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Enzymes' Role in Health
from the Life Extension Foundation

How significant is an enzyme deficiency to overall health? For starters, organs that are overworked will enlarge in order to perform the increased workload. Those with congestive heart failure or aortic valvular disease often suffer from an enlarged heart, an unhealthy condition. When the pancreas enlarges in order to produce more digestive enzymes, there results a deficiency in the production of life-sustaining metabolic enzymes, as available enzyme-producing capacity is used in digesting food instead of supporting cellular enzymatic functions. The tremendous impact that wastage of pancreatic enzymes can have on health and even life itself has been established in animal studies. The critical question is how this applies to human health.

The pancreas and liver are digestive organs that produce most of the body's digestive enzymes. The remainder should come from uncooked foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, raw sprouted grains, seeds and nuts, and unpasteurized dairy products and enzyme supplements.

Food in its natural, unprocessed state is vital to maintenance of good health. Lack of it in the modern diet is thought to be responsible for degenerative diseases. Cooking food, particularly for long periods of time and at more than 118 degrees Fahrenheit, destroys enzymes in food and leaves what is often consumed in today's enzyme-less diet. This is one reason why, by middle age, we may become metabolically depleted of enzymes. Our glands and major organs suffer most from this deficiency. The brain may actually shrink as a result of an overcooked, overly refined diet that is devoid of enzymes desperately needed by the body. In an effort to meet the deficiency, the pancreas may swell. Laboratory mice fed heat-processed, enzyme-less foods develop a pancreas two or three times heavier than that of wild mice eating an enzyme-containing natural diet of raw food.

When food is consumed uncooked, its enzymes are intact, and the body needn't supply enzymes for digestion, using them instead to assist in vital cellular metabolic functions.

For much of the 20th century, European oncologists have included enzyme therapy as a natural, nontoxic therapy against cancer, and almost all leading alternative cancer specialists treating Americans prescribe both food enzymes and concentrated enzyme supplements as primary or adjuvant cancer therapies. A New York City cancer specialist, Nicholas Gonzalez, M.D., uses very high doses of supplemental pancreas enzymes as a primary anti-tumor therapy. His clinical successes have led conventional drug companies to seek to duplicate these natural therapies and offer them as adjuvant drug therapies. If pancreatic enzymes are effective in treating existing cancers, one might assume that maintaining a large pool of these enzymes in the body should help to prevent cancer from developing. Studies have shown that persons who eat fresh fruits and vegetables with high levels of natural enzymes have significantly reduced levels of cancer and other diseases. It has not been proven that the high enzyme content of these foods is partially responsible for their anti-cancer effect, but the evidence is compelling.

Studies have examined the effectiveness of may different types and sources of plant enzymes in a several conditions, including poor digestion, poor absorption, pancreatic insufficiency, steatorrhea, lactose intolerance, celiac disease, obstruction of arteries, and thrombotic disease.

As early as 1947, Dr. Arnold Renshaw (Manchester, England) reported in Annals of Rheumatic Disease that he had obtained good results with enzyme treatment of more than 700 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or fibrositis.

Rachman (1997) reported that 58% of the population has some type of digestive disorder and that lack of optimal digestive function associated with enzyme inadequacy may lead to malabsorption and other related conditions. In the elderly, the problem is often exacerbated because the elderly may have suboptimal production of gastric hydrocholoric acid. Rachman suggests there may be improvement with enzyme replacement. He also adds that enzymes taken orally at meals may improve the digestion of dietary protein, thereby decreasing the quantity of antigenic macromolecules that leak across the intestinal wall into the bloodstream. Such leaking may trigger the body's defenses against what it perceives to be foreign protein or polypeptide invaders, producing the symptoms of allergies.

Dr. Edward Howell, who has done extensive enzyme research, agrees that allergies can respond to adding enzymes to the diet, and excessive cholesterol levels can as well. Howell quoted a 1962 study by three British doctors, who set out to discover why cholesterol clogs arteries, ultimately manifesting in heart disease. They found that all enzymes studied became progressively weaker in the arteries as people aged and the hardening became more severe. They suggested a shortage of enzymes is part of the mechanism that allows cholesterol deposits to accumulate in the inner part of arterial walls. As early as 1958, researcher L.O. Pilgeram conducted blood tests at Stanford University and demonstrated a progressive decline of lipase in the blood of atherosclerotic patients in advancing middle and old age.

About the same time, researchers at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago found that enzymes in the saliva, pancreas, and blood became weaker with advancing age and speculated that fat may be absorbed in the unhydrolyzed state in atherosclerosis. They also found definite improvement in the character of fat utilization following the use of enzyme supplements.

Considerable evidence exists in support of the beneficial effects of enzymes, both natural and supplemental for those eating cooked food. Plant enzymes have shown obvious benefit for specific conditions. Research with intact absorption of food substrates has shown that non-digested food substrates enter the blood, and that plant enzymes break down different food substrates that would otherwise have been passed into the blood partially digested.

Youth is the time of life when our normal ability to produce enzymes is greatest. It is also a time of rapid growth and often a time with no serious illness. As people age and their overworked enzyme producing organs' ability diminishes, they often begin to suffer a broad range of health complaints.

According to Howell (1986), how long we live and our state of health are determined by our enzyme potential. Howell referred to a study by Meyer and associates at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago which reported that the presence of enzyme of the saliva in young adults is 30 times higher than that in people over 69 years of age.

Therefore, humans consuming an enzyme-less diet use vast quantities of their enzyme potential from secretions from the pancreas and other digestive organs, resulting in shortened lifespan, illness, and lowered resistance to all types of stress.

The answer is to substitute raw foods for cooked foods as much as possible. Howell recommends that we eat foods with their enzymes intact. He suggests that we can stop abnormal and pathological aging processes. Howell singles out bananas, avocados, seeds, nuts, grapes, and other natural foods as rich in food enzymes. He also suggests that an enzyme supplement be taken with all cooked food. Under medical supervision, Howell suggests large doses of enzyme therapy to treat certain diseases.

In the United States, over-the-counter and prescription medications for digestive ailments are a multibillion-dollar industry. If more people consumed uncooked, enzyme-rich foods, there might not be a need for such a massive amount of medication.

Few would disagree with the old adage that "we are what we eat," but it is not that simple. Enzymes make the efficient digestion of food possible. This means we should make maximum use of enzyme activity by obtaining them as nature intended.

Don's Comments:

If you're still eating some cooked food, you should certainly consider taking digestive enzymes with your meal. And unless you were raised on an uncooked, plant-based diet, you should consider taking enzymes even if you've recently gone "all raw". It will take time to undo the damage that was done to your body, and if you were eating cooked food for any length of time, your pancreas has been over-worked. Consuming some additional enzymes may help your body in its healing/repairing process. And if that help means staving off cancer, it's money well spent in my opinion.

For a good source of supplemental digestive enzymes, there's a product called "Digest" available at most good health food stores.

See also:

Why Eat Raw Foods?

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