By Penelope A. Domogo, MD
Have you tried tightening a bolt with your hands? You can but using a wrench would surely make the job much easier and thus faster. Enzymes are like wrenches. They are important components of our body that speed up (catalyze) necessary chemical reactions, fast enough for our needs. Nothing in our body would work without enzymes. You see, for us to be alive and alert, our body needs energy and building blocks. But energy and these building blocks don’t just appear from nowhere. These come from the food that we eat. And this is where the complexity of our body comes in but which we need to understand so we can take better care of ourselves.
The rice, beans and saluyot that we eat is not just chewed and blended and then absorbed in the blood. Di ba, when you see the intestines of the pig (or any animal which are similar to ours) you don’t see any holes where food is absorbed? Because food is digested chemically. Meaning these foods are not just physically broken down into microscopic pieces. They also undergo various chemical reactions to separate their cells so that our intestines can absorb them, along with water, to our blood. So when you see blood, does it look like rice or beans or saluyot? No. And when you see your poo, it does not look like anything you ate. Well, these chemical reactions happening in our digestive system are catalyzed or hastened by enzymes, just like what wrenches do. Meaning that if we didn’t have enzymes, perhaps it would take a week to digest one meal- meaning we will just have to sit or sleep for a week and wait for energy to be produced. But, of course, the Master Designer of the Universe has designed that we have enzymes, built in our bodies.
Each enzyme is designed uniquely to fit only a specific function. There are so many kinds of enzymes but we’ll just discuss the digestive enzymes because they are the front liners. And if you take care of these front liners, then those inside will be okay.
Digestive enzymes are found in the lining of our digestive system from the mouth to the small intestine as these are where digestion occurs. By the way, you can recognize something is an enzyme if its name ends with the suffix “-ase” and something is a sugar if it ends with the suffix “-ose”. Saliva, secreted from the salivary gland, contains amylase, the enzyme which is necessary for the breakdown of starch or carbohydrates into sugar. So it is important to chew very well so that the enzymes in the saliva are mixed well with the food. You will notice that if you chew and chew your rice or plain no sugar pandesal, it will become sweet. Why? Because it is digested and converted by the enzyme into sugar called “maltose”! So I have a friend who eats plain rice for dessert. Now, if you still think you need refined sugar in your tea or coffee, think again.
In the stomach, enzymes called proteases like pepsin break down proteins. These enzymes come from the stomach lining. As food goes down to the small intestine, various enzymes , including enzymes from the pancreas and liver are released. Pancreatic juices further break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Bile from the liver dissolves fat. These all work together to complete the digestion process to allow absorption of nutrients to the blood for our use. Gastric emptying is about 2-5 hours, and digestion and transit in the intestine is 2-6 hours. In general, it takes 24-72 hours for food to travel from the mouth to the toilet. Meaning what you ate today may not be what you flush in the toilet the next day. And what you eat now is not what gives you energy now. So don’t be in a hurry to eat. And take note, protein and fats take longer to digest than carbohydrates.
Like wrenches, enzymes can be used over and over again. And you need to use the appropriate size and shape of the wrench to efficiently tighten the bolt. But unlike steel wrenches which are so solid and unyielding, enzymes are like rubber. Heat and pH can warp the shape of the enzymes and make them ineffective. So fever would lower their effectivity- that’s why we have loss of appetite when we have fever to discourage us from eating. Just drink enough water and when you get better you will regain your appetite. So don’t force food in a feverish patient. Enzymes also are deactivated by too much acid. Sugar makes the blood acidic.
As mentioned earlier, enzymes are produced naturally by our body. Tropical fruits like papaya, pineapple and mangoes and bananas also contain enzymes but these are to digest the sugars in the fruit and these will be destroyed by heat so best to eat them raw. Avocado contains lipase which breaks down fats. You see, avocado has a bit higher fat content, although it is good fat. Isn’t the Creator so thoughtful! Papaya and pineapple also contain proteases which digest protein thus these are used as meat tenderizers. Reminder, these fruits are also packed with sugar so be careful.
Ginger also contains zingibain, an enzyme that digests proteins. Naturally fermented foods like kimchi, miso, sauerkraut and our own “safeng” and “tengba” contain digestive enzymes, aside from healthy gut bacteria that boost digestive health and immunity. They are natural probiotics. How wise our ancestors are!
In summary, enzymes are necessary molecules or substances for our body to function well and be healthy and strong. Because they are necessary, the Creator designed that they be manufactured inside our bodies. So keeping our body-mind-spirit in top shape would ensure healthy production and function of these enzymes. Aside from these, we have naturally-fermented foods, inherited from our ancestors.
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 34:13-14