Enzymes and Nutrition - General strategies
last updated 8.25.05
Nutrition and Enzymes
The purpose and job of enzymes is to break down foods of any kind so the nutrition can be of value to the body. A main premise of raw food diets or 'juicing' is that you get the enzymes occuring in foods, as well as nutrition. Supplementing with enzymes can achieve the same goal as it may not always be possible or desirable to do a 100% raw food diet.
Digestive enzymes are destroyed by heat, so any cooking or processing of food deactivates them. Thus your body needs to either work harder to produce the needed enzymes or the food goes insufficiently digested and creates problems. To produce enzymes, your body uses energy and raw materials to produce enzymes which could be going into other functions...like building muscle, providing stamina, fighting off disease, and maintaining the body. If energy and raw materials are excessively diverted to food digestion, overall health can suffer.
If the food remains poorly digested, this can lead to numerous problems including leaky gut, bacteria/yeast which feed on the undigested food, colon problems, more 'toxins' for your body to detox, stressed immune system, digestive discomfort, and other maladies.
Providing supplemental enzymes takes care of both these aspects at the same time.
Nutrition from Food versus Nutrition from Supplements
That can be a vast difference in results between nutrition from actual food versus taking synthetic supplements. Vitamins, minerals, and other factors work as a whole. Adding in or substracting out parts do not have the same biological value as the whole. This is the basis of 'whole-food' diets, or 'whole-food' supplements. In fact, taking larger quantities of synthetic nutritions over a long time can be detetrimental to health. Click links below for specific studies. Some studies point to the synthetics being treated as a xenobiotic compounds by the body and excreted as such (meaning the body didn't recognize it and treated it as a 'toxin'). So if you are looking for supplements for a health purpose, whole-foods are a much better bet.
An example is synthetic vitamin B6 which is very often made from coal-tar (a phenolic compound). This is a similar base as artificial additives which can lead to a number of problems. Research is available in various conditions showing that added doses of synthetic vitamins were unable to correct assorted medical conditions, whereas the natural form in whole food form was. Also, taking synthetics could cause worse health than not taking anything at all. If you need to take a supplement, try to get one that is whole-food based. There are several good companies around. Search online for 'whole food supplements' or 'whole food vitamins.' Or at least avoid synthetically derived ones.
One of the big advantages of taking digestive enzymes is that it releases nutrition from food in a 'whole-food' form and allows the body to make maximum use of it. Synthetic supplements just cannot compare with this. Enzymes not only prevent many of the problems created by poorly digested food, but also provide the needed nutrition. You solve both issues at the same time.
Of course, this is how our bodies were meant to operate all along!
This is very consistent with which people using enzymes tend to see and often report: that starting enzymes with nutritious food brings much better results than using lots of synthetic supplements. And that ending lots of supplements often brings better results than continuing to take them.
Because nutrients in whole food form may be more efficient and effective, you may simply not need the same amount of a nutrient from a whole food source as in a supplement.
Here is a link about reading food labels. In includes the topics:
- How to Read a Package Label
- Label Loopholes
- Label Terms You Should Know
- Label Endorsements - Buyer Beware!
- Labels that Should be Against the Law
- Sample Labels to Learn From
and additional information for:
- Food and Allergies Labels
- Oil Labels
- Labeling Iron
- Reading Bread Labels
- Reading Cereal Labels
Collection of really interesting research:
Note: Sometimes it may be a matter of semantics and definitions when discussing 'synthetic vitamins' and people have different things in their mind on this topic and when looking at research.
Companies supplying non-synthetic nutritional supplements:
avoid ones with homeostatic soil organisms until you know they are okay for you or your child. Not recommended for highly sensitive people due to too many unknowns at this point, and adverse reactions reported
supplements particularly beneficial to those with ADHD, autism spectrum, highly sensitive all non-synthetic
Yummie Bears kids vitamins has whole-food products (check specific product to make sure).
Juice Plus has non-synthetic products (check specific product to make sure).
Nature's Plus Animal Parade vitamins and Animal Friends in health food stores and online:
You can search for whole-food based supplements in search engines.
