Enzymes are the catalysts behind every single important event that takes place in your body. Like a finger pushing an intricate line of dominos, these tiny molecules set off the chain of events that make life itself possible.
In fact, there’s a theory out there that the length of your life is directly related to your body’s enzyme status. And that the state of your health rests on the shoulders of these vital molecules.
This same theory suggests that simply supplementing with enzymes can lead to a longer, healthier life.
But could perfect health really be that easy?
Well, I’m not sure I’d go quite that far. There are other factors involved in longevity that are equally important (a healthy diet and regular exercise being two of the most obvious).
But I do know that enzymes are incredibly underused in modern medicine. And it’s absolutely true that your health depends on them—in more ways than you might think.
Benefits way beyond your stomach
The most common uses of enzymes revolve around digestion. I frequently recommend enzymes to patients with nausea, diarrhea, ulcers, GERD, or hiatal hernias. But I also use them for patients suffering from conditions that don’t have anything to do with digestion—like serious injuries or joint pain.
And there’s a good reason for that.
Enzymes are responsible for breaking down the food you eat into vitamins and minerals that your body can actually use for nutrition. But enzymes also go way beyond that.
At the most basic level, enzymes are proteins that make life-sustaining chemical reactions happen. They’re what keep the complex clockwork of your cells, organs, bones, muscles, and every other conceivable living tissue running.
Unfortunately, you lose enzymes as you age. Take the enzyme that converts the omega-3 ALA into the active forms of EPA and DHA, for example. In most people, it’s gone by age 40.
It’s a sinister sequence of events. One that essentially paves the way toward disease—and even death. And there are a few factors that make the problem even worse.
How you eat is just as important as what you eat
First of all, your levels of stomach acid start to decline with age. And stomach acid is partially responsible for activating your digestive enzymes.
In a perfect world, your food would pick up most of the slack caused by this natural decline. Fresh, raw food is packed with live enzymes that help to maximize nutrient absorption. But “fresh” and “raw” are the key words here.
Obviously, processed foods are about as far from nature—and devoid of life-sustaining enzymes—as it gets.
But when I say “fresh,” I mean food that just came out of the ground or off the tree. The enzymes in fruits and vegetables start to degrade the moment you harvest them. And produce that isn’t local and seasonal often spends weeks in crates on a truck before it actually makes it to the supermarket.
And simply cooking your food strips it of vital enzymes even further. Not that I’m advocating a strictly raw food diet. But incorporating some raw or very lightly steamed or sautéed produce into your diet is always a good thing.
Then there’s the rushed way so many Americans eat. You see, chewing is a vital part of the digestive process. It triggers the release of enzymes that help to break down your food. (That’s why I don’t recommend chewing gum—why waste precious enzymes on non-nutritive junk?)
So eating processed, enzyme-deficient food too quickly is the worst possible scenario for your body. You miss out on the important pre-digestion that occurs with thorough chewing. And the food itself doesn’t contain enough enzymes to aid with digestion once it gets to your stomach.
This leaves your pancreas to generate all the enzymes necessary to eke out even a scrap of nutrition from the meal you just ate.
It’s an enormous amount of pressure to put on one organ. Especially one that plays other critical roles in the body (namely insulin production and blood sugar control). This extra burden may be one reason why so many people in this country have pre-diabetes and diabetes.
So let’s talk about how to tackle this uniquely modern health crisis…
Six enzymes you need with every meal
Your first step should be to get as many live enzymes from your food as you can. As I said above, fresh, local, seasonal produce is your very best source of enzymes. And cook your vegetables just until they’re ever-so-slightly tender.
You can cover the rest of your bases with a comprehensive enzyme supplement.
This is really one recommendation everyone can benefit from. Because even young, healthy people are borrowing from Peter to pay Paul (so to speak) if they’re not eating a near-perfect diet.
If your enzyme reserves are limited, your body uses them for digestion first. Which means you don’t have as many left for the other critical functions enzymes help carry out in your body.
This is why I often recommend enzyme supplements to treat conditions that, on the surface at least, seem to have nothing to do with digestion. Like bacterial and viral infections, and conditions associated with inflammation, including heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and cancer—just to name a few.
So here’s a quick list of some of the key digestive enzymes you should be taking with every meal:
- Papain—From papaya and helps digest proteins
- Amylase—Aids the digestion of starches and carbohydrates
- Lipase—Aids the digestion of fats
- Cellulase—Helps break down fiber
- Lactase—Helps break down milk sugars in dairy products
- Bromelain—From pineapples and helps digest protein
The good news is, there are numerous products on the market that include most—if not all—of these enzymes in one formula. Even better, enzyme supplements are easy to find (your local GNC and Vitamin Shoppe likely carry several good options to choose from), and they’re affordable.
