of the chemicals.

This analogy is overly simple and therefore not completely accurate, but think of enzymes acting in much the same way that salt does when added to ice. Ice will eventually turn into water if the temperature increases above 32 degrees. However when salt is added, the ice melts at a lower temperature, therefore melting the ice faster. The salt chemically changes the reaction to make it happen more readily; it acts like a catalyst.

So you get the idea that enzymes are protein molecules that make specific chemical reactions happen more readily.

This is important to your body in a number of ways. In particular, digestion will not occur in an efficient manner without the presence of important enzymes. Luckily for you and me, our body actually produces more than a thousand different kinds of enzymes.

The digestive role of enzymes begins in the mouth with the ones present in saliva, and continues all the way through the colon.

The pancreas, liver, stomach, small intestine and various other organs and tissues produce and secrete enzymes that have very specific roles in digestion.

We are so wonderfully made that our body has specialized tissue that produces certain forms of enzymes seemingly just where and when we need them.

At least that’s what happens when everything is working properly.

As we age, and in some poor health conditions, our bodies do not produce adequate amounts of certain enzymes.

Many people would benefit by taking supplemental enzymes to make up for the lack they are experiencing.

There are thousands of enzyme products available through retail outlets, doctors’ offices and clinics, and the internet. There are some very good products and of course, there are some rip-offs.

Don’t believe everything you read or hear about enzymes.

There is an abundance of outrageous unsubstantiated claims about things like “live” enzymes and other aspects. (Enzymes are chemicals; they are neither live, nor dead. They are not living things.)

However, enzymes can be deactivated or denatured, by heating or through certain chemical reactions. In the denatured state they do not act as they would normally.

That is one reason that many raw food enthusiasts shun cooked food. By cooking, many of the enzymes contained within food are denatured.

Cooking also makes many foods more easily digestible, so whether this effect is significant will vary with the individual. There are, however, many other reasons that some raw foods are healthy choices.

Supplementing certain digestive enzymes can be helpful for digestion problems. However, since there are so many enzymes that play a role in digestion, and so many available products with varying degrees of purity, reasonable claims, etc., it is not easy for a consumer to try to choose their own enzyme products.

This is one area that I recommend that consumers work with knowledgeable professionals to help choose an appropriate product and determine usage instructions.

Next week: A story about a lady with bad shoes that ended up with a bad back.

Stay happy and stay healthy!
Read more from:
Health, Living Well, Mark Kestner, Voices
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