The Truth About Enzymes and Health

Do you really need to add enzymes to your diet to be healthy?

It’s a popular notion—spread through chain e-mails, diet books and websites—that if you cook foods, you destroy valuable enzymes needed to break down foods and regulate health. These “enzyme-dead” foods are said to destroy your health and promote disease. The alternative for cooked, “dead” foods? A raw foods diet, promoted as the antidote for health problems or whatever ails you. Some sources even advocate taking an enzyme supplement to promote digestion, better health and energy, and prevent disease.

However, most reputable health experts and health organizations agree that you don’t need to eat only raw foods or take enzyme supplements to gain essential enzymes needed for health. All of the enzymes your body needs are produced by your digestive tract, organs and cells.

Raw foods. Sure, raw foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables are healthy; they’re full of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients—some of which may be destroyed during cooking. While science is extremely limited in this area, there have been some findings that indicate increased consumption of raw fruits and vegetables is linked with lower stroke risk and reduced risk of certain cancers. However, studies have also found that some vegetables actually benefit from cooking. For example, the powerful antioxidant lycopene found in tomatoes becomes more available to your body when it is cooked. And some foods, like grains and legumes, benefit from cooking because it makes them more digestible.

Enzyme Supplements. Enzyme supplements (often called proteolytic enzymes) are promoted for a multitude of hopeful health advantages, ranging from good digestion to treatment of autoimmune diseases like lupus and multiple sclerosis. But there is not much scientific support to back these claims. One small, placebo-controlled trial published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology in 1990 found no benefit from enzymes as a treatment for indigestion. While some studies have found enzyme supplements can reduce inflammation and pain, most of them are decades-old, inconsistent and unreliable. EN found no scientific proof that enzyme supplements effectively treat conditions like food allergy symptoms, lupus and multiple sclerosis.

In some cases, people have medically documented enzyme-deficiency diseases in which additional enzymes need to be administered. And some enzymes products can be helpful, such as lactase tablets for people who don’t tolerate lactose found in milk, and Beano for people with difficulty tolerating legumes. But it looks like most of us have nothing to worry about when it comes to getting enzymes. Our bodies do a good job all by themselves.

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