You should start with a low dose and take it with every meal.
Follow this prescription, and you can count on some pretty transformative results. For one thing, you’ll be giving your overburdened digestive system some much needed relief, while maximizing nutrient uptake from your food. And that’s a sure path to higher energy and stronger immunity. Not to mention one of the most surprising benefits of enzyme therapy…
Arthritis relief that rivals painkilling drugs
As I mentioned above, enzymes are actually one of the most powerful weapons in your arthritis arsenal. But when it comes to tackling joint pain, one particular type of enzyme is especially important.
Let me explain: Nutrient uptake is the domain of digestive enzymes, which come from your pancreas, your stomach, your salivary glands, and ideally, your food. But any condition outside of your gut needs help from metabolic enzymes to heal.
Metabolic enzymes come almost entirely from your pancreas, with two notable exceptions: papain and bromelain, which come from food sources. They also function as both digestive and metabolic enzymes.
And that’s why they’re such great natural anti-inflammatories. Because like other metabolic enzymes, they have the unique ability to cruise through your blood stream and eat up foreign proteins. Not just rogue food particles but also viruses, bacteria, and—perhaps most importantly—fibrin.
Fibrin is a key player in your body’s inflammatory response. And left unchecked, it can cause a lot of problems.
You may have heard about its role in the formation of deadly blood clots and heart attacks. However, fibrin deposits in the joints are also one of the defining traits of arthritis. But metabolic enzymes (like bromelain and papain) are able to dissolve them.
This probably sounds a little too good to be true. But it’s not. In fact, published research shows that metabolic enzymes rival drug therapy when it comes to relieving arthritis pain and improving mobility.
Several clinical trials from the last two decades show that specialized enzyme supplementation offers the same clinical benefit as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for patients suffering with osteoarthritis of the knee.1-3
And a 2006 study featuring patients with osteoarthritis of the hip showed similar results. This six-week study pitted enzyme therapy against a NSAID called diclofenac. And it found no significant difference in pain, stiffness, or physical function between the two treatment groups.4
In fact, the results of this study leaned pretty definitively in favor of enzyme supplementation. Just over 71 percent of the patients taking enzymes showed either a good or very good response—versus 61.4 percent of the patients taking the NSAID.
And of course, enzymes are much safer than any of the NSAIDs on the market.
After all, enzymes certainly aren’t causing heart attacks, stroke, hearing loss, or any of the other horrors you hear about on the nightly news. No—that distinction goes to NSAIDs.
So researchers may call the two arthritis treatments “equivalent.” But when you factor in safety, enzymes are the clear winner.
Five telltale signs of enzyme deficiency
How do you know if you’re lacking critical enzymes? If you’re over 40, it’s practically inevitable. But here are five telltale signs of enzyme deficiency:
- bloating and gas
- food sensitivities
- aches and pains
If any of these symptoms sound familiar, a digestive enzyme supplement is definitely in order. See page X for a complete rundown of what to look for when choosing an enzyme formula.
The bedtime cure for leaky gut
For best results, I recommend taking a dose of whatever enzyme supplement you choose before bed, too. Because enzymes that aren’t tied up with digestion will eventually make their way into your bloodstream—where they go after any undigested food particles that may have slipped through. (The byproduct of a condition called leaky gut syndrome.)
I’ve talked about this phenomenon before in other articles(you can sign in as a subscriber and search the archives online at www.drpescatore.com). Food particles that escape through a leaky gut are targeted as foreign invaders by your immune system. And it attacks them just as it would any other threat—by triggering inflammation throughout your body (and all the problems that come with it).
So taking digestive enzymes at bedtime on an empty stomach helps combat this increasingly common problem before it even has a chance to start.
1. Singer F, et al. [Drug therapy of activated arthrosis. On the effectiveness of an enzyme mixture versus diclofenac]. Wien Med Wochenschr. 1996;146(3):55-8.
2. Klein G, et al. [Reducing pain by oral enzyme therapy in rheumatic diseases]. Wien Med Wochenschr. 1999;149(21-22):577-80.
3. Akhtar NM, et al. Oral enzyme combination versus diclofenac in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee–a double-blind prospective randomized study. Clin Rheumatol. 2004 Oct;23(5):410-5.
4. Klein G, et al. Efficacy and tolerance of an oral enzyme combination in painful osteoarthritis of the hip. A double-blind, randomised study comparing oral enzymes with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2006 Jan-Feb;24(1):25-30.