What Your Doctor May Not Know About Enzymes: 7 Facts
My doctoral education in the early 1980s included the first two years of medical school. I distinctly remember a lecturer in biochemistry stating that enzymes could not be taken orally due to their their instability in the acid content of the stomach. I believed that for 15 years, until I was challenged on that thinking and looked up the actual literature.
It wasn't true. Enzymes derived from certain plant, fungal, and microbial sources are acid-stable and are active orally. I remember wondering what else I was taught that was wrong.
As one who also ended up teaching medical students, I recognized the problem: we who teach often lazily just repeat what we ourselves had been taught. There isn't time to go and fact-check everything said in a classroom.
And that's the problem some health practitioners face.
Sometimes, they don't have the time to verify for themselves what passes for fact.
I learned my lesson years ago: I check out what I'm told. Make sure your doctor does also.
Here are 7 facts about digestive enzymes your doctor may not be aware of:
1. Enzymes do not shut down your pancreas.
The pancreas produces enzymes on a continual basis, stores them, and then releases enzymes when food enters the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). Pancreatic enzyme production is not controlled through feedback mechanisms, so oral enzymes are not "sensed" by the pancreas.
Research has shown some adaptability of the pancreas in animals. Giving animal-derived enzymes resulted in a slight decrease in pancreatic enzyme output that quickly returned to normal once enzymes were stopped.
2. Enzymes will not digest the lining of your mouth, stomach, or intestine.
These enzymes much prefer the denatured (cooked, or exposed to stomach acid) proteins found in foods. It is difficult for enzymes to work on the live protein chains lining your mouth, stomach and intestine. Those live protein chains are tightly coiled, which prevents enzymes from contact.
Enzymes need to lock onto specific links on an uncoiled protein chain in order to break it down. Protein chains uncoil when they are heated by cooking, or in the acid of the stomach. Enzymes can bind to certain areas of the uncoiled protein and then chop it up.
Also, the cells of our bodies and the mucus lining the gastrointestinal tract contain inhibitors that disable proteases (enzymes that break down proteins). The mucus also acts as a physical barrier, protecting living cells from those protease enzymes.
Your pancreas sends enzymes into your small intestine every time you eat, and those enzymes haven't been breaking down your intestine.
You might have irritation of the mouth if enzyme powder remains on your cheeks or gums for a prolonged time. This is similar to what happens when you eat raw pineapple (a source of the protease bromelain) and get sores in the mouth.
Why does this happen?
A whitish-colored layer of dead cells covers your mouth and throat. Enzymes left in the mouth can start to break down this layer of dead skin. When the fresh, raw layer of tissue is exposed to saliva, you might feel some irritation. To prevent this when mixing enzyme powder with food, eat additional food or drink a beverage afterwards.
3. Enzymes help with food intolerances.
Better breakdown of food, especially proteins, may bring relief from some food intolerances. Restrictive diets for intolerances require you to remove foods. Enzymes break down foods - normal digestion and absorption of nutrients is supported.
Houston Enzymes' enzyme products can produce as good, or even better results, than the GFCF (gluten-free, casein-free) diet.
4. Enzymes can survive stomach acid.
The types of enzymes we use are acid-resistant — stomach acid will not destroy the enzymes. Enzymes derived from pancreas extracts are not active in low (acid) pH. Pancreatic enzymes available by prescription are enteric-coated, meaning they have a protective coating that keeps the enzymes from exposure to stomach acid. Once the pancreatic enzyme passes into the less acidic environment of the small intestine, they will begin to work. Fungal-derived and microbial-derived enzymes work in both the stomach and gastrointestinal tract.
5. Enzymes replace missing food enzymes.
Digestive enzyme supplements replace the food enzymes missing from our cooked diets. All raw foods, including meats, have some enzyme activity present.
But cooking or other types of processing destroy enzyme activity — which is the basis for "canning" of vegetables. It is thought that the enzymes present in raw food also contribute to its breakdown once eaten. However, there is only enough enzyme present in foods to break down that food over a period of days.
Enzyme supplements are a concentrated form of food enzymes that may be added to any diet so breakdown of food will occur at a faster rate.
6. Enzyme supplements do not result in production of glutamate.
AFP Peptizyde or any other enzyme product for proteins does only what digestion does - but more thoroughly. In this case, it is breaking down proteins to amino acids (the connected blocks that make up proteins), sets of two amino acids (dipeptides), and sets of 3 amino acids (tripeptides).
Glutamine is an amino acid. Some people confuse monosodium glutamate (MSG) with the amino acid glutamine, but they are not the same. Glutamine is an amino acid, glutamate is not - but is derived from glutamine. Glutamate is the salt form of the amino acid. MSG is not produced naturally in the body; it is synthetically produced.
Most every protein contains glutamine (the amino acid), and some proteins (such as whey) have a higher percentage of glutamine than others. The enzymes are going to increase the release of ALL amino acids from food proteins. It is then up to the gut to absorb/transport the amino acids into the blood stream.
Most any enzyme product with a good deal of protease (enzyme that breaks down protein) activity will likely increase levels of all amino acids, but that is the point of digestion.
Glutamine is used to make many good things the body needs, like glutathione, so simply having tunnel vision on concerns about one amino acid is rather ridiculous, especially one that is considered essential. Glutamine is vital to healing the gut, as well.
Remember that monosodium glutamate (MSG) is not the amino acid glutamine.
7. Enzymes have a history of long-term safety.
You will not develop a dependence for enzyme products. Studies have shown little or no effect on pancreatic enzyme production in humans with long-term oral enzyme administration.
Enzyme products may not necessarily be required for life. A number of people helped by enzyme products have later been able to discontinue use without regression.
If you are working with a medical professional in your digestive wellness journey, we're always happy to help with any questions you or they may have.