Serena Norr
Written by Serena Norr

Reviewed by Dr Jessica Gunawan

What are Enzymes? 6 Things You Need to Know

Enzymes aid in the overall functioning of the body. Learn what are enzymes and how you can enhance their benefits by making your own drinks at home.

A white blonde woman drinking infused water with fruit slices, plates of fruits and vegetables in front of her

There has been much buzz surrounding enzymes and their importance to the body. They offer numerous benefits — from digestion to breathing — but what are enzymes?

Essentially, they are composed of proteins that serve as biological helpers, performing chemical reactions that occur in nature. They break down and build up processes and every living thing has them. Incredibly, the human body has 3,000 enzymes involved in more than 7,000 metabolic reactions, depending on the function of the body.

They are also highly specialized and fall into three categories: food enzymes found in natural foods, digestive enzymes, and metabolic enzymes. The human body produces its own digestive enzymes and metabolic enzymes. 

For example, amylase enzymes change starches into sugars, protease digests protein, lipase helps to digest fats in the gut, and cellulase digests cellulose. There are also digestive enzymes that break down the food we eat or liver enzymes that produce bile and aid with blood clotting and fighting infection.

Enzymes also work to strengthen our immunity, build muscle, aid in nerve function, help with breathing, and our metabolism relies on them, to name a few functions.

As you can see the functions of enzymes are vast, multifaceted, and an essential function of the body.

1. How Do Enzymes Work?

Enzymes were first explained in 1894 as the “lock and key” model, which is now called the induced-fit model. This showcases that every enzyme has an active site or its own unique shape and only one substrate — with its own unique shape — will fit. Like a puzzle, they must fit together to work.

Once this fits, the chemical reaction or catalysis can start (eg: digestion, breathing, etc).

While the fit is crucial for this process, they also work best when the body is at an optimum temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

There are also some that work best at a certain acidic/alkaline range that differs depending on the pH levels of different organs.

There are also times when they don’t work. For example, if the enzyme and substrates are unable to bind — whether due to being too hot or cold or too acidic or alkaline — the enzyme becomes denatured and losses its properties and ability to function.

2. Enzymes Found in Food

A woman putting slices of vegetables inside a jar to make fermented foods
Enzymes can be found in natural foods like fermented vegetables which you can easily make at home.

They are prevalent in many natural foods that we consume. People who don’t have a chronic illness can get their enzymes from a healthy diet. For example, you can find Amylase in fruits; while Lactase is in prebiotic food ingredients; and Glucoamylase is in beer.

Great natural sources of enzymes include pineapples, papayas, honey, mangoes, fermented foods, etc. When the body doesn’t get enough of them, it can have a reaction such as diarrhea, gas, bloating, or inability to digest certain foods like dairy such as those with lactose intolerance.

However, some people take pills, powders, or medications such as a digestive enzyme to aid with digestion or an enzyme supplement to replenish any lost enzymes. You should always consult with your doctor if you have any concerns about your enzyme levels.

3. Digestive Enzymes vs. Probiotics

Digestive enzymes and probiotics are both important for a healthy digestive system and sometimes complement each other.

You need them to digest food by breaking down their basic molecules, whereas probiotics are living microorganisms, such as live bacteria and yeasts, that live in your gut and can improve your body’s physiological processes. 

Since they are connected to gut health, you might see supplements and beverages that contain both probiotics and digestive enzymes.

You can also find “gut-fighting” ingredients in foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, or yogurt. It is crucial to have a healthy gut as an imbalance can lead to a weakened immune system, leaky gut, and even an inability to break down certain foods.

4. What is an Enzyme Drink and How Can It Benefit Your Body?

An image of assorted kombucha made from fruits explaining what are enzymes
Enzyme drink made from fermented fruits is an easy alternative to boost your overall health.

Another way to boost your enzymes is to consume enzyme drinks. These drinks are made by fermenting raw materials such as vegetables and fruits, which are commonly found in kombucha.

During this fermentation process, live bacteria digest the nutrients and elevate the enzyme levels in the solution. The elevated enzymes are beneficial for your body. The result of this fermentation process is called fruit enzyme, which contains probiotics, antioxidants, and enzymes that can improve digestion, improve metabolism, regulate the body’s pH levels, lower cholesterol, help with energy levels, and improve the immune system.

5. How to Choose the Right Enzyme Drink

There are not that many commercially-available enzyme drinks on the market. It is important to research the companies to ensure that you are choosing the right enzyme drink for your body and specific needs. Here are five simple steps you can do: 

  • Read the labels and to make sure that it’s only made with natural ingredients. 
  • Make sure the enzymes are “active digestive enzymes.” These are the only kinds of enzymes that help with digestion. 
  • Ensure that they don’t have any kind of artificial additives, chemicals, flavors, dyes, or preservatives. 
  • Choose a product from a brand that you, your doctor, or your physician trusts. 
  • If possible, select products that contain natural Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herbs that help promote a healthy digestive system, such as hawthorn berries and dried tangerine peels.

6. How to Make Your Own Enzyme Drinks

An unrecognizable housewife making enzyme drinks with slices of oranges inside a jar
Choose any fruit you like and you can make your own delicious enzyme drinks.

The two main ingredients of fruit enzyme drinks are honey and various fruits or vegetables. You can also flavor your enzyme drinks with herbs or flowers like chrysanthemums. The ratio to use is three parts fruits to one part honey. 

Here are the steps to make a DIY enzyme drink at home: 

  1. Prepare a large, clean, and dry glass jar with a tight lid or cover.
  2. Cut up fruits of your choice into thin slices 
  3. Layer the fruit slices with sugar or honey. 
  4. Place the fruit slices in the jar. Cover the jar tightly. 
  5. Store the jar at room temperature in a dry place for three to four weeks.
  6. When it’s ready, the liquid will smell nice.
  7. Filter and store the fermented liquid in clean, tight bottles.
  8. Enjoy!

As you can see, enzymes are a crucial chemical that’s beneficial to the body. Naturally found in foods, they can also be found in enzyme drinks and supplements which can ensure overall health and well-being.

References

  1. John Hopkins Health. 2000. The Central Role of Enzymes as Biological Catalysts. [Accessed on November 29, 2021]
  2. Creative Enzymes. 2021. Effect of Temperature on Enzymatic Reaction. [Accessed November 29, 2021]
  3. Medical News Today. 2018. Enzymes: How they work and what they do [Accessed November 29, 2021]
  4. NCBI. 2015. Enzymes: Principles and Biotechnological Applications [Accessed November 29, 2021]
  5. Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Enzymes [Accessed November 29, 2021]
  6. Chemistry Europe. 2020. Looking Back: A Short History of the Discovery of Enzymes and How They Became Powerful Chemical Tools [Accessed November 29, 2021]

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