Everybody knows that cells are the fundamental building blocks of life. Every living organism is composed of cells, which have certain specialized functions. While some living organisms (e.g. bacteria) are unicellular, humans have millions of cells in their body. An average adult human being has around 100 trillion cells!
Can you imagine the countless chemical reactions that are carried out inside a human body? Enzymes facilitate most of these reactions. These reactions are extremely important to our overall health and vitality. Now, embrace your inner nerd and check out the facts below about what enzymes are and why we should care about consuming foods that are “enzyme rich”.
What are Enzymes?
Enzymes are particular proteins that are found in the cells of living organisms. Like any other protein, enzymes consist of long chains of amino acids held together by peptide bonds.
Enzymes control any chemical reaction that takes place in the body. They speed up the chemical reactions, making them millions of times faster.
What do Enzymes do?
Generally, every enzyme acts upon a specific target called “substrate” which is transformed into usable products through the action of the enzyme. Once the reaction is complete, the enzyme remains intact and the substrate transforms into a product.
While most enzymes are associated with metabolic processes like digestion and breathing, there are some, which are related to muscle and nerve function, blood clotting, healing of wounds, controlling the production of hormones, and even destroying pathogens and environmental toxins. Some enzymes help to break down molecules, while others merge small molecules and form large ones. Certain enzymes can transform one molecule into another.
Let’s consider the following examples:
- The digestive system - enzymes help the organism cut down complex molecules into smaller ones, which are then used by the body as a “fuel”.
- DNA replication - Enzymes unwind the DNA coils and replicate the information.
- Liver enzymes - the liver cuts down toxins in the body. It uses a range of enzymes to be able to do this.
Examples of specific Enzymes
There are numerous types of enzymes in the human body. But a specific enzyme is responsible for a particular chemical reaction only!
Enzymes can be broadly classified into:
- Metabolic enzymes – they are mainly responsible for reactions related to detoxification and energy production.
- Digestive enzymes - they are involved in chemical reactions that decompose the food we eat and convert it into energy.
- Food enzymes - The body gets food enzymes from the food we eat or from the consuming of enzyme supplements. The enzyme called cellulase, which is responsible for digesting fibers, is not produced by the body. It has to be derived from the raw food we eat.
Why are enzymes important for digestion?
Enzymes are essential for good digestion and a healthy body. They work with other chemicals in the body to decompose food into molecules. For example, carbohydrates fuel your body with energy. Proteins build and repair your muscles and are very helpful when you put out a lot of physical effort; during an intense exercise session or while working on a physical task like shoveling your driveway, etc.
Factors that affect Enzyme action
- Temperature - Usually, high temperatures increase the rate of reactions involving enzymes. The best temperatures for such reactions are said to be around 37 ºC to 40 ºC. Once the temperature goes above this level, the enzymes get altered, and they are no longer fit for reaction with substrates. At lower temperatures, they will still function but much more slowly.
-pH - Variations in pH may also influence the functioning mechanism of enzymes. The optimum pH level may vary from one enzyme to another, as per the site of their action. Variations from that pH level may weaken the activity of enzymes. A very high or low pH results in converted enzymes that cannot hold the substrate perfectly. Similarly, enzymes can only function in a certain pH range (acidic/alkaline). Their predilection depends on where they are found in the body. For instance, enzymes in the intestines work best at 7.5 pH, whereas enzymes in the stomach work best at 2.0 pH because the stomach is a lot more acidic.
-Concentration - The rate of enzymatic activities may increase with the concentration of enzymes and substrates. Scientists have studied the effect of high enzyme concentration upon the reaction rate. They concluded that the substrate must be present in an excess amount.
Great Food=Healthy Enzymes=Healthy Body
Enzymes are extremely important for any living body as they are organic catalysts which facilitate chemical reactions in the body. Enzymes are needed for metabolic processes such as respiration, digestion and immunity. When enzymes function properly, homeostasis within the body is protected. If an enzyme is lacking or has an incorrect shape due to a mutation, this can lead to disease within the organism. Chronic stress, genetics, illness, malnutrition and the overuse of pharmaceutical drugs can disturb the internal synthesis of enzymes.
Many food products that people eat today have not only been harshly processed but also transported long distances before being sold in stores. Unfortunately, our diets generally lack fresh, living, enzyme-rich foods. Even superficial enzyme deficiencies may cause digestive strain and can contribute to a mixture of uncomfortable GI symptoms including constipation, bloating or cramping. This disruption of gut balance caused by processed foods can cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies as well as a compromised immune system. All this can amplify existing issues and threaten overall body health.
What can you do to feel more healthy? Eat more veggies, fruits, lean meats!