An Enzyme Primer — Important Things to Know About Enzymes

    By Kulani Mahikoa
    Executive Vice President
    Kirkman Group, Inc.


Enzymes aren’t just beneficial for good health – they’re essential.  Our body’s ability to function, to repair when injured, and to ward off illness is directly related to the strength and number of our enzymes.  No living organism – plant, animal or person would exist without enzymes. Even inadequate amounts of enzymatic activity in the body can have devastating health consequences.


  What Are Enzymes?    
Enzymes are generally protein-based   constituents that can be extracted from any living organism – plant or animal.  (The       exceptions are the ribozyme (RNA)           enzyme discovered in 1981 and DNA enzymes engineered in 1994.)

At present, researchers have identified approximately 3,000 specific types of naturally occurring enzymes, which comprise the millions of enzymes that exist in a human body.

Every living cell depends on complicated chemical reactions that require a constant supply of energy and enzymes. Cells take energy from the proteins, carbohydrates and fats that we eat with the help of enzymes to enable functions such as digestion, metabolism, immune response and many other critical activities. 

Each enzyme has a specific catalytic job to accomplish.  If the enzyme necessary to catalyze a specific reaction is not available or inadequate, that reaction can’t take place.

Common Characteristics of Enzymes  

Enzymes exhibit four common characteristics:

  1. They accelerate reactions but they do not make a reaction occur that would not occur on their own.
  2. The enzyme molecule is not permanently altered by the reaction; therefore, a single enzyme molecule can be used many times to catalyze the same reaction.
  3. An enzyme can catalyze both the forward and reverse action where one direction may be more beneficial than the other.
  4. Each enzyme can only catalyze one reaction.

The Importance of Enzymes in Digestion
The food you eat must ultimately provide the nutrients you need to survive.  All food contains nutrients and potential nutritional value, however, until enzymes start the digestive process, the nutrients are “locked up” in cellular structure and are not yet available to be absorbed by the body.  Digestive enzymes, primarily produced in the pancreas and small intestine, break food down into smaller particles so that the body can absorb their nutrients. 

Food that isn’t properly digested or absorbed can lead to malnutrition that result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies. This can cause serious health issues including poor or impaired wound healing, skin conditions, behavioral problems, intestinal flora imbalances, immune system dysfunction and other serious health problems. 

Additionally, undigested food that moves through the digestive tract can cause bacterial growth, gas, bloating, abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal problems.

Other contributors to diminished enzymatic activity include:

  1. Age – As we age, the body produces less hydrochloric acid (stomach acid), which causes problems with enzymatic food digestion.
  2.  Insufficient vitamins and minerals – Vitamins and minerals are critical to the functioning of most enzymes.   Because of their importance to enzyme activity, they are classified as co-enzymes or co-factors.
  3. Stress – If the body is under chronic pathologic (bad) stress, its ability to repair and recuperate diminishes. Your body considers digestive processes a low priority when its dealing with constant fight or flight situations. Consequently digestive enzyme production is put on the back burner.
  4. Illness – Illness can prevent proper enzyme production.  These can include food allergies, inherited metabolic conditions, gastrointestinal problems, medication other health problems.
  5. Cooking & Processing – Heating foods destroys naturally occurring enzymes that work with human digestive enzymes.

The good news is that improving digestion may be as simple as eating more enzymes that can easily be obtained from food and dietary supplements. 

Enzymes in Foods
Enzyme-rich foods include:  milk kefir and yogurt, fermented vegetables, raw egg yolks, fresh fruit, kombucha, papaya, kim chee, bee pollen, apricots, soy sauce and pineapple.

Unfortunately, the average U.S. diet is almost completely devoid of enzymes.  We diet on foods that are heavily processed and cooked, which destroys enzyme content.

Plant Based vs Animal Based Enzymes

Animal derived pancreatic enzymes from cows and pigs have been used successfully to aid digestion for decades. Some drawbacks do exist, however, in animal derived enzymes. Of concern are: 

  1. Some individuals can be sensitive to the animal derived ingredients. 
  2. Animal derived enzymes are not stable in the pH of stomach acid, thereby requiring special coating or processing so they go through the stomach undamaged. This special processing adds to costs. 
  3. The source, health and environmental history of the animals is a concern. 

