Enzymes are proteins that help speed up chemical reactions in our bodies. Enzymes are essential for digestion, liver function and much more. Too much or too little of a certain enzyme can cause health problems. Enzymes in our blood can also help healthcare providers check for injuries and diseases.
Enzymes are proteins that help speed up metabolism, or the chemical reactions in our bodies. They build some substances and break others down. All living things have enzymes.
Our bodies naturally produce enzymes. But enzymes are also in manufactured products and food.
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One of the most important roles of enzymes is to aid in digestion. Digestion is the process of turning the food we eat into energy. For example, there are enzymes in our saliva, pancreas, intestines and stomach. They break down fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Enzymes use these nutrients for growth and cell repair.
Enzymes also help with:
There are thousands of individual enzymes in the body. Each type of enzyme only has one job. For example, the enzyme sucrase breaks down a sugar called sucrose. Lactase breaks down lactose, a kind of sugar found in milk products.
Some of the most common digestive enzymes are:
Each enzyme has an “active site.” This area has a unique shape. The substance an enzyme works on is a substrate. The substrate also has a unique shape. The enzyme and the substrate must fit together to work.
Enzymes need the right conditions to work. If conditions aren’t right, enzymes can change shape. Then, they no longer fit with substrates, so they don’t work correctly.
Each enzyme has an ideal temperature and pH:
Metabolic disorders are often the result of not having enough of a certain enzyme. Parents can pass them to their children through genes (inherited). Some examples of inherited metabolic disorders include:
Other health conditions related to enzyme imbalances include:
People without chronic health conditions can usually get the enzymes they need from a healthy diet. But, if you have certain health conditions, your healthcare provider may recommend taking enzyme supplements. For instance, many people with EPI may take a digestive enzyme before they eat. This helps their bodies absorb nutrients from food. Talk to your healthcare provider before taking any type of enzyme supplement.
Some medications affect enzyme levels. For example, antibiotics can kill certain bacteria needed for some enzymes to work their best. This is the reason antibiotics may cause diarrhea. To kill the bacteria making you sick, they also wipe out important good bacteria that aid in digestion.
Statins (medications that lower cholesterol) can raise liver enzymes and muscle enzymes. They may increase the risk of damage to the liver or muscles.
You won’t know if you have an enzyme problem without a blood test. Contact your doctor if you experience any of the following problems:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Enzymes help facilitate biochemical reactions in our bodies. They aid in everything from breathing to digestion. Having too little or too much of a certain enzyme can lead to health problems. Some people with chronic conditions may need to take enzyme supplements to help their bodies work as they should. Only take enzyme supplements under the supervision of your healthcare provider.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/12/2021.
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