By Dr. Sara Hart, ND, MSOM, LAc
Enzymes are one of nature’s most amazing substances. As complex chemical structures, enzymes interact in every part of our bodies to transform substances from one product to the next. Enzymes are responsible for our metabolism, digestion, break down of waste products, energy production, immune activity, and much more! Enzymes require certain conditions in order to be most efficient at their tasks. Minding our enzymes may make or break our state of health!
Enzymes interact in every aspect of human physiology. They work as a lock and key mechanism, specifically matching the substance that they are made to break apart or transform. If we go without one enzyme, this can serve as an obstacle to many other steps in our bodies functioning. A common example of enzymes effect in our health is
within our digestive system. Before we even take a bite, enzymes are preparing themselves for their daily task. As we chop the vegetables and smell the food being prepared the salivary glands begin secreting amylase, the enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates. This creates a domino effect all through the digestive system. The stomach secretes hydrochloric acid and pepsin to break apart the proteins and kill bacteria. Then, in the small intestine we have the flood of activity from the bile secretions leaving the gallbladder, and enzymes from the pancreas and small intestine.
On a typical day, the alarm goes off and we jump out of bed, slowly waking in the shower, and maybe grabbing a quick bite before joining the stream of traffic and activity out in the world. If we’re lucky, there was a moment of focused concentration on our nutrition, but for many this just has to wait. We eat in our cars, grab snack bars rather than full meals, or skip the hassle of eating and go for a liquid option, coffee, juice, or maybe a smoothie to help us through.
Without adequate time and stimuli to warn the body of the food coming in, our enzymatic activity can be slow and the system unprepared for the digestive process to happen well. Additionally, digestion is an aspect of the parasympathetic nervous system. When we “rest and digest” our bodies are calm, our minds are quiet, the blood and focus of the body can be on our internal organs. Enzymatic activity is high when we exist in the parasympathetic state. In opposition, when we have agenda’s to meet, deadlines to address, and engage with the “busy-ness” of the world, our bodies are existing in the “fight or flight” or sympathetic nervous system. This mode shifts the blood and body focus to the head and extremities so we can deal with the task at hand.
Our biology depends upon routine to function optimally. When we think about the food we’re going to prepare, see the food choices and choose what appeals to us, chop the veggies, and smell the combinations as things are cooking, our bodies respond by knowing what is soon to come. Enzymes release and begin the digestive process before the food enters so that our system is ready to do the job well.
Over time, enzymes will diminish in their productivity. This is both considered a “normal” part of aging and a consequence of being a part of our overly stressful society. Gas and bloating are often the first sign of enzymatic weakness in the digestive tract. Next comes irregularity of the bowel movements. Often headaches, joint pain, or other signs of chronic inflammation in the body are related to enzymatic insufficiencies.
Encouraging optimal enzyme function in the body requires a variety of considerations:
• Optimal body temperature: Enzymes function optimally at 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit. While this is considered “normal” body temperature, it is certainly not typical. Proper hormone function, exercise, and health all help to regulate body temperature. Routine hydrotherapy is a tool to regulate body temperature if it is not in optimal range.
• Consistency of routine: Using cues from the environment and daily flow, the body can anticipate when to act and appropriately react to the changing needs in the system. Giving adequate time before we eat for the body to respond to the cues of mealtime, eating slowly and at the same time of day is very helpful to enzyme production.
• Stress free mealtimes: Maintaining peacefulness in our homes is important but not always possible. However, protecting the space of our mealtimes so that conflicts are dealt with at other times, multi-tasking is avoided, and intention is set for ease of nourishment are important to our health.
• Exercise: Enzymes are closely intertwined with our bodies’ metabolism. Physical exercise is a great way to support this. Depending upon your age and stage in life, this may be as simple as daily walks, yoga, intensive cardiovascular workouts, strength training, or interval training to help optimize the hormonal and metabolic systems.
Minding your enzymes is about giving yourself the time and space you need to create a healthy rhythm and flow to your daily life. Proper enzymatic activity results in adequately digested food, properly metabolized wastes, and effective transformation of cellular functions. If you suffer from digestive disorders, fatigue, pain conditions, or chronic illness, enzymes used as a therapeutic tool can make a world of difference.
For more information on the many ways to support your enzymes and overall health, please visit www.stillwaterhealingarts.com, and/or schedule an individual consultation with myself.