by Steven H. Horne, RH (AHG)
Recently, Karta Purkh Singh Kalsa
(co-author of the Secrets of Chinese Herbs Course) and I hosted a free
conference call on Chinese herbs. We allowed listeners to submit questions via
E-mail prior to the call. One of the questioners wanted to know if! could only
recommend one Chinese herbal formula what would be it be?
My response was that if I were limited
to only being able to recommend one supplement, it wouldn’t be a Chinese herbal
formula. It would be enzymes. Plant enzymes to be specific.
company in the early 1990s. I had previously tried NSP’s Food
Enzymes product, which contains digestive enzymes, bile salts,
hydrochloric acid (HC1) and a couple of plant enzymes. Digestive enzymes are
different from plant enzymes because they come from animal sources. They are the
same enzymes our body produces to digest food.
Plant enzymes, of course, come from
plants. They are the enzymes naturally present in raw foods. They are also
present in fermented foods as they are produced by lactobacillis bacteria
(probiotic bacteria). These plant enzymes aren’t manufactured by the body; they
are supposed to be found in the foods we eat.
There’s nothing wrong with Food Enzymes,
it’s a great product, and one of NSP’s top sellers. But, I didn’t like taking
it. It didn’t make my digestive system feel “right.” As I’ll explain later, I
pay a lot of attention to the feedback my body gives me about diet and
Also, I have this basic
philosophical idea that I don’t like to take anything my body is supposed to be
producing on it’s own, if! can help it. My thoughts on this are that all
chemicals in the body have feedback loops. When levels of a particular substance
rise, it shuts down the body’s own production. This, in my opinion, tends to
make the body “lazy,” and isn’t restoring natural
However, I do realize that many times, when
people’s natural digestion has been impaired through illness, injury or age,
that this kind of supplementation is helpful. So, I do use Food Enzymes in these
kinds of cases. However, for the most part I prefer plant enzymes because
they’re the enzymes we would be getting in our diet if we were eating in a
healthy, natural way.
My Experience With Plant
first started taking plant enzymes, I noticed an immediate improvement in my
digestion. I think weak digestion has been one of my problems since childhood.
That may be because I’m an A Blood Type and A Blood Types tend to have weak
digestive systems, but for whatever reason, enzymes were something that made an
immediate and obvious improvement for me.
The enzymes I first started using were
sold by another network marketing company. Later, I found an even better brand
of enzyme products for professionals only and ordered them through my
chiropractor. I also recommended them to clients.
A few years later, NSP introduced a line
of plant enzyme products and I started using their enzymes. Unfortunately, they
discontinued my favorite plant enzyme product, Leguzyme, due to poor sales. That
was a product that helps you digest beans and vegetables that cause gas.
However, I still use all of NSP’s enzyme
products, including Proactazyme
Plus, Protease Plus, Hi-Lipase
Plus. Lactase Plus is very important to me because I’m lactose
intolerant and on those rare occasions when I indulge in a little ice cream,
it’s essential for me. (By the way, 70% of the world’s population is lactose
intolerant, so there are a lot of us.)
Anyway, I’ve been taking plant enzyme
supplements for nearly 20 years now. They are the only supplement that I take
with any great regularity, and the reason is, that I notice a big difference
when I don’t take them. So, whenever I’ve been off them for a while, I notice
that my digestive health (and over all health) isn’t as good, and I get right
back on them. They are the only supplement I’ve had this experience with.
But why are plant enzymes such
an important supplement?
Here are my reasons.
First of all, no supplement you take is going
to do you any good if you can’t digest and assimilate it. Neither is eating good
food. So, if your digestion is poor, then dietary changes, supplements, etc.
aren’t going to do you a whole lot of good. I know that when I first started in
natural healing, I had to really carefully watch my diet. After I learned about
the hiatal hernia from Jack Ritchason, got that problem fixed, and started using
digestive enzymes, all my other supplements worked better and I didn’t have to
be so careful about what I ate.
I find a
lot of people have very poor digestion. In fact, in my experience, everyone who
is chronically ill has digestive problems (more on that later).
Secondly, when I first got started in
natural healing, I was taught, “death begins in the colon.” That’s because
autointoxication from the waste products in the colon is an underlying cause of
numerous diseases. However, ifI’m seeing pollution in a mountain stream, then I
need to go upstream and look for the source. Problems in the colon begin
“upstream” in the stomach. If food isn’t digesting properly, it creates waste
that builds up downstream in the colon. You can cleanse the colon all day long,
but if you don’t fix what’s happening “upstream” in the digestive organs it will
just get polluted all over again. Digestive enzymes work “upstream” to keep the
Third, as we grow older, our digestive system
tends to get weaker. Hydrochloric acid and enzyme production diminishes with age
and is usually quite deficient by the time a person is 50, although it may start
becoming deficient in many people much earlier than that. This deficiency of
digestive secretions is a major part of protein and mineral deficiencies in the
elderly. It is also why Food Enzymes is practically a “must-have” product for
Fourth, plant enzymes have a sparing effect on
digestive enzymes. By getting adequate amount of plant enzymes when you are
younger, you reduce stress on your digestive organs, which keeps them healthier
longer. This has a major anti-aging effect.
