How Do Enzymes Work: Structure

In order to answer the question how do enzymes work, we need to understand a bit about structure on the atomic level. Enzymes are proteins specifically designed to manage and act as a catalyst for all of our biochemical processes.

By definition a catalyst is something which accelerates or causes a chemical reaction without itself being affected. This is not quite true with enzymes, but we will get to that later. Suffice to say enzymes are essential to almost every biochemical action in every cell of our bodies.

To illustrate the truly remarkable manner in which enzymes accomplish this let’s look at an example of a typical transaction like absorbing minerals. This may be an oversimplification of a very complex feedback mechanism, but I believe it will accomplish our goal.

When our body requires more calcium, the intestinal wall, on cue with a signal from the parathyroid gland, will produce a calcium binding protein/enzyme. This enzyme then grabs a calcium ion and carries it through the intestinal mucosa and releases it into the bloodstream.

Scientists call the manner in which these specialized proteins do this, “chelating.” It is a process by which the very structure of the large enzyme molecule holds in claw-like fashion the smaller ion. The enzyme is structured in a special manner to interlock with the ion.

Other natural examples of this chelating process are chlorophyll, which chelates a magnesium atom and haemoglobin in our blood, which chelates an iron atom. In the same manner enzymes chelate other minerals such as copper, iron, zinc and manganese.

As can be seen from the example, enzymes are very important in our digestive processes. Although our pancreases can produce enzymes for digestion this puts an unwanted burden on them. Rather, it is better to take advantage of all of the enzymes in our food, which help predigest proteins and starches in our stomachs.

Actually, the process begins in our mouths with the secretion of enzymes with our saliva. A couple of examples are amylase, which catalyses the breakdown of starch 酵素 into blood sugars and lipase an enzyme which begins the breakdown of dietary fat.

The problem in modern culture is the almost complete exclusion of traditional raw food dishes with their essential enzymes. You see, enzymes are destroyed by heat. The simple test is whether the temperature scalds flesh. This happens at 118 degrees F and corresponds to the temperature at which enzymes are denatured.

What this “denaturing” amounts to is the collapse of the 3 dimensional structure of the protein rendering it incapable of its base function as a catalyst. This is also what happens to many enzymes in the processing of foods. Yet another reason to avoid packaged “food.”

A diet deficient of enzymes puts undue strain on the pancreas and salivary glands. For example orientals who eat a diet consisting mainly of cooked carbohydrates, namely rice, have pancreases 50% larger than Americans. This phenomena has also been duplicated in lab animal studies where their pancreas weight is monitored while feeding them cooked food.

Another disturbing outcome of some of these experiments is that lab rats fed human food developed all sorts of pathological conditions not seen on normal diets. This occurred even when these human food diets were supplemented with vitamins and minerals demonstrating the additional need for enzymes.

This brings us back to the point of catalyst being a bit of a misnomer for enzymes. Although traditionally they have been viewed as such there is ever mounting evidence that this is not the case. What this means is that we start with a limited supply and when they are all used up we are no more.

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