Quackwatch Home Page

"Enzyme Deficiency"

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

One way to sell a product is to persuade people they lack something and can get it by buying whatever you sell. Michael Pinkus, D.C., and MediaPower, Inc., would like you to believe that "enzyme deficiency" is widespread and can be remedied by a product called Nu-Zymes™. Media Power, located in Portland, Maine, provides services to media hosts and guests through InterviewWorld and sells various products through its outlet MPDirect. Pinkus, a chiropractor who lectures and writes about "alternative health care," is said to have many movie stars and prominent athletes among his clients. His biographical sketch says that "his extensive research into nutritional solutions for chronic pain and illness has resulted in the special formulation of a complete line of natural health products" and that he has had more than 500 radio and television talk show appearances.

Nu-Zymes is said to contain amylase, protease, lactase, lipase, cellulase, Lacobacillus acidophilus, and CereCalase (a blend of phytase, hemicellulase, and beta-glucanase). The claims for Nu-Zymes are elaborated on the Web sites Dr. Pinkus.com and MediaPower.com and in Pinkus's booklet "Ultimate Health," which Media Power published in 2001. Individually and collectively, they assert that:

  • Many Americans suffer from "enzyme deficiency" that can be corrected by taking Nu-Zymes.
  • The American diet is generally enzyme-deficient because most of the food we consume has been cooked or processed.
  • Lack of enzymes in food strains the human body.
  • Enzyme deficiency causes heart disease, joint pain, obesity, and many other health problems that Nu-Zymes can correct.

Robert S. Baratz, MD, DDS, PhD, Manfred Kroger, PhD, and I have prepared a detailed analysis of these claims. Here are some of our findings:

