Thursday, April 02, 2009

Enzymes—The Magic Behind The Raw Food Diet

Raw, living food is said to have many health benefits because of the living or “life force” within it. It is the living enzymes in the unaltered food that are said to be the cause of these benefits in that they assist the body in digestion. Ann Wigmore was an early proponent of eating raw and living foods after curing her own colon cancer with raw greens, seeds, and grains. After spending many years healing people with raw wheatgrass juice and other living foods, she believed that preserving one’s enzymes was the secret to good health. Wigmore founded the Hippocrates health institute whose philosophy is “founded on the belief that a pure enzyme-rich diet, complemented by positive thinking and non-invasive therapies, are essential elements on the path to optimum health”.

Dr. Edward Howell spent a lifetime researching the significance of the living enzymes in food and developed the “Food Enzyme Concept” which proposes that ingested enzymes result in significant digestion which reduces the amount of digestion required by the body. He also promotes the “Law of Adaptive Secretion” which claims that only the exact amount of digestive enzymes that are needed for a particular food, are produced by the body at the time of digestion. This is contrary to the belief, at that time, that an equal amount of all digestive enzymes are secreted by the body despite what food is ingested. This is known as the “Theory of Parallel Secretion.” The “Law of Adaptive Secretion,” according to Howell, is proof that living organisms try to conserve their enzymes or “living force” which he believes is limited and exhaustible.

Many question whether or not enzymes in food can survive the digestive tract. A significant study which answers this question was done by Prochaska and Piekutowski in 1994. This study shows that the living enzymes ingested in raw food survive digestion and work synergistically with those in the digestive tract. This work also confirms Howell’s belief that the presence of food enzymes reduces the amount that the body must produce thereby allowing the body to “preserve” its digestive enzymes. According to Howell, these food enzymes are destroyed if heated to a temperature of 118 degrees F for more than one half of an hour.

Howell explains that the stomach is compartmentalized into an upper part, where there is no peristaltic action and no excreted digestive enzymes, and a lower part, where hydrochloric acid and pepsin are secreted and protein digestion occurs. It is in the upper part of the stomach, the “food-enzyme stomach” where the pH is 5 to 6 and the food enzymes are actively digesting food along with the body’s own ptyalin and amylase from saliva. Cousens (2000), a modern proponent of the benefits of enzymes, feels that if more raw food were consumed, more digestion would occur in the upper “food- enzyme stomach” and the pancreas would be spared the effort of producing more digestive enzymes. Since these digestive enzymes also diminish significantly with age, raw food could contribute to digestive health and longevity.

So why is this important and how does it contribute to the magic of a raw food diet? I have read that digestion can take as high as 80% of the energy you produce. That sounds high to me but even if it were half that, it’s a great deal of energy that the body could be using for healing and rebuilding. I will attest to the fact that when I am 100% raw, I sleep less and have a boundless energy. I remember visiting my son and his wife made us a lovely sautéed spinach dish on rice for lunch. It was the first cooked food I had eaten in 30 days. After the meal, I slept for 3 hours as my body had not needed to produce digestive enzymes in a month!

Cousens, G. (2000). Conscious eating. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books and Essene Vision Books.

Howell, E. (1985). Enzyme nutrition; The food enzyme concept. New Jersey: Avery Publishing Group.

Prochaska, L. J. & Piekutowski, W.V. (1994). On the synergistic effects of enzymes in food with enzymes in the human body. A literature survey and analytical report. Medical Hypotheses, 42(6), 355-362.

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