Energizing enzymes

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A fitter, rejuvenated you may be just one enzyme supplement away. Our buyer's guide shows you what you need now

YOU'VE SHRUNK!" Elizabeth Yarnell's mother exclaimed when her daughter returned from a month-long trip overseas transformed from a size 8 to a size 2.

Yarnell was almost as surprised as her mom. She hadn't made the slightest change to her diet or exercise habits. The only thing she had done differently was start taking a digestive enzyme supplement — one capsule with each meal, two if the meal contained dairy.

"But the weight loss was only a bonus," says the 40-year-old author of whole-foods cookbooks like Glorious One-Pot Meals (Broadway, 2009). "The enzyme supplement stopped the cramps, bloating, and gas I used to get after meals and I feel more energetic and happier. I've even managed to avoid the illnesses brought home by my two preschoolers and schoolteacher husband."

Yarnell, who has multiple sclerosis, says that digestive enzymes are an important part of the healthy diet that helps her manage her disease. "My mother started taking enzymes after she saw what was happening to me, and other people in my life are giving it a try, too," she says.

ENZYMES ARE COMPLEX PROTEIN molecules found in every cell of our bodies that facilitate specific tasks like producing energy, rebuilding cells, breaking down fats and nutrients, or exchanging oxygen for carbon dioxide. Digestive enzymes — produced by the body and also found in raw fruits and veggies like pineapples, papaya, and sprouts — are responsible for helping to break down food, says Eric Braverman, M.D., founder of PATH Medical in New York City and author of Younger You (McGraw-Hill, 2006). From the moment you smell a delicious meal, your body jumps into action, secreting enzymes (amylase, which breaks down carbohydrates and starch) into your saliva. As food moves through your body, different enzymes (protease, which helps digest proteins, lipase, which breaks down fat, and amylase) continue the work of digesting and preparing the food to become nutrition for your body. Maltase and sucrase, which break down food sugars; cellulase, which breaks down cellulose, and lactase, which helps digest dairy products, also lend a hand.

By breaking down the food we eat into small enough bits, the enzymes allow nutrients to pass through the intestines and into the blood, where other enzymes take the nutrients and use them to build muscles, bones, and blood as well
Enzyme basics

WHAT THEY DO Enzyme supplements can ease digestive woes such as acid reflux, heartburn, cramping, gassiness and bloating; reduce inflammation of the joints and muscles, and treat specific conditions caused by enzyme deficiencies. Some people experience weight loss after taking digestive enzymes.

SEE RESULTS Digestive changes are often noticed with the first dosing. For other maladies, it may take several weeks to see results, so be patient and willing to experiment with dosages and formulations.

WHO SHOULD TAKE THEM While anyone can benefit from digestive enzymes, research suggests people with conditions like lactose intolerance, cystic fibrosis, autism, pancreatitis, celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or chronic pain can experience dramatic benefits. But be aware that thus far, enzyme supplements have not been shown to "cure" any disease or condition.

ENZYMES VS. PROBIOTICS There's an important difference between probiotics and enzymes. Probiotics, like acidopholus and bifidus, are live organisms that produce enzymes to help our digestive tract function normally, while enzymes are proteins our body creates. Taking the two together can actually make each do its job better.

CHOOSING A SUPPLEMENT Devin Houston, Ph.D., founder of Houston Nutraceuticals, recommends, "Look into the backgrounds of the people behind the products and the claims they make, and learn how each different enzyme works in your body." He recommends choosing a high-potency dosage based on activity — shown on the label as HUT, DU, FCCLU, for example — instead of weight, as take care of other essential body functions, like respiration.

But certain conditions, like lactose intolerance, have been linked to a deficiency in specific enzymes. And experts believe that our modern diet — heavy on cooked and processed foods and stimulants like caffeine and sugar — make it difficult for our digestive enzymes to do the job they're made for.

Walk into a health food store and you'll see an array of enzyme supplements claiming to cure conditions from acid reflux to acne. We've rounded up three must-have supplements that can help keep you fit and energized.
Get a flat belly

WHAT TO BUY Houston Enzymes HN-Zyme Prime ($16; houston-enzymes.com). These capsules contain nine different enzymes that break down complex carbs, triglyceride fats, starches, and proteins, blended together in a high concentration formula. The product is especially good at easing the gas and bloating that can come from slow digestion of fatty food and dairy products.

WHY IT WORKS Irregular digestion can cause bloating, gas and uncomfortable (and unsightly) fullness. Digestive enzyme supplements help by jump-starting the digestive process, helping your body more efficiently break down nutrients. Enzyme biochemist Devin Houston, Ph.D., recommends starting with one capsule with a meal, but says you may want to experiment with dosage. "With a big meal, like Thanksgiving dinner, you may want to take a couple of capsules before the meal and a couple after."

