Enzymes - Our Defense Against Anti-Nutrients
Enzymes are the catalysts of our chemical reactions. In other words, they either speed up or slow down the reactions of almost everything that happens inside of us. They are the orchestrators of metabolism and facilitators of digestion and they consist of combinations of amino acids in structures very specific for their particular function. Nearly every cell function depends upon enzymatic activity.
Our concern regarding enzymes when restoring vibrant health in a body that has been consuming a conventional American diet is in reversing the effects of nature's pesticides, produced in the plants to protect the plants from predators. These are most prevalent in the parts of the plant that reproduce, or the grains, nuts, seeds and tubers, and they are called antinutrients.
These are toxins, as they have toxic effects, but they are called "antinutrients" by the scientific community because "toxins" sounds too alarmist. Antinutrients are very real and for over 100 years research has been done on them, which, unfortunately, is generally only appreciated by a small group of specialized scientists.
Antinutrients have an incredible range of biological effects. As you have probably already guessed, the vast majority and highest levels of antinutrients are in Neolithic foods like grains, beans and potatoes.
Antinutrients are natural or synthetic compounds that interfere with the absorption of nutrients. One common example is phytic acid, which forms insoluble complexes with calcium, zinc, iron and copper. Proteins can also be antinutrients, such as the trypsin inhibitors and lectins found in legumes. These enzyme inhibitors interfere with digestion. Another particularly widespread form of antinutrients are the flavonoids, which are a group of compounds that chelate heavy metals such as iron and zinc and reduce the absorption of these nutrients, but they also inhibit digestive enzymes and may also precipitate proteins. Antinutrients are found at some level in almost all conventional American foods for a variety of reasons. However, the large fraction of modern diets that come from a few crops, particularly cereals, has raised concerns about the effects of the antinutrients in these crops on human health.
Many traditional methods of food preparation such as fermentation, cooking, and malting increase the nutritive quality of plant foods through reducing certain antinutrients such as phytic acid, polyphenols, and oxalic acid. Such processing methods are widely-used in societies where cereals and legumes form a major part of the diet.
(Excerpts from Wikipedia.)
We find it imperative to supplement digestive enzymes whenever the diet has been largely one containing grains, nuts, seeds and tubers and even if the intake of these foods has been minimal, but for an extended duration.