What are enzymes?

Last night as we were returning home, we stopped en route to buy dinner for a child on the street. As the food hit his internal organs, he probably did not stop to think how or why the food can break down and convert to energy. The energy that is required to keep us alive. He was probably too joyous with just eating. Many of us may not have thought either, but it may be to your benefit to do so.

The food we eat is not very different in chemical terms to the log of firewood you throw into a fireplace to get a fire going. Activate it with kerosene and a match, and you get a fire. Similarly, our food, made from the same carbon as the firewood, in essence, catches fire in our body. Where are the kerosene and the match? Enzymes play this role in your body. No, not too light a fire, but lower the activation point of the food you ingest. The action of activation is what helps the food break down with minimum effort. The enzyme acts as a catalyst. In effect, it is lowering the temperature at which food can break down. In an extreme example, orotidylic acid, found in your food, is catalysed by orotidine 5′-phosphate. If this didn’t happen, it would remain for millions of years in an unactivated state. Talk about indigestion.

The French chemist Anselme Payen first discovered diastase, an enzyme, in 1833. Several years later, Louis Pasteur concluded that fermentation caused the fermentation of sugar to alcohols by yeast. It was this same process repeating itself inside your body.

As we age, we deplete the quantum of enzymes in our body. This is why eating raw food instead of processed food is beneficial as you deplete fewer enzymes as raw foods come with their own enzymes. By the way, you should have seen the smile of the face of the child; I don’t think a lesson on enzyme was a priority for him.


Ritesh is a born again health enthusiast and holds a Certificate in Physiology from Harvard Medical School and a Certificate in Nutrition from Tufts University.