Enzymes, the catalysts in our bodies for biochemical reactions, play many roles connected to the immune system.
More than 50% of our immune function is in our gut. The gut and the immune system are inseparable. That is why what we consume has such a large impact on our immune system.
We get enzymes from fresh, raw, natural, non-refined foods — raw fruits like papayas, figs, pineapples, citrus, berries and raw vegetables like leafy greens, beets, onions, leeks, celery, garlic, and raw herbs like rosemary, fennel, and thyme.
Even fresh raw sushi provides enzymes, as do fermented foods like pickles, sauerkraut and soy sauce.
Many enzymes are produced by our bodies as well.
Digestive Enzymes, Digestion and Immune Health
Digestive enzymes are just that — they help us digest our food. They help with digesting proteins, fats, carbohydrates or fiber. Other examples are those specific for lactose or gluten digestion.
Proper and complete digestion has a tremendous impact on gut health. Gut health is deeply connected to immune health.
If our foods are not digested properly (e.g., you are not producing enough digestive enzymes, something that often happens with age), not only do our bodies get incomplete nourishment from the food, but the “leftovers” are used by the gut microbes for food.
Certain microbes such as Candida use this to their advantage and may overgrow resulting in a yeast infection.
Toxins released by these microbes may cause symptoms including uncomfortable gas and abdominal discomfort, but they also may irritate the gut mucosal lining.
The irritation or inflammation may decrease your ability to absorb nutrients from your gut into bloodstream. And this is after your enzymes have worked so hard to extract the nutrients from your diet!
Inflammation can impact your immune health too. The gut lining is like the internal skin of our bodies and a first line of immune defense. If it’s inflamed, it is in a compromised state. Candida and pathological microbes can get past the mucosa to a lower layer of the gut lining and stake out a foothold there, covering themselves with a protective biofilm which allows them to evade the immune system.
When the gut lining is inflamed the junctions between cells may become less tight. If this happens, the gut lining becomes more permeable and may allow pathogens, toxins and large macromolecules to pass through to the blood and lymph. The body may develop an immune response to the microbes or molecules that get into the bloodstream that are not supposed to be there. There is a lot of ongoing scientific inquiry and research into whether the resulting immune responses are related to autoimmune diseases.
Lack of digestive enzymes can also result in abnormal bowel function including irregularity and bouts of diarrhea.
While insufficient digestive enzymes can put a stress on your GI and immune systems, this can be countered by taking a supplement of full spectrum digestive enzymes with meals.
Therapeutic Enzymes and Immune Health
Beyond the digestive process, enzymes provide therapeutic benefits for immune health. Some therapeutic enzymes work in the gut, others are more systemic and work in the bloodstream.
In the Gut
Certain therapeutic enzymes can help in addressing microbial overgrowth or remediating pathological strains in the gut. They can disrupt the biofilm that is protecting these microbes in the gut wall and break down the microbes’ outer coating. (Depending on the microbe, the outer coating may be composed of protein or chitin with cellulose.)
Other proteases can break down the proteins inside the microbes.
In the Bloodstream
Systemic therapeutic protein-digesting enzymes (proteases) can break down undesirable microorganisms like viruses, yeast, fungi, bacteria and parasites that get into the bloodstream.
These undesirable microorganisms contain or are often protected by protein. After the protein coating is removed, the organism is exposed to degradation and elimination by our body’s immune system and processes of purification.
Therapeutic enzymes are taken on an empty stomach.