Enzymes act as catalysts - molecules that make reactions happen faster. While there are enzymes that help to build things up, in this article I’ll focus on enzymes that help to break things down, a.k.a. digestive enzymes.
Digestive enzymes are an incredibly important part of our gastrointestinal system. They help to break chemical bonds in foods, transforming large molecules into smaller molecules we can easily absorb. That’s what digestion means - breaking down into smaller parts.
Each enzyme in our bodies is made to fit like a lock and key with its particular substrate; the “substrate” being the thing the enzyme reacts with and transforms.
In the above picture, you can imagine that the yellow substrate is the complex carbohydrate molecule sucrose, in which case the green enzyme would be called sucrase. The blue and red products at the end of this particular reaction would be glucose and fructose molecules, because those are the two simpler sugar molecules that sucrose is made from – and the enzyme sucrase helped to break the bond that held them together.
Note: All enzymes end with the suffix –ase. For instance, the enzyme that helps break down lactose is called lactase. For peptides, it’s peptidase; for lipids, it’s lipase; etc.
We have hydrochloric acid in our stomachs to help start the digestion of large proteins, but that just gets the ball rolling. Enzymes are required to break proteins down fully into amino acids, which happens lower down in the small intestine. The breakdown of fats and carbohydrates also happens there. Although we do have some enzymes in our saliva to help kick start the digestion of carbohydrates, the vast majority of digestive enzymes are released into the small intestine by the pancreas, or are created within the small intestine itself.
Remember I said enzymes are catalysts that make reactions happen<><><><><><><><><><><><><><>Continue Reading >
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