Fifth, most Americans don’t get a lot of
these enzymes in their diet because most of the food they eat is processed,
cooked food. In addition, many foods Americans eat contain enzyme inhibitors
that actually interfere with enzyme activity. Some of these enzyme inhibitors
are chemical additives meant to keep foods from spoiling, but others are
naturally-occurring. Plant enzymes not only supplement these natural enzymes
missing from our diet, they help to “override” the enzyme inhibitors in people’s
further understand the importance of enzymes (and why we need them), it helps to
understand a little about the digestive process. Here are some essential
Digestion begins in the mouth, with the teeth
and the saliva. Most Americans eat too fast. I have a tendency to eat too fast,
but I’ve been learning to slow down and getting better at it. When you eat more
slowly, you enjoy your food more. You also get “full” quicker as your body has
time to register that you’ve had enough to eat. This helps you lose weight. It
also helps your food digest better and that makes you healthier. However, the
fact that most American’s eat too fast, means that digestive enzymes can at
least help them make up for this problem.
Digestion continues in the stomach with the
secretion of hydrochloric acid and pepsin. With all the ads on TV about antacids
and acid blockers, you’d think that acid in the stomach is a bad thing. It
isn’t, it’s a very good thing. You need hydrochloric acid (HC1) to break down
proteins properly and you also need it to absorb minerals like calcium,
magnesium, zinc and copper. Also, HCl is part of your pH buffering system. It
may sound crazy, but neutralizing your stomach acid actually makes your body
The interesting thing is that most people who
suffer from acid indigestion are actually acid and enzyme deficient. If you get
burning pains in your stomach about one hour after eating, then you don’t have
enough digestive secretions to break down your food. Taking plant enzymes with
meals will actually help this.
sometimes get this type of acid indigestion, especially when I mix heavy grains
with meat. I can eat grains and vegetables and vegetables with meat, but I don’t
do well with a lot of grain and protein. Here’s how I deal with the problem-I
take bitters in liquid form (not Digestive Bitters because its too sweet for
me-the more bitter the remedy, the better it works). My usual choice is a
glycerine extract of goldenseal or goldenseal powder straight from the capsules
(open them and dump the powder in your mouth). This rapidly reduces the burning
pain in my stomach. (I take a little every five minutes with water until I feel
better.) The nice thing about bitters is that they don’t interfere with
digestive secretions, they enhance them. Liquid bitters is a good way to restore
natural digestive function.
Stomach Acid and
while we’re talking about stomach acid, one of the most ridiculous things people
do is to take various forms of calcium carbonate as calcium supplements thinking
this will build their bones. Calcium carbonate blocks HCl production in the
stomach, which is why it’s used in antacid tablets. By blocking HCl, calcium
carbonate supplements are also interfering with proper digestion of proteins and
mineral assimilation. In other words, it’s reducing digestive capacity.
Even the calcium that is absorbed from
calcium carbonate is not in a bound form, which means it isn’t very easy to
utilize. So instead of going into the tissues and bones, it winds up getting
dumped in the urine. This alkalizes the urine and makes people think they are
balancing their pH. They aren’t. They’re really just temporarily buffering the
acid, without correcting the underlying problems that cause the waste acid
buffering is more than just getting an alkaline reading on a urine pH strip. You
can do the same thing with baking soda and its a whole lot cheaper. Besides,
using calcium carbonate to buffer acid increases the risk of kidney stones and
calcification. If you really want to alkalize, eat lots of green leafY
vegetables. In my experience, they not only supply calcium and buffer pH, they
help, instead of interfering with digestion.
I’ve heard Jack Ritchason talk about “curing”
people with acid indigestion by giving them PDA, which supplements hydrochloric
acid production. This can also help make the system more alkaline. As I’ve
mentioned earlier, I don’t personally like the way PDA makes my stomach feel. I
do better with bitters, aromatics and enzymes.
Since, plant enzymes replace the enzymes we’re
missing by eating cooked and processed foods, the question naturally arises,
should we eat everything raw. It’s an appealing idea and makes sense to me on a
certain level, however, it hasn’t proven very practical for me when I’ve tried
it. I find I do better when I have at least 50%-60% of my diet raw. Some
vegetables just seem to digest better (for me) if! cook them. I’ve learned there
is a reason for this.
Human beings lack
an enzyme called cellulase. Animals that graze produce this enzyme, which breaks
down the cellulose (a fiber) in plant foods and makes the minerals and nutrients
available. Light cooking (such as a quick stir fry or light steaming) helps
break down the cellulose structure in many veggies and releases their nutrients
for absorption. So, some cooking can actually make many nutrients more available
to us. So, while I try to eat some raw fruits and vegetables every day, I don’t
eat everything raw.
Another thing I’ve
learned is that grains, nuts, beans and other seeds are all difficult to digest
when raw. In order to hold nutrients in a dormant state, all seeds contain
enzyme inhibitors. When the seed begins to sprout, the enzyme inhibitors are
deactivated and the enzymes are activated. This starts transforming the
nutrients and making them bioavailable.
