The new age crowd is always an excellent source of fodder for science-y bloggers who enjoy taking a critical look at their claims. Everything from good vibrations (in a literal sense) to conspiracies about flouride in tap water seem to fall under the "new age" umbrella. Today's post is brought to you by the folks over at Natural News regarding a "news" story by Charmaine D. Mercado called The Healing Power of Enzymes for Treating Disease. It announces the importance of enzymes for all sorts of things, ranging from preventing heart disease and cancer to relieving allergies. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
My favourite part of almost all woo-based reporting is the constant referral to "many studies" without actually taking the time to cite them. Seriously, if you read an article that goes on and on about how there are lots of studies supporting their claim without specifying which ones, that's a good indication that the source isn't trustworthy. In this case, a "growing number of studies" are alleged to be demonstrating that enzymes (no, they're not going to tell you which ones) are great for treating diseases and improving health.
6 main classes of enzymes.
There's a less painful way of investigating enzyme activity at home. Human salivary amylases break down long chains of sugar (such as starch) into individual sugar molecules. If you take an unsalted cracker and leave in your mouth for a few minutes you should notice the taste change from somewhat salty to distinctively sweet.
Finally, we are told about "food enzymes". This is where it all starts to make sense. This article is essentially pushing raw food diets. The idea is that cooking food denatures enzymes that help aid digestion. By denaturing said enzymes, the body has to make more of its own which is supposed to be exhausting... or something. There is a giant leap from enzymes found in food to immune suppression because of energy wasted making replacement enzymes.
Of course, none of this is even remotely true. Different enzymes have different optimal environments. The enzymes of an arctic fish will work best at low temperatures and will lose function at temperatures that we would still consider quite cool. Conversely, thermophilic bacteria have enzymes that work just fine at 72°C. Temperature isn't the only way to denature (break-apart) an enzyme either. Another important factor is pH. If the pH of the surrounding environment is not optimal, the enzyme can become denatured. The pH of stomach acid can be anywhere between 1.5 and 3.5. Last time I checked, the pH of broccoli cells was well above that range so its enzymes will either stop functioning or completely denature in a human stomach.
That's not the only problem with this picture though. If our foods contain the enzymes needed to digest them, why aren't they digesting themselves as we speak? Seriously. Why aren't apples sugary soups by the time they get to the super market or my house? I don't think most of these raw food vegans who make claims similar to those in this article have thought this through. Either way, without this mysterious dietary enzyme deficiency, the rest of claims collapse.
There are so many other things wrong with this story I won't be able to through everything, but there's one last issue I think should be addressed. At one point, Mercado suggests that proteases could even be used as an effective cancer therapy since cancer cells are made of protein and proteases break proteins apart. Maybe the enzyme fairy is supposed to stop the proteases from destroying non-cancer cells too. The stupidity is quite mind boggling. I suspect our friend Charmaine has never eaten a poorly cut pineapple. I shouldn't be too hard on Charmaine. After all, the things she's advocating don't seem to be her original ideas. Like so many other crazy ideas pushed by fringe groups, there seems to be a single source for the claims. Thanks to Cappi for bringing it to my attention!