The Importance of Plant-based Enzymes
Plants are unique. They contain the enzymes needed to break them down for digestion. If you take an apple fresh from the tree and start chewing, it releases enzymes that go to work breaking down its sugars and fibers.
These plant enzymes work together with the ones you naturally produce to digest your food. Of course, this leads to the next question…if I produce digestive enzymes, why would I need more?
For years, the answer has been you don’t. Of course, over those same years, the rates of chronic disease have risen, and obesity has become a problem. Perhaps the better question is, were the digestive enzymes we produce ever supposed to carry the entire load of digestion?
Research suggests no. For example, archaeologists have discovered that centuries ago the typical hunter-gatherer consumed about 135 grams of prebiotic fiber daily! That’s raw fiber from enzyme-rich plants. The 135 grams figure is also really important as –
- Today, the average adult only gets about 15 grams of fiber[i];
- The recommended daily average is 25-30 grams of fiber[ii]; and,
- That 135 grams was only prebiotic fiber, not the entire fiber consumption of the individual!
Now, today the term “plant-based enzymes” refers to two types of enzymes:
- Enzymes like bromelain and papain that come from plants (pineapple and papaya respectively)
- Enzymes grown in microbial plants specifically for supplements
Both of these come with a lot of benefits, especially when compared to animal-based enzymes, also known as pancreatic enzymes. Here are 10 of them.
Enzymes grown in plants come from a natural source. It could be said animal-based enzymes come from the pancreases of animals, which would make them natural. There is, however, one problem with this. Animal-based enzymes are so delicate and fragile, that they require extra care and preparation, often introducing other elements and factors into production.
With plants, manufacturers have complete control over the growing environment, harvesting, preparation and manufacture. You also don’t have to wonder what the animal used as sources of the enzymes ate, or if they were kept healthy with antibiotics or other chemicals.
Now, when evaluating a plant-based digestive enzyme, you should always look for certifications to validate the product. GMP, or Good Manufacturing Practice, for example, is one any reputable product will have – and one you should look for at a minimum to ensure the best possible product.
#3. Survives in Lower pH Environments
Plant-based enzymes can survive and do their work in acidic environments, even those as acidic as the human stomach.
Animal-based enzymes need the more neutral pH of the small intestine to work. They would break down if exposed to stomach acids. This is why most animal-based enzymes are covered in an enteric coating; it protects them on their journey through the stomach. It also means they don’t start working until they reach the small intestine, where undigested food could cause inflammation if that area is already highly sensitive, a problem for anyone who suffers from irritable bowels or other types of indigestion.
#4. Provides Better Nutrient Digestion and Absorption
Since plant-based enzymes start working in the stomach, more food gets broken down even before it reaches the small intestine. This means better digestion and a reduced digestive effort that might cause indigestion. It also means more nutrients for your body, nutrients that support a strong metabolism, healthy body weight, and better heart, liver and brain health.
Plant-based enzymes are good for the environment. Plants are grown, harvested, and then grown again. They require sunlight, water and “plant food.” Animals require more time to grow and require more care.
#6. Can Handle a Wider Range of Temperatures.
Plant-based enzymes can also thrive in a wider range of temperatures. Now, that doesn’t mean you can cook them. All enzymes break down when heated above 120 degrees F. But it means they’ll last.
#7. Travels Better.
Animal-based enzymes need to be kept cool, meaning traveling with them can be a challenge. While we encourage refrigeration of our enzymes, for example, they will still work even if they’re not. This makes it easier for you to get their benefits when you go to work, on business trips, out to dinner or on vacations.
#8. A Greater Variety Promotes Better Overall Health.
Animal-based enzymes, coming from an animal’s pancreas, come in a specific percentage of proteases (for protein digestion), amylases (for carb digestion), and lipases (for fat digestion).
Plant-based enzymes provide these and more. With plants you can get protease, amylase and lipase. You can also get:
- Lactase, for digestion of milk sugars
- Peptidase, to digest milk proteins (casein) and gluten
- Cellulase, which digests plant fibers
- Hemicellulase, again plant fibers
- Xylanase, plant fibers
- Beta-glucanase, which digests special fibers used by yeasts, grains and fungi
#9. Keeps Beneficial Bacteria Balanced.
Probiotics, those beneficial bacteria in your gut, get a lot of attention. Yet, they need digestive enzymes to keep their environment stable.
For example, Candida albicans is a fungus that lives in the gut. In small quantities, it helps with digestion and absorption of nutrients. However, if the balance in the gut gets disrupted by illness, antibiotic use, consumption of added sugars and enzyme-deficient foods, Candida can get out of control and makes the gut an unfriendly environment for your beneficial probiotic bacteria. When out of control, it also forms a hard, outer fiber shell that only plant-based enzymes can break down.
#10. More Flexibility in Combining Enzymes to Meet Different Needs
Plant-based enzymes can be mixed and matched. This means they can be combined for a complete digestive enzyme. Or, they can be combined to form metabolic enzymes to cleanse the blood of excess proteins like fibrin. They can also be used to enhance other products like:
- Probiotics to make them more effective
- Blue-green algae supplements to boost nutrient absorption and aid detox
- Natural cleanse products to improve waste breakdown and detox
- Protein powders to improve protein digestion to prevent stomach upset and for better results.
Animal-based enzymes can’t do this. They will always be a specific combination of proteases, amylases and lipases. This is the reason plant-based enzymes have become so popular.
It’s also why plant-based enzymes will continue to grow in popularity as more and more people use them. They work. They’re safe. They’re easy to take and can make up for a lack of enzymes in the diet, and you can find the one that meets your specific need.