According to Sally Fallon, in Nourishing
Traditions, Dr. Weston Price (author of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration)
discovered that all native people’s soaked grains, nuts, legumes and seeds
before cooking and eating them. Soaking deactivates the enzyme inhibitors and
makes the food bioavailable.
She further indicates that bread used to be
partially fermented-that is, prepared as a sourdough. What this means is that
the dough was allowed to sit long enough for bacterial enzymes to partially
break down nutrients in the grain before baking. This makes the nutrients in the
grain more available for utilization than they are in modern commercial bread.
This is just one example of how
traditional people used enzymes to their advantage. All fermented foods are
enzyme rich foods and were often eaten with other cooked foods. These fermented
foods were natural enzyme supplements which supplied the extra enzymes needed to
help break down the cooked foods these people ate. These enzyme-rich fermented
foods were typically served as condiments with the meal.
Fermented foods include cultured dairy
products, such as yoghurt, cheese and keifer. There are also fermented vegetable
foods such as cultured soy foods (miso, Natto), pickled vegetables (sauerkraut,
cucumbers, Kim Chi) and naturally fermented beverages (traditional beers and
wines). Some cultures also fermented animal foods, like fish. Raw apple cider
vinegar is another natural fermented food, which has been used to improve
These foods are not only good sources of
enzymes, they also supply probiotics, friendly bacteria necessary for
gastrointestinal health. So, fermented foods were not only enzyme supplements,
they were probiotic supplements.
Unfortunately, in modern “germ-phobic”
society most of these pickles, sauerkraut, fermented beverages, etc. are cooked
or pasteurized after the fermentation process, which destroys both the
probiotics and the enzymes. This increases shelf life, and prevents the raw E.
coli infection that happens when food is mishandled, but destroys most of the
benefits traditional societies derived from these foods.
Fortunately, many health food stores
sell “raw” fermented products which are enzyme-rich. You can also learn to make
your own or take enzyme supplements. After reading Sally Fallon’s book, I got
some Keifer starter and have experimented with making my own Keifer with raw
milk from a local dairy. I blend it with frozen fruit and it is wonderful. I’d
like to try making some of the naturally fermented beverages (such as ginger
beer) she has recipes for, but I haven’t had the time.
I find eating these fermented foods with
meals does the same thing for me that digestive enzymes do. For example, if I
eat some red meat with raw sauerkraut or kim chi it does not upset my digestive
system, whereas, if! eat a typical “meat and potatoes” meal it upsets my
digestive tract (unless I take digestive enzymes with
Most people in our culture assume that
indigestion is just something that “happens” to you, i.e., it’s none of your
fault. But indigestion is always a sign that what you just ate was “wrong.” It
means that your body is not able to digest what you just consumed, hence you
have what should really be called “miss-digestion.” I pay attention to
indigestion and try to avoid eating in ways that cause indigestion because when
you have indigestion you’re creating inflammation in your digestive tract and
that leads to chronic illness.
Conversely, when digestion goes smoothly
and the food doesn’t feel “heavy” on my stomach and there is no feeling of
discomfort, stuffiness, gas, bloating, etc., then I know that what I ate was
good. This is why I know that enzymes are good for me. They make my digestive
system feel good, and help restore that good feeling when I do something that
makes my digestive system feel “wrong.”
If people would simply pay more
attention to how the food they are eating is affecting them, they would soon
learn to eat in a way that produced better health. This is more useful than
trying to follow any “expert” advice on nutrition.
bright young herbalist, Thomas Easley, clued me into a new and very valuable use
for enzymes a couple of years ago. He does enzyme cleanses for cancer patients
where he has them fast and take enzymes every few hours for a couple of days.
This made a light bulb go off in my head.
When I travel, I sometimes get constipated and
my digestive tract gets sluggish because I find it harder to get quality food.
As a result, I start to get a little “acid” stomach and feel bloated and
constipated. Now, when this happens, I know I can “fix” the problem with
enzymes. What I do is this-I stop eating and start taking 2 enzyme capsules
every two hours while drinking lots of water. In about 4-6 hours, my system
clears out, my appetite returns and I feel fine again. In other words, digestive
enzymes make a great “laxative.”
leads me to believe that many people who are constipated are actually enzyme
deficient. As a result, I’ve started using enzymes for cleaning and not just for
digestion. Now, I take enzymes with my fiber drink and cleansing herbs in the
morning. I find this works really well to keep my digestive tract working
Enzymes are also
therapeutically useful for a wide range of illnesses. Enzymes, particularly
protease (protein-digesting) enzymes, are an important aid to eliminating
parasites and to helping the body fight cancer. As previously indicated, I
learned from Jack Ritchason, and my own subsequent clinical experience, that all
chronically ill people have poor digestion. These people nearly always benefit
from taking enzyme supplements. However, I’ve found enzymes to be a critical
part of helping people with parasites, chronic infections, cancer, auto-immune
disorders, allergies (both respiratory and digestive), chronic sinus problems,
digestive disorders and mood problems.
Good digestion is one of the
foundations of good health.
That’s why enzymes are one of the most
important, if not the most important, basic supplement people need. I would hate
to be without them.