An enzyme is a molecule that acts as a catalyst for some sort of chemical reaction. The vast majority of enzymes are proteins in nature, and virtually all enzymes used as enzyme supplements are proteins. With only a few exceptions, every process that takes place in a living thing requires a specific enzyme to catalyze it, with about four thousand known biochemical reactions across the spectrum of life. Enzymes in the human body are responsible for regulating energy levels, cleansing the colon, breaking down fats, keeping cholesterol in check, and keeping the blood pure.
While the exact mechanism of enzymes has only been known for a bit over a hundred years, a broader understanding of their role predated this formal study by a fair amount of time. In the 18th and early 19th centuries it was, for example, well known that liquids from the stomach were capable of breaking down meat, in what we now know to be an enzymatic process. And long before then, health and well being was understood as being integrally connected to diet, and specific foods in particular, now known to be high in particular enzymes.
Even Hippocrates wrote about what were essentially enzymes in many of his writings on health and food. Some of the suggestions given for different ailments, including prescriptions for subsisting on juice or certain herbs, can now be seen as taking advantage of enzymes and cleansing, and can be looked at as some of the earliest uses of an enzyme supplement diet. Although different in scope from modern diets, and different in form from modern enzyme supplements, the purpose was much the same.
A modern enzyme supplement is a valuable addition to a contemporary diet. Because of the amount of cooking and processing that takes place in most foods, natural enzymes may not be added frequently to the body, placing a great deal of stress on the pancreas and immune system. An enzyme supplement replaces these enzymes that normally would be acquired through eating raw, whole foods, helping to bring the body back in balance without having to drastically shift the diet in a way that may be impractical for many people.
One of the most popular types of enzyme supplement is a digestive supplement, meant to assist the body in regulating appetite, digesting proteins, starches, and fats, and ultimately can help with weight loss and overall well being. This type of digestive enzyme supplement usually includes pancreatin and pancrelipase to digest the proteins, starches, and fats, pepsin and papain to digest proteins, ox bile to digest fats, diatase to digest starches, and HCI to increase the overall acidity of the stomach.
Fenugreek is another popular enzyme supplement, helping with a wide number of conditions in the body. Fenugreek helps clean out mucus in the body and keep the lungs functioning well, lubricates the intestines, helps remove gas from the stomach, and reduces overall inflammation. Many people with chronic digestive problems find that a fenugreek enzyme supplement will help alleviate, or entirely clear up, their problems.