Whether breaking down foods or healing from injury, nearly every process in the human body involves chemical reactions. Enzymes are proteins that act as the catalysts for chemical reactions. Every cell in the body uses enzymes for building, maintenance, and repair. Enzymes are available in food, and the human body produces many enzymes on its own. However, your body's natural production of enzymes begins to decline as early as age 25. Joint pain, circulatory concerns, slower healing, and an increase in the incidence of disease are all too common with people who are enzyme-deficient and experiencing the effects of aging.
What Are the Different Types of Enzymes?
Natural enzymes fall into two main categories: systemic enzymes and digestive enzymes. Some enzymes are made by your body, while other enzymes are found naturally in certain foods or are available as a supplement. Getting the right amount of enzymes in your body can help support digestion, reduce inflammation, and boost your immune system. Many plant-based foods provide a good source of enzymes. Following a healthy organic diet that's rich in fruits and vegetables is a great way to provide your body with a wide variety of enzymes.
What Are Systemic Enzymes?
Systemic enzymes support and maintain overall health. They help a wide variety of processes in the body and can be thought of like the lubrication that keeps the gears moving easy. Supplements with systemic enzymes may be taken to address specific health issues, but just as often are used to promote general body support. A few things that systemic enzymes help with include the breakdown of excess mucus, fibrin, toxins, allergens, and clotting factors.
Many people take systemic enzymes instead of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) since they also can be helpful in the temporary reduction of swelling. Unlike NSAIDs, systemic enzymes pinpoint only the harmful circulating immune complexes (CICs) without suppressing the CICs that are beneficial.
What Are Digestive Enzymes?
Digestive enzymes, true to their name, aid the digestive process. Enzymes help the body break down fiber (cellulase), protein (protease), carbohydrates (amylase), and fats (lipase). Digestive enzymes do all their work in the gastrointestinal tract and help combat common issues such as indigestion, bloating, abdominal discomfort, and gas. Many people find that their digestive system is more efficient and self-maintaining when their digestive enzymes are in check.
Benefits of Systemic and Digestive Enzymes
Both systemic and digestive enzymes provide many benefits. While systemic enzymes help the body with overall healing and wellness, digestive enzymes support the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and various aspects of digestive health. Below is a more detailed breakdown of the benefits of both systemic and digestive enzymes.
Benefits of Systemic Enzymes
- Helpful for fibrosis conditions caused by the hard, sticky protein called fibrin
- Reduces scar tissue, also made up of fibrin
- Cleans the blood of cellular waste and toxins to support normal liver function
- Promotes the immune system response by helping white blood cell efficiency[1, 3]
- Manages the overgrowth of yeast, reducing stress on the liver
Systemic enzymes specifically appear to target inflammation throughout the body. While it’s a natural response to injury, excessive inflammation can slow the healing process. Studies have looked at the effect of proteolytic enzymes on disorders which cause inflammation in the joints. The results suggest supplementing with proteolytic enzymes may reduce swelling and provide analgesic effects in some cases.[4, 5]
Benefits of Digestive Enzymes
- Easier breakdown of food for better absorption
- Healthier relief in pancreatic insufficiency (PI)
- Better promotion of diet tolerance for vegetarians or vegans
- Alleviates certain digestive intolerances
- Supports a healthy balance in the body’s microbiome
Since enzymes help us absorb vital nutrients from the foods we need, they help a healthy body perform even better.
What Are the Best Natural Sources of Enzymes?
While the human body creates digestive and systemic enzymes like trypsin and chymotrypsin, other enzymes are best obtained through food or supplementation. Two enzymes — papain and bromelain — occur naturally in papaya and pineapple and are well-known digestive aids. Raw foods (organic, uncooked) naturally provide digestive and systemic enzymes which activate in the acidic environment of the stomach, while cooked foods tend to lose much of these healthy enzymes.[1, 2]
What Are the Symptoms of Low Enzyme Levels?
Inadequate digestive enzyme levels lead to food rotting in the intestines. This can create bloating, indigestion, gas, and abdominal discomfort. A lack of systemic enzymes also allows waste to build up throughout the bloodstream and lymph system, stressing the immune system’s ability to keep up. Some other symptoms of poor enzyme levels can include heartburn, lethargy, and food in your stool that hasn’t been properly digested.[1, 2]
Digestive and Systemic Enzymes Side Effects
Very few side effects have been reported regarding enzyme supplements. Some people experience an upset stomach or a change in stool. These effects are usually related to high potency digestive enzyme intake. If a change in your daily functions occurs, discontinue use of these supplements and consult with your healthcare provider for more information about your individual dietary needs.
Should I Take an Enzyme Supplement?
The pancreas naturally creates some enzymes; however, when dealing with increased toxin loads and processed foods, the body can easily get overwhelmed. Natural, raw foods supply enzymes, but processed, refined, and overcooked foods don’t. Simply put, the modern diet does not provide enough enzymes to fully support digestion and the other vital functions that enzymes help with.
The simplest approach for many common dietary conditions is to supplement with a systemic and digestive enzyme blend. This will encourage digestion and promote cardiovascular, immune, and metabolic health. I use and recommend VeganZyme®. It is the most advanced full-spectrum systemic and digestive enzyme formula available and it's free of fillers and toxic additives.
- Meiser P, et al. Systemic Enzyme Therapy: Fact or Fiction? A Review with Focus on Bromelains, Proteolytic Enzymes from the Pineapple Plant. In: Jacob C, et al, eds. Recent Advances in Redox Active Plant and Microbial Products. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer. 2014.
- Ianiro G, et al. Digestive enzyme supplementation in gastrointestinal diseases. Curr Drug Metab. 2016;17(2):187-193. Accessed Apr. 13 2018.
- Nouza K. Systemic enzyme therapy in diseases of the vascular system. Bratisl Lek Listy. 1995;96(10):566-569. Accessed 13 Apr 2018.
- Leipner J, et al. Therapy with proteolytic enzymes in rheumatic disorders. BioDrugs. 2001;15(12), 779-789. Accessed Apr. 13 2018.
- Beuth J. Proteolytic enzyme therapy in evidence-based complementary oncology: fact or fiction?. Integr Cancer Ther. 2008 Dec;7(4):311-316.
- Saad K, et al. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of digestive enzymes in children with autism spectrum disorders. Clin Psychopharmacol Neurosci. 2015 Aug;13(2):188-193.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.