Everything to Know About Enzymes

Everything to Know About Enzymes

by Dr. Emily Splichal, DPM MS 

Enzymes are a class of proteins which act as biological catalysts, or accelerators of chemical reactions within the body. Often associated with digestion, there are actually more than 3,000 different enzymes in the body which play a role muscle recovery, wound healing and even breathing!

If you are looking for an effective way to support the body’s metabolism and performance, enzyme therapy is a great option. This article will review the different types of enzymes and how to take the various types of supplements.

Specificity of Enzymes

Each enzyme is designed to carry out a specific reaction within the body.    Lactase, as an example, helps to break down the sugar lactose. When adding enzyme therapy into your day it is important to match the enzyme to the purpose or goal of enzyme therapy.

muscle recovery

In addition to specificity of reaction, the pH or environment at which the enzyme functions are also very specific.   Some enzymes, such as pepsin, function better in an acidic environment.  Pepsin is released in the stomach, where the gastric acid helps with digestion.   Pancreatic enzymes are released in the small intestine and functions to neutralize acid produced in the stomach. 

Digestive Enzymes

The more familiar enzymes are digestive enzymes which are taken with food and work optimally in a low pH environment. These enzymes work in the digestive tract to help break down food and support absorption of nutrients in the body. 

Some of the most common digestive enzymes include amylase, protease and lipase, and can be taken to reduce cramping, bloating, constipation or gastrointestinal discomfort

Systemic Enzymes

Systemic enzymes work throughout the body targeting areas of inflammation and supporting the healing process. Systemic enzymes are best consumed on an empty stomach so they can be absorbed into the blood stream.

In order to bypass the acidic environment of the stomach, systemic enzymes must be specially formulated with an acid-resistant polymer. This helps protect the delicate enzyme from the low pH of the stomach allowing delivery of significantly more enzyme activity to the small intestine which has a higher pH, maximizing efficacy.


Some of the most common systemic enzymes include serrapeptidase, bromelain and papain, and some of the most common reasons for starting systemic enzyme therapy includes joint pain, scar tissue and muscle soreness.

Quality of Enzymes

When choosing enzyme supplements, it is important to note that not all enzymes are of the same quality.   The source and manufacturing process can greatly affect the efficacy of the enzymes.

Bromelain and papain are derived from plants which have been shown withstand a wider pH range than animal-based enzymes, allowing them to survive the gastrointestinal tract.   It is important that systemic enzymes survive the gastrointestinal tract in order to be properly absorbed into the bloodstream.

Enzymes encapsulated in powder form are more stable and bioavailable to the body than enzymes in gel capsules or tablet form.  In gel capsules, enzymes are immersed in liquid and exposed to oxygen, making them more prone to denaturation and not shelf- stable. In addition, gel capsules are made of gelatin, a substance derived from animal collagen and not suitable for vegans/vegetarians or those with certain dietary practices.

Enzymes in tablet form are protected from oxidation, but they often have binding agents and protective coatings which make it difficult for the body to absorb the enzymes. Extreme pressure is often required in processing enzymes into tablet form, which creates friction and high temperatures that can denature the enzymes and render them useless.

As you consider the role of enzymes in your health and well being it is always best to do your homework, understand the quality of the products you are consuming and to ensure that you are taking them in the way they are intended.

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