Enzymes are complex proteins that act as catalysts in most of the biochemical process that occurs in the body. Catalyst is a substance that accelerates a chemical reaction, but it is not consumed or changed in the process. The level of functioning of enzymes in the body depends on the presence of adequate vitamins and minerals. There are many enzymes which cannot perform without incorporating a single molecule of a trace mineral like copper, iron or zinc. Enzymes first came to the attention of biochemists in the 1930’s. Initially some 80 enzymes were identified. Now the figure has increased to 5,000.
Enzymes can be widely classified into three major categories.
· Metabolic enzymes – They play a role in breathing, talking, moving, thinking, behavior and maintenance of the immune system. A subset of metabolic enzymes operates to neutralize poisons and carcinogens like pollutants, DDT and tobacco smoke. They change these into less toxic forms that the body can easily eliminate.
· Digestive enzymes – Mostly manufactured by pancreas, they are 22 in number. They are secreted by glands in the duodenum. Hey help to break down the bulk of partially digested food leaving the stomach.
· Food enzymes – They are present in raw food. They initiate the digestive process in the mouth and upper stomach. They include proteases for digesting protein, lipases for digesting fats and amylases for digesting carbohydrates.
Raw food is very important in the diet. The enzymes in raw food initiate the process of digestion, thus reducing the body’s requirement to produce digestive enzymes. All the enzymes are deactivated at a wet-heat temperature of 118 degrees Fahrenheit, and a dry-heat temperature of about 150 degrees. The built-in mechanism in the body determines whether the food we consume contains its enzyme contents. When we consume cooked food, an enzyme-poor diet, we use up huge amount of our enzyme potential in the outpouring of secretions from the pancreas and other digestive organs. The result may be a shortened life-span, illness and lowered resistance to stress.
Enzymes are capable of processing millions of molecules every second. They are very specific and react with one or only a few types of molecules. Naming of enzymes is easier than other compounds. The naming depends on what the enzyme reacts with and how it reacts. Lactase is the enzyme that reacts with lactose.
While all enzymes have a biological function, some of them are used commercially for other purposes. Enzymes are used as biological detergents. They are used in the baking industry, in baby foods, brewing industry, fruit juices, dairy industry, starch industry, rubber industry, paper industry and photographic industry.