Enzymes are imperative for the chemical reactions in your body that keep you healthy and alive. Fortunately, there are a lot of them in foods that you may already consume regularly.
Since enzymes are necessary for chemical reactions, they help facilitate processes in your body from your immune system to your digestion. And the great thing is that digestive plant enzymes can be found directly from the source of the food instead of being harvested into supplements.
What Enzymes Are
Enzymes are imperative for the function of your body. They affect every cell, therefore affecting every part of you. You've probably seen enzymatic work in action without even realizing it. When your apple starts to turn brown from exposure to the air, that's enzymatic browning.
Enzymes are biological catalysts that speeds up chemical reactions allowing them to happen, according to a study published in the November 2015 issue of Essays in Biochemistry. Enzymes don't just promote chemical reactions, but they're also highly potent catalysts. However, they aren't one size fits all. Instead, enzymes are particular, so each one only works with specific substrates.
There are several different types of enzymes. Some assist in the process of oxidation and reducing size while others increase hydration. While there are certainly enzyme supplements for digestion that do just as they promise, there are others that fail at their jobs.
In some cases, the best source of an enzyme is from food itself. Of course, if you have food sensitivities, you'll want to ensure your sources of high-enzyme foods won't be difficult for your body to break down.
What Are Enzyme Deficiencies?
Sometimes the body doesn't make enough of the necessary enzymes, creating a deficiency. And some populations have a greater need for enzymes. For instance, it's suggested that those who have cystic fibrosis take the best digestive enzymes with each meal. And people who have digestive issues are sometimes encouraged to take enzyme supplements for better digestion.
Digestive enzyme deficiency symptoms include bloating, flatulence, pain in the abdomen, diarrhea and constipation. You may also experience gastrointestinal issues, a feeling of fullness from small food portions and bits of undigested food in your feces. When deficiency persists, it may be linked to obesity, Crohn's disease, allergies, impaired immune function, fatigue, and premenstrual symptoms.
Some factors that affect enzyme deficiencies include:
- Alcohol, coffee, sugar and highly processed foods
- Gluten or other food sensitivities
- Repeated antibiotic exposure
- Mental or physical stress
Fortunately, if you stay hydrated and eat a well-balanced diet full of digestive plant enzymes, you may be able to reverse your deficiencies.
Digestive Enzymes You Should Note
Enzymes are an essential part of food digestion. Proteases, amylases and lipases are groups of digestive enzymes. They help break down the macronutrients of proteins, carbs and fats.
- Proteases belong on every list of enzymes for the digestion process because they help with the breakdown of proteins. Without proteases, you wouldn't be able to absorb the protein from the food you eat.
- Amylases are another enzyme that helps you digest your food. These enzymes break down starches, helping to provide your body with a majority of its energy.
- Lipases are enzymes that do the job of digesting fats, making them a vital component of any list of enzymes. Lipases break triglycerides down into fatty acids and glycerol.
Some of these digestive enzymes are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and other foods. Your body creates the rest on its own, or there are supplements that you can take, should you need to.
Read more: The 10 Best Supplements
Enzymes in Pineapple and Papaya
This tropical fruit is rich in bromelain according to a September 2016 paper in Biomedical Reports. Bromelain helps reduce inflammation and is particularly beneficial at reducing sinus and nasal inflammation. It has long been used in herbal medicine. It's also been found to improve the immune system and to help wounds heal.
While eating a pineapple won't cure any diseases, it may help you get better. According to the Biomedical Reports paper, it works great in combination with antibiotics, having been found to improve their effects.
Bromelain may be used for inflammation, but it's also one of the digestive plant enzymes helpful for those who suffer from digestive issues, such as diarrhea, because of its antimicrobial properties. It also fights candida, helping maintain balance.
Papaya is full of papain, a key member of any list of enzymes due to its help in relieving heartburn, according to an April 2018 Harvard Health post.
This enzyme is so functional that it's been isolated for supplements. Of course, those supplements aren't as good as getting papain from the direct source. But if you're looking for something to add to your diet that might ease the burn, there's no harm in cutting yourself a slice of papaya. Just make sure you don't eat too much.
