What is an Enzyme?
Enzymes are proteins, made up of amino acids, that are created inside our cells that help chemical reactions or help breakdown substances. Enzymes typically end with an “ase”, for examples: decarboxalases, reductases, lyases, hydrolases, transferases, etc. Most people are aware of digestive enzymes that help breakdown our food, like lipase. But there are thousands of enzymes that help with every biochemical reaction in our bodies. From creating and breakingdown neurotransmitters, hormones, immune system chemicals, inflammation, maintain normal metabolism, to maintaining proper blood acid/alkalinity. So enzyme production and activity are extremely important in our bodies!
Essentially an enzyme takes two chemicals or “substrates” and creates something new with them. Let’s use the popular MTHFR enzyme that everyone is talking about these days… MTHFR takes 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate and converts it to a molecule called 5-methyltetrahydrofolate. Big words, but don’t worry about it… yet. This is a required chemical reaction in breaking down Homocysteine, a known cardiovascular marker, more important that cholesterol, in many expert opinions. Or the DAO enzyme, which breaks down Histamine. We all know what histamine does to us, it’s that nasty allergy chemical that makes us inflame around “allergy season.” I tried to draw a little example to the right here, don’t laugh. Enzymes also kind of look a crumpled up piece of paper. Don’t worry, scroll down and you’ll get to see my first attempt at drawing of an enzyme, crumpled up of course.
As you can see, our enzyme systems are extremely important! If we have a problem with our enzymes that break down neurotransmitters, someone might have anxiety, depression, fatigue, irritability, trouble learning, trouble focusing, to even cancer(just google it). This is actually how many drugs, antibiotics, antifungals, poisons, toxins, etc work. They disrupt enzyme systems in the targeted organisms to the point they cannot function. Remember all the news about the mass bee extinction not to long ago? Well they think there was an insecticide used on plants that actually accidentally affected an enzyme within the bees and killed them too. There is a whole science called selective toxicity where they program chemicals to target specific organism, it’s quite interesting but to some extent dangerous (in my opinion)
So what can screw up our enzyme systems and what do we need to do to ensure they work properly? Heavy metals, bacterial toxins from our bowels or chronic infections (see future article on LPS and hypothyroidism), BPA or plastics, lack of minerals, lack of amino acids, synthetic vitamins(see future article on folic acid), or genetic SNPS (See What is a SNP) that hinder our abilities to make the enzyme to begin with, all can disrupt our enzyme systems. So we have to evaluate our environments, supplements, mineral status, protein digestion, our gastrointestinal function, and genetics to optimize our enzyme systems.
We have to be able to break our food down, specifically protein down to amino acids. Remember, Amino acids are the building blocks of enzymes and protein. People who can not digest protein typically have acid reflux, fowl smelling bowel gas, constipation, bloating, anal itching and other GI symptoms. Gut flora is a hot topic right now and there is research on bacterial toxins influencing our hormones and neurotransmitters, want to guess how? So proper GI function is key. Next would be mineral status. HTMA hair or RBC/WBC mineral analysis would be helpful in determining mineral status and if you should be supplementing. There is tons of information and research on Magnesium, Iodine, Molybdenum, Zink, etc helping many different conditions, want to guess why here too?
Toxin and heavy metal exposures will influence our enzymes too, so watching our exposure here is important too. Diving into this is outside the scope of this article, but I will write something soon on it, I promise!
Next up is our genetic ability to produce enzymes. There is mounting evidence that our genetics play a role in the activity of these enzymes, if the genetic code is slightly off it will change its ability to function. There are TONS of research on this (Read what is a SNP). If we have these small issues in the enzymes we might have symptoms of lack of the end product. Going back to MTHFR, we may not be able to produce enough 5-methyltetrahydrofolate then our homocysteine levels elevate and our Methionine levels decrease. This can cause a wide range of symptoms from inhibited Neurotransmitter productions, cardiovascular disease, weight loss, birth defects to infertility. So if you know you have these certain genetic mutations, we can supplement the end product and bypass the genetic issue. Or we can do things to optimize the enzymes activity like supplementing with mineral and vitamin cofactors or increasing dietary intake of foods that are high in the end products. This goes outside the scope of this article as well.
So as you can see, enzyme systems are extremely important and is the basis of many nutritional interventions for common issues and chronic diseases. It is also important for optimizing our health and prevention of disease. It is the basis for everything we do.