Enzyme supplements: do you really need them?


Raw vegetables

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One of the trending ideas in the popular health media recently has been that of enzymes. Many sources offer suggestions on the benefits of eating raw vegetables and the boost you can give yourself by taking supplements. But are these ideas scientifically sound or just the latest in dietary buzzwords?

At one time or another, many people find the digestion of food difficult. The body’s inability to digest some foods can cause abdominal pain that may last for hours. This problem may be the result of aging or illness but even apparently healthy people can get cramps, indigestion or bloated.

Normally, food is broken down by proteins known as enzymes, which are manufactured by the body. This digestion process begins in the mouth, continues in the stomach and has its third and final stage in the small intestine. At each point, different enzymes help break down the food we eat into its constituent parts. Any interruption of that process can lead to discomfort and pain.


What’s the real deal with enzyme supplements?

There is a growing number of people who suggest that the solution to the problem comes in the form of enzyme supplements, which will restore the body’s natural ability to break down hard to digest foods such as raw veggies. In their turn, raw vegetables are important, they argue, because cooking breaks down the nutritional value of foods in their natural state. In addition to swallowing supplements, they say, the body’s natural decrease in enzyme production can be assisted by eating veggies rich in “healthy enzymes.”

At the same time, certain high-profile media health “experts” are also keen on saying that, as a result of our complex modern diet, the horrible strains we put upon our digestive system with processed food, our poor bodies are just not cut out for the job anymore and need this helping hand to restore equilibrium. Enzyme supplements and their ability to help us digest raw foods, they argue, are the answer. The claims of such proponents are, unsurprisingly, often backed up by the claims of enzyme supplement manufacturers.

As with many “wonder cures,” the truth is far from straightforward. As we reported with chlorophyll, taking enzyme supplements orally often makes little sense. Though it is true that vegetables contain enzymes, they are not ones that can replace those in the human body.


Reality bites

According to Dr Joel Fuhrman of diseaseproof.com: “contrary to what many raw-food web sites claim, the enzymes contained in the plants we eat do not catalyze chemical reactions that occur in humans. The plant enzymes merely are broken down into simpler molecules by our own powerful digestive juices. Even when the food is consumed raw, plant enzymes do not aid in their own digestion inside the human body.”