Don't Forget Honey and Bananas
Honey doesn't have just one enzyme. It has an entire list of the best digestive enzymes. That makes it one of the most potent enzymatic foods out there. Honey's list of enzymes includes, but is not limited to, amylase, diastase, invertase, glucose oxidase and alpha-glucosidase.
Read more: The Dangers and Benefits of Raw Honey
In a study featured in the August 2017 issue of the journal Food Chemistry, diastase was found to help break down starch. Similarly, amylase helps the breakdown of starch by turning it into sugars, according to a study in the March 2017 Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. Invertase helps with digesting starch as well.
Bananas may not have as long of a list, but they do share an enzyme with honey: amylase. As mentioned, amylases break down starch into sugars. Amylases are essential digestive plant enzyme that plays a role in the sweetening of bananas as they ripen. For instance, glucosidase helps break down carbs and is also found in bananas according to a study in the March 2016 issue of Scientifica.
Other Digestive Plant Enzyme Foods
Kefir is a fermented milk drink that has a sour taste and is frequently touted for its health benefits. You may find yourself enjoying a glass soon, considering that it is loaded with one of the best digestive enzymes: proteases. As mentioned earlier, this digestive plant enzyme is helpful in the breaking down of protein.
You may or may not put garlic in everything, but if you love it, you now have a great excuse. This delicious bulb is full of alliinase, according to a December 2018 study in Integral Blood Pressure Control. If you have high blood pressure, this is particularly great news. There is evidence that alliinase may lower blood pressure, making it one of the best digestive enzymes for people at risk for heart problems.
Mushrooms are another great source of digestive plant enzymes. A popular mushroom full of enzymes is shitake mushrooms. The mushrooms contain lignocellulolytic enzymes which help with glucose digestion, according to a study in the January 2015 issue of International Journal of Medicine.
Is This an Emergency?
- Essays in Biochemistry: “Enzymes: Principles and Biotechnological Applications”
- Cystic Fibrosis Foundation: “Enzymes”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Gut Reaction: A Limited Role for Digestive Enzyme Supplements”
- Purdue University Extension: "Science Experiment: The Brown Apple Project"
- Clinical Education: “Digestive Enzymes”
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Your Digestive System & How It Works”
- Current Drug Metabolism: “Digestive Enzyme Supplementation in Gastrointestinal Diseases”
- University of Rochester Medical Center: “Lipase”
- Biomedical Reports: “Potential Role of Bromelain in Clinical and Therapeutic Applications”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Digestive Enzyme Supplements for Heartburn?”
- Molecular Ecology: “Hive-Stored Pollen of Honey Bees: Many Lines of Evidence Are Consistent With Pollen Preservation, Not Nutrient Conversion”
- Food Chemistry: “HMF and Diastase Activity in Honeys: A Fully Validated Approach and a Chemometric Analysis for Identification of Honey Freshness and Adulteration”
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: “Mechanisms of Starch Digestion by α-Amylase-Structural Basis for Kinetic Properties”
- Scientifica: “Antioxidant and Antihyperglycemic Properties of Three Banana Cultivars (Musa Spp.)”
- Women’s Christian College: “Production of-Amylase From Banana Peels With Bacillus Subtilis Using Solid State Fermentation”
- Journal of Proteomomics: “Peptide Profiling of Bovine Kefir Reveals 236 Unique Peptides Released From Caseins During Its Production by Starter Culture or Kefir Grains”
- Integral Blood Pressure Control: “Potential of Garlic (Allium sativum) in Lowering High Blood Pressure: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Relevance”
- International Journal of Medicine: “Shiitake Medicinal Mushroom, Lentinus Edodes (Higher Basidiomycetes) Productivity and Lignocellulolytic Enzyme Profiles During Wheat Straw and Tree Leaf Bioconversion”
- Tufts Clinical Nutrition Service: "Digestive Enzyme Supplements: Breaking Down the Evidence"