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Enzymes: What Are They and Why Are They Important?

Enzymes are an often-ignored but important pillar of optimal health, and they serve many functions in the body. In fact, “many” is an understatement, as there are tens of thousands of enzymes facilitating countless reactions in your body every second. Without these enzymes you would cease to exist immediately, and in many ways the process of aging is related to decreased enzymatic functions.

So, what are enzymes exactly and how do we maximize them in our body if they're so important?

Chemically, enzymes are complex molecules that essentially facilitate or speed up reactions in your body as catalysts. This can be in the realm of digestion, detoxification, building muscle, making neurotransmitters, transporting important chemicals or facilitating immune activities like breaking down pathogens.

Enzymes are everywhere in your body and they usually require cofactors like minerals or vitamins in order to function properly.(1) Magnesium, vitamin B6, copper, zinc, molybdenum and manganese are some of the most common cofactors that are needed to facilitate enzymatic reactions, and this is why they are part of my Everyday Basics for Optimal Health.

Because enzymes are extremely specific in their functions, there are many of them in the body. Nevertheless, they generally fall into two categories: digestive enzymes and metabolic enzymes. The main focus for us in this article will be on the digestive enzymes and their three primary types: protease, amylase and lipase.

Protease is responsible for processing proteins. Amylase is responsible for processing

carbohydrates. And lipase is responsible for processing fats. They are all predominantly produced in the pancreas, although other areas of the body produce them, as well, such as the salivary glands for amylase and the small intestine for protease and lipase. Digestive enzymes are critical to the utilization of the macronutrients you ingest and they decline with age, deficiencies, toxicity and disease.

Because enzymes are dependent on minerals and vitamins to function correctly, being

deficient in the key nutrients mentioned previously can impact a wide range of functions in your body besides digestion.

Genes also play a significant role in your inherent production of various enzymes, as well as your ability to utilize their nutrient cofactors. If you have a harder time absorbing magnesium, for example, you are likely to have a variety of problems long term because magnesium is involved in hundreds of enzymatic reactions and processes in the body.

This is why magnesium supplementation with a high quality, chelated form like this one is something everyone should consider - since magnesium is difficult to get in the diet in sufficient amounts.

These things can be solved easily with quality supplements and a complete nutrition program, but the point is that there is no perfect genetic roll of the dice. Everyone, regardless of how robust on the outside, is likely to have some enzyme issues somewhere.