Note: all digestive enzymes are non-synthetic either from animal or plant sources (although a few places are currently trying to develop synthetic digestive enzymes). Look to see if any synthetic additives are included in the enzyme product.
How to Choose Among Supplements, Enzymes, and Diets
Question: There are so many health supplements that are allegedly good for our children and ourselves. There are so many diets claiming to be the best. What is the one you guys think is the best one and why do you think so?
I agree. If you read all the literature and marketing brochures put out, you wonder how you are able to breathe and stand up without a gallon of everything sold on the shelves! If you really tried to follow ALL the recommendations out there and take every supplement promoted, the entire day every day would be spent taking supplements! No room for life.
I think when someone has impaired digestion for any reason (inflammation, yeast, bacteria, assorted toxins, poor diet, virus, surgery, metabolic problem, etc), they don't breakdown and absorb nutrients across the board. And since any particular nutrient affects several areas in the body, if any one of them becomes deficient, you have multiple problems crop up in the body.
So with poor digestion or gut injury, *anything* you pull off the shelf in a supplement store has a chance of doing some good. That is why we here good improvement by a few people here or there associated with just about every nutrient known to man.
And how people end up with long laundry lists of supplement after supplement - 30, 40, or more a day...in divided doses. The attempt is to give the child or adult nutrition as individual supplements instead of through food. But nutrition doesn't really work very well via supplements only. Science doesn't understand nutrition well enough to begin manufacturing the equivalent of whole-foods even if we had that capability.
My view is the best bet is do a good quality digestive enzyme first. This will help the body to breakdown and absorb real food and get the best nutrition by that route. Then after you start enzymes and get the kid or adult eating the best whole food diet they can tolerate, see what is left over in terms of symptoms and supplement for those. It is very very VERY common that once a person starts enzymes, they find many, if not most other supplements, are not needed...or not needed in as great a quantity.
The idea of supplementing is that they are in addition to a good whole-food diet, not instead of one.
If fact, enzymes can make the supplements you do take much more effective. Any food, including special diet foods, medications, or supplements still need good digestion and absorption into the body to be as effective as possible.
The same for food eliminations or special diets. Start a good enzyme program first, and then see what foods or chemicals are left over that still need to be avoided.
The nice bonus with enzymes, is that this one therapy or supplement will not only help with food breakdown and nutrition, it also helps with viruses, yeast, and bacteria...with strengthening the immune system, with detoxing the body, with healing gut tissue, and other health benefits.
From a very practical point of view, enzymes tend to be cheaper than many diets and excessive supplementation. From a gut healing point of view, stress itself can cause health problems and gut injury. So if the person is so stressed by trying to do a certain diet, or taking gobs of supplements, you might not be gaining any gut healing ground overall. If enzymes can help reduce that type of mega-stress on the family or child, that's great too. For others, special eating programs are necessary or easy to do. You can do a mix of enzymes, supplements, and food eliminations as well - doesn't have to be all one or the other. Everyone has a different body and different situation.
Enzymes and Special Diets
Enzymes can be VERY effective in enhancing whatever diet you choose to follow...even if it is no specific or special diet at all. Enzymes improve digestion and overall gut health, so whatever you eat, or supplements/medication you take, can be better absorbed and used by the body. Supplements or food aren't going to do any good just passing through the body from the point of view of getting nutrition, although it might make you feel better psychologically that you are taking them so you get feel-good-fuzzies and entertainment value out of it..Many diets come about because particular foods are not sufficiently digested, or cause digestion problems. Diets attempt to workaround this by eliminating the problematic foods. However, a different more efficient strategy to consider is taking enzymes so the digestion problem is fixed at the core.
Whether or not enzymes can eliminate the need for a special diet would depend entirely on the enzyme product, the diet, the goals or objective of the diet, the individuals unique biology, and the person's lifestyle and anything else they are doing.
