Enzymes are protein molecules found in our bodies which catalyze or drive the processes inside our bodies under certain conditions. We can know when a molecule is an enzyme because the name ends with –ase. They are integral to the functioning of our bodily processes so finding out more about them and their roles can help us in our approach to a good and healthy lifestyle.
Where Are Enzymes Found?
Enzymes may be found within the cells in our body, in which case they are classified as intracellular. When they exist outside of our cells they are called extracellular enzymes. They are present in all living organisms, plant and animal alike. This means that we can get enzymes from the foods we eat, however, due to the process of cooking, for certain foods, the enzymes are destroyed before we get a chance to ingest them. An enzyme is made up of the basic unit of proteins known as an amino acid.
Enzymes are complex combinations of specific amino acids arranged in a particular sequence which is unique to each enzyme. This means that each enzyme will only perform a specific function. So proteases will only work on proteins, lipases will only work on lipids or fats, and carbohydrases or amylases will only work on starches. These are examples of extracellular enzymes which drive processes. All enzymes are manufactured inside cells. Some remain there to carry out their functions while others migrate to the systems where they are needed to perform their specific functions.
How Do Enzymes Work?
Whether they are found within or outside of the cell, enzymes are needed to catalyze reactions for the proper functioning of an organism. They speed up the rate at which the reactions occur making the process more efficient. Each enzyme requires a specific set on conditions to work.
This usually involves the correct temperature, pH and substrate (the specific molecule it will work on). Once these conditions are satisfied, the enzyme will then carry out its function. This involves, synthesizing molecules or breaking them down, as well as transporting other molecules to where they are needed or eliminating them. They serve diverse functions and without them we could not survive.
What Types Of Enzymes are Involved in Digestion?
Digestion makes use of extracellular enzymes which break down the food we ingest into a form that the body can assimilate. These digestive enzymes are made by various organs of the body and drive the metabolism (breakdown) of the food we eat. They consist of three main types of enzymes.
The Amylases, which break down starchy food into sugars, are produced by the salivary glands, small intestines and pancreas. As the food moves from the mouth through to the small intestine, these enzymes do their work each step of the way. Digestion of starches begins in the mouth.
The Proteases, which are produced by the stomach, pancreas and small intestine, break down proteins into amino acids. The digestion of proteins begins in the stomach.
The Lipases, break down fats into fatty acids and glycerol, and are produced by the pancreas and small intestines.
Enzymes In Food
We can only get enzymes from foods when they are raw or in their uncooked state. These enzymes present in raw foods are sufficient to break them down once ingested. It is not possible for us in all cases to consume food in their uncooked state and in many instances this may not be a healthy choice to make in the case of meats for example. Some meats may contain parasites, so cooking is essential before they enter the body. Even though the body has the ability to produce enzymes for digestion, have enzyme containing foods like raw salads, fruit, nuts etc, will provide the body with extra enzyme assistance. This reduces the toll on the body to have to produce all the enzymes required for digestion.
Research has shown that there is a link to our health and vitality and our enzyme levels. It is therefore important that we do what we can by means of our diet to boost our enzyme levels and support our body’s efforts to keep us healthy.