Metabolic Enzymes - what are they?

Posted by Alexander Harper on


Obviously, in the many years that I have studied enzymes from a clinicians point of view, heard other speakers give their theories and read books written by those in the marketing of enzymes – I have come to realize that we have not yet begun to truly understand what enzymes are in the nutritional scheme of life not alone their very reason for existence.

To properly understand their existence we would all need to have a basic understanding in the study of metabolism, organic chemistry, basic thermodynamics, chemical kinetics, and science statistics of enzymology.  Since this presentation is short and we all have various educational backgrounds I will attempt to speak plainly about what enzymes are and what they are not based on biochemistry.  Possibly we can then begin to understand by having a common ground to work from.  Hopefully we can become astute in recognizing fact and fiction when reading or hearing about enzymes.

I challenge each of us to be willing to move from a students understanding of basic nutrition into the thought process of a specialist in enzyme nutrition.  The study of science relating to the field of Enzymology is a huge undertaking and there is no way to adequately cover it at this time.  However, we will borrow from biochemistry to explain why some of the statements about enzymes are made but not equally understood.  Lets just spend a few moments making sure we are on the same page and have a like understanding.

Biochemistry states that all organisms are complicated but highly organized.

This simply means that all living beings or organisms need an “energy source” to:

  • Give attention to molecule essentials which are required for cells
  • Build these essentials (amino acids) and put them in order to reproduce cells
  • Make energy in the cell
  • Rid waste from the cell

Enzymes are this energy source and we refer to them as catalysts.  Catalysts make things happen and they are proteins (amino acids).

Because these molecules (enzymes) are ever moving, colliding and taking shape they can be:

  • Sticky  (induced fit)
  • Adapt or fit to each other (lock and key concept)
  • Collide many times every microsecond (called a molecular dance)
  • Molecular dance can be at millions to billions of picoseconds of atomic motion when they adapt to each other and do their thing.
  • Every molecule has a physiological pH range (in which it woks)
  • No one molecule stays in one form very long – it is ever changing.
  • These changes take place because of their interactions with water. Hydrophobic effect – water defines environment in biology.
  • Enzyme catalyzed reactions are much faster than normal chemistry. 

The key then is the enzymes and how they work:

Enzyme function:

  • They bind by chemically changing substrate molecules
  • They accelerate reaction rates at a different calculus that many do not understand other than an enzymologist
  • They do this by being very selective (in binding and in rate enhancement)
  • By lowering the energy barrier (meaning this process allows the enzymes to work in minutes, hours, days or years depending on their energy)
  • By coupling unfavorable reactions to favorable reactions (mass action)
  • By participating briefly in the chemistry (the catalyst changes providing it changes back)
  • By using a variety of non-amino acid chemical “helpers” (substances bound to protein such as heme)
  • Using co-enzymes (some vitamins and minerals if in the same biological grouping}

Based on this biological understanding of enzymes let us now take an educated view of what is written, quoted or theorized in a variety of health books, magazines and articles.

Just recently I read an article produced in a health publication very similar to the host of a webinar.  Those quoted were companies that encapsulate enzyme supplements and are viewed as an authority in the field of enzymes along with a few authors of enzyme books.  It is not my policy or intent to embarrass any person or company, however, if we are to bring supplemental enzyme education to the masses or enzyme therapy to the field of nutrition and functional medicine there should be a moral obligation to know what we are talking about and be able to back it by science.


I have been asked to bring up to date some of the new research I have been privy to and any new enzyme science or clinical evidence.  This reminded me of my early years in the study of enzymes.  In our excitement in this field we made statements that we later had to refute time and again because of new scientific evidence that made its way into the world of nutrition.  One of the findings I found so exciting back in the 1980s was the discovery that there were over 3000 enzymes in the human body.  Obviously information driven by science and research has changed this at a rapid pace.

  • We now know there are over 20,000 enzymes in each human cell that completes over 100,000 specific actions every second!  Since the human adult has over one hundred trillion cells that is quite the accomplishment.  Based on the biochemistry I outlined we can now understand how that is possible.
  • It takes 13,000 enzymes to create just one human cell.  All metabolic enzymes are proteins that work differently.
  • Protease enzyme:  The human body produces over 9000 different proteaseenzymes that have been named.  This is old information from the 1990s.  Just think about this for a moment.  This is a just proteolytic enzyme not counting the many thousands of lipolytic or polysaccharolytic enzymes the body requires for health.  Protease enzymes are required to assist every cell in the body including our muscle tissues.  Proper proteins are needed for hormones such as the adrenal and thyroid.  Protein hormones.
  • Amylase enzymes are the most misunderstood.  It was the first recognized enzyme by Biochemical Science in the 1950s.  We really only begun to understand enzymes scientifically.  In 1955 science thought enzymes were genes for an example.  While I am speaking of Amylase one of the carbohydrate splitting enzymes lets bring us up to date by noting that carbohydrate splitting enzymes (polysaccharides) are not all amylases.  Amylase enzymes break down simple starch but there are many other forms of carbohydrate foods that need to be properly broken down.  In fact, lets admit based on the outbreak of diabetes in America why haven’t supplemental digestive enzyme formulators made themselves aware that the overuse of amylase or other simple carbohydrate splitting enzymes may not be clinically appropriate.  There are thirteen different carbohydrate-splitting enzymes required in supplemental form.
  • Lipase enzymes are lipolytic enzymes needed to breakdown lipids (fats and triglycerides).  Each cell needs a lipid layer to protect it.  Sexual hormones require proper fats for production.

Sad to admit there are many manufacturers or formulators who are confused between how metabolic and/or supplemental enzyme are used by the body.


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