Enzymes in Food: What Are They For?

The enzymes present in the kiwi improve digestion and prevent constipation processes or the appearance of flatulence. What other enzymes are there? What are they for? Here are more details.
Enzymes in Food: What Are They For?

Last update: 05 June, 2020

Food enzymes are proteins that often have a digestive function. As a general rule, they are useful for improving the processes of decomposition and the absorption of nutrients. In fact, there are several foods rich in enzymes that are recommended for people with cases of constipation in order to reduce the symptoms of this condition.

Enzymes can also function as mediators in certain chemical and physiological reactions. Furthermore, there are cases of enzymes with anti-inflammatory or even antioxidant properties. What else don’t we know about enzymes? Below, we detail more on this topic.

Proteolytic food enzymes

Some enzymes, such as actinidin,—typically found in kiwis—have the ability to intervene in protein decomposition. This, in turn, improves the absorption of amino acids. Its function is fundamentally digestive, as stated in an article published in the Food Function Magazine.

However, in scientific literature, we also find trials that link the intake of this enzyme with a reduction in constipation processes. Human studies, specifically ones published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, state that consuming kiwi can reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome such as flatulence, bloating, and abdominal pain.

Another example of a proteolytic enzyme is in pineapple. In this case, we’re talking about bromelain, which has the ability to improve protein destruction to subsequently absorb amino acids.

This fruit is famous for its diuretic and digestive qualities. In fact, it’s great to consume this fruit after heavy meals in order to reduce the symptoms associated with bloating or flatulence.

Enzymes found in Kiwi.
Enzymes like those found in pineapple and kiwi can help protein break down.

Food enzymes with anti-inflammatory power

In the case of the papaya, we find an enzyme called papain, which has outstanding anti-inflammatory power. Additionally, one can also add papaya to different preparations for oral health, thanks to its antimicrobial power.

According to a study published in the Brazilian Dental Journal, this enzyme can be effective against various types of cavities, thanks to its power of modulating the immune response and inflammation.

Furthermore, regular consumption of papaya can be associated with the prevention of obesity and other metabolic disorders, according to an article published in the journal Nutrients.

This is mainly due to its antioxidant, antihypertensive, and hypoglycemic properties. In any case, it’s not known for sure if these come from papain or the other nutrients that this exotic fruit contains.

Enzymes in the supplement industry

Currently, there’s no evidence to show that enzyme supplementation can provide health benefits. In any case, it’s common for some protein preparation to have these substances in their composition.

Apparently, this is intended to reduce gastric or intestinal discomfort derived from the intake of large doses of protein. Additionally, enzymes could help reduce flatulence, which would be a major benefit.

The sports supplement industry is testing substances with different chemical structures. This is with the aim of improving these processes at the level of nutrient absorption.

The results found about the digestibility level for whey protein have been positive enough for the inclusion of enzymes in high-quality protein products.

Supplements with enzymes.
Some protein supplements have enzymes in their composition. This is for reducing digestive discomfort.

You might be interested in: How Do Food Additives Affect Your Body?

There’s still a lot to study about food enzymes

The functions of enzymes may be much more wide-ranging than what we currently know. The effects on allergic processes or even their relationship with the appearance of diseases are still being studied. 

Several in vitro models have been carried out, but there are still no human trials to show these results. They constitute, therefore, a field of study in the coming years, which will depend on the increase in knowledge regarding physiology.

Regarding this, at present, we can recommend certain foods for the improvement of heavy digestion, such as pineapple or kiwi.

We know of other products that have certain anti-inflammatory or antioxidant capacities. However, it’s not clear if the enzymes have something to do with them, or if these properties are simply due to the existence of flavonoids.

In any case, we must bear in mind that the enzymes we have mentioned are found in food belonging to the plant kingdom. This is one more reason to recommend the intake of this type of product over processed ones, which are so current in modern diets.

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  • Martin H., Cordiner SB., McGhie TK., Kiwifruit actinidin digests salivary amylase but not gastric lipase. Food Funct, 2017. 8 (9): 3339-3345.
  • Weir I., Shu Q., Wei N., Wei C., Zhu Y., Efficacy of actinidin containing kiwifruit extract zyactinase on constipation: a randomised double blinded placebo controlled clinical trial. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr, 2018. 27 (3): 564-571.
  • Alves Bastos L., Lorencetti Silva F., Queiroz Thomé JP., Manfrin Arnez MF., et al., Effects of papain based gel used for caries removal on macrophages and dental pulp cells. Braz Dent J, 2019. 30 (5): 484-490.
  • Santana LF., Inada AC., Espirito Santo BLS., FIliú WFO., et al., Nutraceutical potential of carica papaya in metabolic syndrome. Nutrients, 2019.