For example, DPP IV containing enzyme products can be successfully used instead of a GFCF (casein-free, gluten-free) diet by most people if they want to or need to do that. But some people prefer to eliminate foods because they just feel better about it. Or another person may find these enzymes work splendidly with casein but not 100% with gluten. Or it works with cheeses but not with milk because of a lactose intolerance issue (you would need the enzyme lactase for lactose intolerance). Most people find that adding enzymes greatly increases the results of the diet over just doing the diet alone. However, if you have a yeast overgrowth in any of these scenarios, the enzymes may be doing a splendid job on the target foods, but the yeast problem 'masks' the beneficial effects.
A lifestyle or situational need would include if
- if the person attended school, activites, older children, business dinner, or situations were adhering or enforcing a diet totally wasn't possible
- if a child was in the care of someone who was not able to implement a diet, or did not want to adhere to a diet (ex-spouse, sitter, relatives short-term)
- situations beyond your total control (restaurant, traveling, produce changes)
- stress of a 100% diet adherent just isn't possible due to other committments in life (example would be a therapy, medication, job, or financial situation just doesn't realistically permit meeting the demands of a rigorous diet)
Thus, enzymes can actually allow you to 'be on a diet' when otherwise you wouldn't be able to.
Another example is a high protein/low carb diet. The objective here is to minimize carbs. You might find taking a broad-spectrum product is not effective enough to replace the entire diet, but it does allow you to have more carbs than you otherwise could have. It may even eliminate the need for 50% of the diet, or 75%. Or perhaps if you took it with carbohydrate containing meals only. So there are various scenarios possible with enzymes. Enzymes build in tremendous flexibility with diets which are otherwise claim 100% strict 24/7 compliance. This can substantially improve your quality of life as well as reduce costs for special diet foods.
A third example would be the Feingold/Failsafe programs which eliminate certain artificial additives and possibly naturally occuring food chemicals. There are some fiber targeting enzyme products that work well for naturally occuring phenolic foods (look for cellulases, hemi-cellulases, xylanases, etc). However, artificial additives do not convey nutrition and can be detrimental to health over the long run so consuming them may not be wise whether you can stave off an immediate reaction or not. Not surprisingly, digestive enzymes are phenomenal on food (that is the entire point of their existance after all) but not as well on synthetic chemicals. Synthetic compounds are not 'food' per se as our bodies recognize and use it. So these ingredients tend to clutter up and add to the toxin load in our systems. The point here is that one goal of the Feingold/Failsafe programs is to eliminate natural food chemicals (like salicylates or phenols) which are not processed well...but these are allowed if tolerated. This would be in the realm of enzymes. A different goal of Feingold/Failsafe programs is to eliminate the synthetic additives - not in the realm of enzymes. Thus enzymes could help with replacing the need for eliminating natural nutritious foods, but not the need for eliminating artificial chemicals.
A person may suffer a condition such as 'leaky gut' or bacteria/yeast problems. So ANY food eaten might be a problem due to poor digestion. With leaky gut, any food insufficiently digested is a candidate for inappropriate absorption into the body, food intolerance or allergy reactions, developing into immune complexes, increasing toxin load, exasperating autoimmune conditions, and other unpleasant calamities. In this case, 'the diet' is really all foods (or something like 27, 43, or 89 common foods). You could go through trying to eliminate food by food until you found yourself on the food-free diet. But a different choice might be taking something like Elite-zyme Ultra ( by Thropps Nutrition, also known as Ultra-zyme Plus) or Digest Gold (Enzymedica) because of the broad-spectrum, high potency formulation. It also targets foods which other blends tend to not emphasize, particularly for colon/elimination problems.
Athletes are often interested in maximizing protein intake. Not just intake, but actually getting their food/supplements converted into usable energy and muscle. In this case, you would not take enzymes with the goal of replacing the high protein diet and supplements. You would take enzymes to ensure that the food or supplements were thoroughly broken down, absorbed, and metabolized in the body. For proteins, you would consider something containing substantial proteases.
Finding a Qualified Dietician or Nutrition Specialist
Enzymes are part of a total nutrition and digestive health program. The American Dietetic Association has a great resource for finding a nutrition professional in your local area. When contacting any specialist, ask about their area of specialization to see if it may be right for your situation.