Kirkman® uses only plant-based enzymes. Plant-based enzymes are derived from cultivated plant sources, most often the Aspergillus oryzae species of plant mold, though other species of Aspergillus are used for certain enzymes. These enzymes go through extensive purification processes and offer safe and effective alternatives to the animal products. An extensive filtering process separates the pure enzyme from its original substrate, which makes these products suitable even for the extremely sensitive individual.

Plant based enzymes offer these advantages over the animal enzymes:

  1. better tolerated by the sensitive individual 
  2. no concern of the animal source or environment 
  3. stable and effective at a full range of pHs, so they are not inactivated 

Digestive Enzymes and Foods Digested

The following chart provides details of the enzymes used in Kirkman’s products and what foods they help to digest.

Enzymes in Kirkman’s Dietary Supplements

One of the important benefits of using enzymes in dietary supplement form is that an individual can choose the specific enzyme or enzymes required to digest the specific food or foods that may be causing the gastrointestinal distress.

Kirkman® offers a variety of enzyme products that aid in digestion and collectively cover all food groups.  Here is a list of enzyme products offered by Kirkman and a brief description:


1.     Biofilm Defense® (#0881-060):  Dissolves sugar and fibrin components of biofilms.

2.     Carb Digest™ with Isogest® (#0933-120):  Supports the digestion of carbohydrates.

3.     Chewable EnZym-Complete with Isogest® Tablets (#0934-090):  A broad spectrum enzyme with isomaltase/palatinase activities.

4.     DPP-IV Forte™ (#0230-060):  Assists digestion, particularly of dairy products and cereal grains.

5.     EnZym-Complete/DPP-IV™ (#0234-060):  A broad-spectrum enzyme that assists in the digestion of most food groups.

6.     EnZym-Complete/DPP-IV™ II with Isogest® (#0931-090):  A broad-spectrum enzyme that assists in the digestion of most food goods with added isomaltase/palatinase digestion activities.

7.     EnZymAid™ Multi-Enzyme Complex (#0043-180):  Aids the digestion of peptides, gluten and casein.

8.     Maximum Spectrum Enzym-Complete/DPP-IV™ Fruit Free with Isogest® (0932-120):  Provides a comprehensive range of digestive enzymes and also contains isomaltase/palatinase digestion activities.

9.     Microbiome Broad Spectrum Enzyme w/DPP-IV™ (#4234-120):  A proprietary blend of 17 pure, plant based enzymes that support digestion of a wide range of foods.  Also contains DPP-IV that aids in the digestion of dairy products and cereal grains.

10.  Phenol Assist™ (#0835-090):  Helps dissolve phenols in fruits, vegetables, grains and other foods.

The following chart may also be helpful in selecting the right enzyme for your particular needs: 


1. Cichoke, A. and Abram Hoffer, A. MD, April 2000, Enzymes and Enzyme Therapy Second Edition, How to Jump Start Your Way to Lifelong Health.
2. The Rise and Fall of Digestive Enzymes. (2014, April 3). Retrieved from
3. Sources of enzymes. (n.d.). Retrieved from
4. Enzymes – Biology Encyclopedia – cells, body, function, human, process, system, different, DNA. (n.d.). Retrieved from
5. Enzymes FAQ’s. (n.d.). Retrieved from
6. Absorb More Nutrients with Digestive Enzymes – Dr. Axe. (2017, October 6). Retrieved from
7. Amy Myers MD. (2016, April 1). Should You Be Taking Digestive Enzymes? – Amy Myers MD. Retrieved from 
8. Everything you need to know about digestive enzymes. (2012, September 17). Retrieved from

About Kulani Mahikoa

Kulani Mahikoa is Vice President and Marketing Director of Kirkman Group, Inc. She has had successful careers both as a journalist and as an entrepreneur.
This entry was posted in All, Gastrointestinal Health, Vitamins, Minerals, and Nutrition. Bookmark the permalink.

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