CAVEAT Since diets, metabolisms and other factors can make your digestion slower or faster than other people's, it's a good idea to experiment until you find the right dosage for you. Enzymes are considered safe in any dosage — your body will get rid of whatever it doesn't use — and they aren't thought to interfere with other medications or supplements. Eating a high-protein or high-carb diet? You may want to take a supplement that specifically targets protein or carbohydrate digestion.
Eat what you love

WHAT TO BUY Shaklee EZ-Gest ($22.50; shaklee.com), a full-spectrum digestive enzymes formula that contains lactase, alpha galactosidase, protease, amylase, and lipase. Each enzyme helps break down a specific type of food.

WHY IT WORKS Sometimes there's a simple evolutionary reason for the discomfort you feel after you eat that piece of pizza or ice cream cone. "We're programmed to be breastfed and have lots of milk, so one enzyme in particular, lactase, is there to break down the milk sugar," explains Houston. "That particular enzyme starts to fade out at around age 8, so people often start having a difficult time digesting dairy foods." Other foods, like tomato-based sauces, can cause discomfort in people dealing with acid reflux or heartburn. Often an enzyme supplement can help jump-start a sluggish digestive system and ease the symptoms of lactose intolerance, indigestion or acid reflux. You may not be able to go back to those college habits of gobbling up half a pizza in one sitting, but with some help, you just might be able to enjoy a slice once again!

CAVEAT For someone like 47-year-old Abby Beale of Wallingford, Conn., who suffered from severe heartburn and reflux before she discovered enzyme supplements, moderation is still important. "I know that if I want a slice of pizza, I can take a capsule and I'll be OK," she says. "But I wouldn't drink a glass of red wine with a piece of pizza — that would just be too much."
Ease inflammation

WHAT TO BUY Advanced Formula InflammEnz ($23.50; naturamart.com). This highly-concentrated formula contains bromelain, which has been shown to reduce inflammation and may help ease symptoms of osteoarthritis.

WHY IT WORKS Bromelain, a digestive enzyme found in the stem and fruit of the pineapple plant, is thought to neutralize inflammation-causing biochemicals in the body. As an anti-inflammatory, bromelain supplements may be effective at reducing pain after surgeries or injuries, reducing the swelling and pain of arthritis, easing sinusitis, and relieving inflammation of the colon.

CAVEAT If you're hoping to ease chronic inflammation, such as the symptoms of arthritis, Houston highly recommends finding a doctor or naturopath who is experienced in the use of enzymes to help you. "You need to take large amounts of supplements frequently to see results, and it can be difficult to figure out systemic treatment on your own," he explains. Many distributors will only sell InflammEnz to healthcare professionals.
Eat your enzymes!

Most of us eat cooked and processed foods at least some of the time, and processing and cooking may inactivate or destroy the enzymes in our food, meaning our bodies have to create more enzymes and work harder to digest it. According to Eric Braverman, M.D., adding more enzymes to our diets via the foods we eat is always the best place to start. All fresh, raw fruits and vegetables contain enzymes, but papaya, pineapple, and sprouts are especially potent. Adding these to your diet may help give your digestive system a boost.

"Enzyme supplements stopped the cramps, bloating, and gas I used to get after meals and I feel more energetic and happier. I've even managed to avoid the illnesses brought home by my two preschoolers and schoolteacher husband."
— Cookbook author Elizabeth Yarnell

"To choose an enzyme supplement, look into the backgrounds of the people behind the products and the claims they make, and learn how each different enzyme works in your body."
— Devin Houston, Ph.D., enzyme biochemist and founder of
Houston Nutraceuticals

Make time for enzymes

These are some of our favorite, widely available, brands of enzyme supplements.

1. Shaklee EZ-Gest ($22.50; shaklee.com) contains five different digestive enzymes, each targeted to a specific food group.
2. Advanced Formula InflammEnz ($23.50; naturamart.com) eases inflammation and may help with osteoarthritis
3. Houston Enzymes HN-Zyme Prime ($16; houston-enzymes.com) eases gas and bloating.

"Even when you take digestive enzymes, moderation is important. I know that if I want a slice of pizza, I can take a capsule and I'll be OK. But I wouldn't drink a glass of red wine with a piece of pizza — that would just be too much."
— Abby Beale, severe heartburn and acid reflux sufferer

PHOTO (COLOR): DAIRY TALE Digestive enzymes can help with lactose intolerance, which often develops in childhood when the body stops producing the enzyme lactase.

PHOTO (COLOR): FRUIT FOR THOUGHT Pineapple contains the powerful enzyme bromelain, which has been shown to ease inflammation and relieve pain.

PHOTO (COLOR): LOSE IT Enzyme supplements that help to efficiently break down fats, carbs, and proteins can also help you burn calories.

PHOTO (COLOR): POP STARS Enzyme supplements are considered safe and effective for digestion, pain relief, weight loss, and preventing gas.

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By Meagan Francis

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