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Enzymes for Health

enzymesEnzymes are defined as macromolecules (mainly proteins) that control the speed of chemical reactions in the body. They naturally occur in the body acting to catalyze, or accelerate all the normal biochemical bodily reactions. Several types of enzymes exist and all are considered vital for life. Without any of them, the biochemical processes of the body would be extremely slow to the point of not being able to cope with the needs if the body.

These important macromolecules are usually extremely specific to their functions although such functions may overlap at times. They are also specific on the condition under which they work. In this manner, there are specific enzymes for protein, carbohydrate and fat metabolism. They catalyze the biochemical processes that progressively breakdown these foods to reach their basic building block form including amino acids, sugars as well as fatty acids/lipids.

The Importance of Enzymes for Health 

The body uses these building blocks for purposes of growth and development such as synthesis of new cells, rebuilding and healing of tissues and organs, removing toxins and supplying energy. Deficiency of any of the enzymes may affect any of the pathways leading to poor health of the system or organ most affected by the deficiency. Since the enzymes have overlapping functions, multiple systems are often involved and this can greatly interfere with the capacity of the body to function normally.

Enzymes play a very important role in promoting immunity. They promote both innate (first line defense) and specific (memory) immunity. In the case of innate immunity, proteolytic enzymes (proteases) can digest the protein coat of viruses thereby killing them and preventing infection. In specific immunity, enzymes help catalyze the synthesis of antibodies (or immunoglobulins). Antibodies are defined as a protein synthesized by immune cells (called plasma cells) and used by the immune system to identify and neutralize foreign object including bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites.

The Most Popular Enzymes 

As mentioned earlier, there are several enzymes in the body, each performing a specific function. It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss all of them. Here is a brief discussion of the most popular enzymes:

Amylase: Amylase is an enzyme that breaks down carbohydrate (starch) into simpler unites which can then be converted to sugar (glucose) by other enzymes to provide body with energy. It was the first enzyme to be discovered and isolated in 1833 by Anselme Payen. It is synthesized and secreted by glands in the mouth into saliva and pancreas into the intestines. This means carbohydrate digestion starts in the mouth. There three classes of this enzyme including alpha-amylase, beta-amylase and gamma-amylase. However, alpha-amylase is the most active [1].

Bromelain: Bromelain is not a human enzyme. Rather, it is a mixture of proteolytic (protein degrading) enzymes found in large quantities in the juice and stems of pineapples. It was discovered and isolated in 1891 the late 1800s by the Venezuelan chemist Vicente Marcano. The enzyme is an important immune modulator with anti-inflammatory properties. This means it can reduce inflammation resulting from injuries and infections [2].

Coenzyme Q10: Although classified under enzymes, this compound is more like a vitamin. It is found in all parts of the body, especially in the liver, heart, pancreas and the kidneys. Small quantities can also be obtained from seafood and certain meats. Coenzyme Q10 was first discovered and isolated by Professor Fredrick L. Crane and colleagues in 1957 at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Enzyme Institute. It is a powerful antioxidant and also aids in metabolism [3].

Lactase: Lactase is an endogenous enzyme that breaks down a sugar named lactose found in milk and milk products. Everyone who consumes milk as an infant synthesizes the enzyme and those with it deficiency will suffer from milk intolerance. There is very little information as to the discovery and isolation of lactase but available evidence indicates that it was several thousands of years to help people with lactose intolerance consume milk [4].

Protease: Protease is a class of enzymes that begin the process of breaking down protein molecules into amino acids. Amino acids are vital structural elements of all the cells of the body. There are six classes of proteases based on the catalytic residue they use. Proteases as well as other proteolytic enzymes were discovered and isolated by William Beaumont “Father of Gastric Physiology” in early 1800s as he researched on human digestion [5].

Lipase: Claude Bernard realized that a pancreatic secretion could saponify and emulsify fatty substances, in 1848,. He would eventually attribute these reactions to an enzyme that was later named pancreatic lipase. It is an enzyme that catalyzes the breakdown of fat/lipids in food so that the body can assimilate it for use in cell membrane synthesis, deposit in adipose tissue as well as other functions. It is produced by pancreas and in the mouth and stomach in small quantities. Deficiency of this enzyme can cause a lot of diseases [6].

Maltase: Maltase is an enzyme that catalyzes the hydrolysis of disaccharide called maltose into simple sugars that can be used directly by the body. This means it comes right after amylase. The discovery date of this enzyme is not clear but available evidence indicates its isolation and testing relates to Robert Kohler in 1898. He only confirmed that maltase could actually synthesize maltose from glucose units but the first known use was in 1890 [7].


  1. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003464.htm and http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Amylase.html
  2. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/bromelain and http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=146651
  3. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/938.html and http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/coenzyme-q10
  4. http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/news/070401_lactose
  5. http://www.enzymeessentials.com/HTML/protease.html
  6. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/lipase
  7. http://worldofenzymes.info/enzymes-introduction/maltase/2/