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Robby Gardner is a freelance journalist in Los Angeles, specializing in fresh produce and health food ingredients.
New applications for digestive enzymes.
It’s an extremely eventful time for enzymes. As humans continue cooking the digestive enzymes out of their food, industry has the opportunity to sell powder-based enzymes that fill the nutritional voids oftentimes created by consumers themselves. Innovation in digestive enzymes is happening now more than ever, with better understanding of the ways enzymes work and new solutions that may perform better than those of the past.
Protein supplementation has increasingly universal appeal as consumers become aware of protein’s connection to muscle mass, weight management, and even healthy aging. But, with protein in particular, consumers don’t always get what they pay for.
Proteins are rich in essential amino acids, but they enter the body as large peptides that must first break down into smaller components before absorption. Without an ample supply of protein-digesting enzymes called proteases, those precious amino acids are merely excreted.
Even worse, undigested protein can cause a lot of discomfort, often characterized by bloating and gas.
“Undigested proteins irritate the intestinal lining and trigger the immune system,” says John Deaton, PhD, vice president of technology at Deerland Enzymes (Kennesaw, GA). “Some people actually mistake these immune reactions as intolerance to sugars (commonly lactose); but, after removing the majority of lactose from protein, people still have this discomfort. The faster you break down these large molecules, the better-because the smaller you make them, the less chance they have to attach to immune receptors and cause a reaction.”
Deaton had all of this in mind when he codeveloped ProHydrolase, a new protein digestion supplement from Deerland Enzymes. Suitable for capsules and bulk protein powders, it’s reportedly quicker at protein breakdown than standard proteases on today’s market. This fast breakdown is especially important when considering liquids-the most common form in which consumers ingest protein supplements-which travel through the digestive tract quicker than solids.
Deerland Enzymes has a clinical trial demonstrating ProHydrolase’s efficacy and its ability to increase absorption of certain amino acids, but the company won’t release those results in publication until a second, ongoing clinical trial is complete.
Recently, a longstanding protein enzyme system also saw action in clinical trials. Triarco Industries (Wayne, NJ) first premiered Aminogen on the U.S. market in the 1990s, and the product is now featured in, most notably, Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard whey protein supplement line. In a 2008 study, subjects who consumed whey protein with Aminogen tripled their protein absorption, increased their amino acid absorption by 100%, and increased their absorption of several key amino acids by 250% compared to those consuming a control whey. A 2011 study now supports the safety of Aminogen over 30 days of repeated dosing. As of September 2012, Triarco’s Aminogen can be sold in Canada, too.
If you’re thinking about pre-digested or prehydrolyzed protein as an alternative to using digestive enzymes in products, consider this: bitter taste, higher price, and lack of uniform distribution are all common obstacles with prehydrolyzed protein supplements.
It isn’t the first condition that comes to mind when we think of enzymes, but inflammation has been on the minds of the scientific community for at least a century in this regard.
Chief medical consultant for National Enzyme Co. (Forsyth, MO) Paul Nemiroff, PhD, says that Paul Kouchakoff, PhD, first wrote about the connection back in 1937. Kouchakoff analyzed thousands of blood samples from subjects who consumed raw and processed foods and discovered that food consumption was immediately followed by leukocystosis, an inflammatory condition characterized by abnormally high levels of white blood cells. But, while Kouchakoff observed this condition in response to all foods, he concluded that the inflammatory effect was stronger and longer-lasting after intake of processed foods.
Nearly a century later, National Enzyme Co. is revisiting Kouchakoff’s theory with the idea that digestive enzymes can nullify, or at least lessen, the impact processed foods have on leukocystosis in the body. A recent pilot study carried out by National Enzyme Co. on 10 subjects showed that those who consumed a “modern cooked meal” with digestive enzymes had significantly lower levels of white blood cells and other inflammatory markers: lymphocytes, monocytes, granulocytes, interleukin-6, and C-reactive protein.
“On average, all measurable markers of inflammation were attenuated as a result of taking digestive enzymes during the meal,” says Nemiroff. “The potential health implications of this are tremendous: less inflammatory responses in the body may be a key factor in mitigating certain ailments.”
Albeit strong results, for some, a 10-subject study isn’t much to wince at. That’s why the company is conducting a new “gold standard” randomized, placebo-controlled trial on 150 subjects. Results are expected by the end of 2013.
The market offers supplemental lipase to aid in fat digestion, i.e. to help the body break down dietary fats into their energy-yielding fatty acids. While ample stores of lipases are usually found in the pancreas (as pancreatic lipases), celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, and other ailments can impair one’s ability to produce these enzymes.
Despite the clear need for supplemental lipase, many market enzymes can’t withstand the high acidity of the stomach before reaching the neutral pH in the small intestine where they function. Encoating pancreatic enzymes may allow these ingredients to withstand the acidic stomach, but with cystic fibrosis patients the small intestine can still be surprisingly acidic, giving enteric-coated enzymes a task they aren’t necessarily designed for. (Limited published research also suggests that enteric-coated tablets are less effective at reducing steattorhea, or excess fat in the feces, meaning that fat is not being utilized inside of the body.)
Over at Bio-Cat Inc. (Troy, VA), a solution may have been born with a recently issued U.S. patent. In September 2012, the enzyme developer announced it had secured a patent for a fungal lipase that is stable throughout the digestive tract’s wide range of pH conditions. This greater pH stability should allow for complete digestion of dietary fats.
Moreover, the patented enzyme solution appears to be effective at reducing blood triglyceride levels in vivo.High triglyceride levels in the blood are a key a predictor of diabetes, and the notion of improving fat digestion while lowering triglycerides could do especially well for those with cystic fibrosis. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation states that as many as 75% of sufferers may have glucose intolerance (which impacts fat digestion) and 15% may have cystic fibrosis–related diabetes (CFRD).
Evolution in enzymes has turned up a long list of ingredient pairings, as marketers bank on ingredients providing better health results when combined with enzymes. While many of these pairings are recommendations of enzyme suppliers, some have been brought on by manufacturers themselves.
Nutritional Outlook caught up with National Enzyme Co. CEO and president Anthony Collier to get his take on some of the more interesting combinations.First, enzymes are pairing with probiotics. In theory, the enzymes should support healthy digestion by predigesting food in the upper stomach while the probiotics then work in the intestines, helping to digest some of the remaining components while soothing the intestines.
A second trend is pairing enzymes with immune-health ingredients. Collier emphasizes the growing amount of consumers who will reach out for acid blockers, antacids, and proton pump inhibitors to control their digestive discomfort.
“When they find these are not adequate, they may try a digestive enzyme, but may also continue to take the acid-reducing medication,” says Collier. “The problem with the acid-reducing medications is that they may also reduce your immunity. The acid barrier in your stomach assists in digestion and supports immunity by degrading toxins and killing pathogens. To compensate for this, we are seeing some of our customers adding immune-supporting ingredients to their digestive enzyme products.”