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What You Need to Know About Enzymes

Claims, Benefits: Digestive aids and/or substitutes for the enzymes you need but lack. Many are advertised from a "more is better" angle.

Bottom Line: No clinical evidence supports the idea that swallowing, injecting, or otherwise consuming enzymes can benefit healthy people or prevent disease, let alone keep you young.

In the health marketplace these days you’ll find a huge variety of enzyme products. The ads and catalogues tell you how vital these enzymes are and how much you need them. You do, in fact, need them very much, but what you need doesn’t come in a bottle.

Enzymes are found in all living matter, plant or animal, and there are thousands of them, manufactured by the cells. Almost all are proteins or contain proteins. Enzymes are chemical "enablers," and life could not exist without them. They regulate virtually every chemical reaction in living things. They enable the body’s immune, endocrine, hormonal, nervous, and other systems to do their work. Some are secreted into the digestive tract, where they break down carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. They detoxify such substances as alcohol. Besides breaking down compounds, they synthesize others. Some act as antioxidants, deactivating cell-damaging free radicals. Each enzyme is specific to the action it performs—enzymes don’t do general work. Not all enzymes are benevolent, though. Some produce free radicals, and enzymes may play a role in building up plaque in arterial walls.

Supplements containing pepsin, amylase, trypsin, lipase, protease, superoxide dismutase (SOD), or others ("-ase" is the common suffix for an enzyme) are marketed as digestive aids and/or substitutes for the enzymes you need but lack. SOD, in particular, is advertised from a "more is better" angle. The ads tell you that fluoride in water destroys your natural enzymes. Or that special juicing machines conserve natural enzymes. And the claims get even more fanciful: that enzymes in a bottle prevent aging, eliminate toxins, and enhance immunity.

But no clinical evidence supports the idea that swallowing, injecting, or otherwise consuming enzymes can benefit healthy people or prevent disease, let alone keep you young.

Wishful thinking

You needn’t try to figure out which enzymes you should take, since your body manufactures all of them (with a few possible exceptions, described below). In any case, in the digestive tract most enzyme pills are just bundles of protein, and like any proteins, they will be efficiently digested in the acid environment of the stomach. Even the digestive enzymes you produce are themselves digested and reabsorbed. Some enzyme supplements come with enteric coatings, which may help protect them from stomach acids, but there’s no evidence that those sold over the counter get through the digestive tract and are absorbed. Enzymes are short-lived, and even if some particles do survive the digestive tract, they probably wouldn’t last long enough in the bloodstream to travel to where they might do some good.

Enzyme-deficiency diseases do exist. They have to be treated with oral or injected doses of enzymes, and pills especially designed not to be destroyed in the stomach. Researchers have also tried injecting certain enzymes to combat genetic diseases that result in enzyme deficiencies, but this method has had only limited success.

One or two enzymes you can swallow

One common enzyme deficiency that can be treated is lactose intolerance. At some point after infancy, many people start producing less of the enzyme lactase, which digests lactose (milk sugar). Lactase tablets can help, but you have to swallow them at the same time you drink milk or eat ice cream. You can also add lactase drops to the food, preferably one or two days in advance, or buy lactose-reduced dairy products that have already been treated with lactase.

Beano and similar products, which help combat intestinal gas caused by beans, also contain an enzyme that must be taken simultaneously with the food.

Bottom line: You rarely, if ever, need to worry about enzymes. In the great majority of cases, enzyme pills are just a costly, unnecessary, and insignificant protein supplement.

Reference Source 98


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