Claim Fact
Nu-Zymes™ is Dr. Pinkus's new and improved enzyme formula, including the CereCalase™ blend, a special combination of 3 enzymes to support healthy digestion. Nu-Zymes™ also includes more enzymes per capsule, allowing you to use fewer capsules per meal, which saves money. If digestion is already healthy, taking this product will do nothing. If it is impaired, it is likely to do very little.
A deficiency in enzymes may result in stomach problems This statement is at best misleading. Nothing in the product can remedy a stomach problem related to any type of enzyme deficiency.
Inadequate nutrient absorption may contribute to a variety of health problems and may also aggravate chronic conditions. That is true, but the product will not correct any such problem.
How does it work? The enzymes in Nu-Zymes™ work to break down fats, proteins, sugars, carbohydrates, fibers, starches and lactose into small particles. Take Nu-Zymes™ with any cooked meal (amount based on body weight and size). Except possibly for lactase, there is no evidence that the enzymes in Nu-Zymes will work within the human body. The seven listed targets would require more than the enzymes in Nu-Zymes. The lactase in Nu-Zymes might help people with lactose intolerance, which is caused by a deficiency within the body of lactase, which is needed to digest lactose (milk sugar).
Nu-Zymes™ contains the enzymes that your body may no longer be producing and that you may not be getting from the food you eat Few if any people stop producing enzymes. The product cannot remedy such a problem. The enzyme content of foods has no significance because such enzymes are digested and do not function within the body. 
Enzymes are the spark of life! They are energized protein molecules made by all plant and animal cells. They catalyze, which means they make chemical reactions go faster, and regulate most biochemical reactions that occur within the human body. Enzymes are proteinaceous molecules. They are not "energized." The enzymes that help regulate biochemical reactions in body cells are made by the body and cannot be supplied by plant enzyme pills.
There are 3 primary groups of enzymes: (1) metabolic enzymes, (2) digestive enzymes and (3) food enzymes. Metabolic enzymes are those enzymes that catalyze various chemical reactions within the cells, such as detoxification and energy production. Digestive enzymes are secreted along the gastrointestinal tract to break down food so the nutrients can be absorbed into the bloodstream. Food enzymes are naturally present in all raw foods. "Food enzymes" are not needed by the body, either for digestion or for any other purpose.
Enzymes are responsible for constructing, synthesizing, carrying, dispensing and delivering the many ingredients and chemicals our body uses in its daily business of living. Enzymes work by speeding up the chemical reactions in the body. If our bodies lack these enzymes, it takes an hour to process a visual site, sound or smell that normally would take just a fraction of a second. Enzymes in food cannot remedy a lack of cellular enzymes. All plant and animal products contain enzymes. They are responsible for both growth and post-harvest deterioration (wilting, discoloration, rancidity, etc.). They have nothing to do with the digestive process after food is consumed..
As time goes by, enzyme production in your body begins to slow down. Are you less able to eat the spicy foods you once loved? Is it harder for you to recover as quickly from aches and pains? Do you feel a reduction in stamina? Or are you just feeling old? Running low on enzymes can make you feel older than you actually are. The problems described here are very unlikely to be related in any way to "running low on enzymes."
Many factors contribute to enzyme deficiency. Poor dietary habits, fast food, and excessive intake of fat and sugar, all require excessive amounts of enzymes. Stress damages and even kills cells, resulting in our enzyme-making machinery having to work overtime to help rebuild and replace them. Environmental pollution causes continuous cellular damage requiring ongoing assistance from enzymes to maintain a healthy immune system. Time is also a big factor. Every one of these statements is either false, misleading, or both.
Every day our bodies become more enzyme deficient than the day before. There is no such thing as an "enzyme deficiency" of the body. Diseases (mostly hereditary) exist in which one or a few enzymes is absent or lacking. But Nu-Zymes cannot correct any of these.
The modern diet consists predominately of enzyme-deficient cooked foods. Most Americans eat too few raw fruits and vegetables which are excellent sources of enzymes. However, enzymes are destroyed when food is processed, canned or cooked. Supplementation of enzymes can replace some of those lost in cooking and enhance enzymes found in raw foods. The amount of enzymes in food has no health significance because plant enzymes, when eaten, are digested just like other proteins. Processed foods can contain various amounts of enzymes that contribute to their spoilage.
Raw foods contain enzymes needed for digestion, however, cooking destroys those enzymes and forces enzymes secreted by the body to do the work. Raw food contains no enzymes needed for digestion. All the enzymes needed for human digestion are made in the body.
The Enzyme Delivery System (e.d.s) improves the absorption of many of the vitamins, minerals, herbs and phyto-nutrients in the food complexes you consume. This system enhances a nutritional supplement by matching specific enzyme needs to specific nutrients thereby aiding in the delivery into the bloodstream. Compounds in the body can easily bind to each other, which means they become "stuck" together and very difficult to absorb. Many plant compounds can bind to vitamins, decreasing their absorption. Carbohydrates can bind to minerals, proteins and other nutrients, limiting their bioavailability. Enzymes do not improve the absorption of vitamins, minerals, herbs, or phytonutrients. Nutrients from plants are absorbed normally by the human body without supplemental enzymes. No specific supplement is named. Food supplements are not necessary for human nutrition. The compounds in the body that allegedly get "stuck" are not named. Binding of carbohydrates to other nutrients may actually improve their bioavailability. The processes of intestinal digestion and absorption are extremely complex and have been been studied extensively. There is no evidence that anything delivered by Nu-Zymes affects these in any meaningful way.
CereCalase . . . .works to release fiber-bound nutrients or nutrients that are "stuck to fiber". We are all consuming more fiber in order to reap the numerous health benefits it can provide. However, certain fiber contains anti-nutritive factors and increased consumption of it can have negative consequences The enzymes of this blend may work in the laboratory but do not act after ingestion because they would be inactivated (and digested) themselves, along with any other proteins consumed. Even if these enzymes could work, there would be no advantage to digesting cellulose or similar fibers, because they absorb water and help prevent constipation and lower blood cholesterol levels.
All raw food naturally contains the proper types and proportions of enzymes necessary to assist in the process of decomposition. In addition, when raw food is eaten, chewing ruptures the cell membranes and releases these indigenous food enzymes, many of which survive and contribute to the digestive process. These enzymes include protease, which breaks long protein chains (polypeptides) into smaller amino acid chains and eventually into single amino acids, amylase that reduces large carbohydrates (starches and other polysaccharides) to disaccharides including sucrose, lactose, and maltose, lipase that digests fats (triglycerides) into free fatty acids and glycerol, and cellulase. Cellulase, which is not found in the human system, breaks the bonds found in fiber. Enzymes found in food are digested by the stomach and do not participate in the digestive process. Digesting cellulosic materials ("dietary fiber") would run counter to current advice to increase their consumption because of beneficial properties conducive to good health.
Ideally, the human body is capable of producing these same enzymes, with the exception of cellulase, necessary to digest food and allow for the absorption of nutrients. However, with estimates of as many as twenty million Americans suffering from various digestive disorders, optimal conditions are not the case. The vast majority of "digestive disorders" are not related to enzyme problems.
Most food enzymes are essentially destroyed under the conditions used to cook and process food, leaving foods devoid of enzyme activity. Placing the full digestive burden on the body, the body's digestive process can become over-stressed. Digestive problems can result, causing improper digestion and malabsorption of nutrients that can have far reaching effects. Consequences of malabsorption can include impaired immunity, allergic reaction, poor wound healing, skin problems and mood swings. Enzymes found in food are digested by the stomach and do not participate in the digestive process. Their presence or absence has nothing whatsoever to do with "over-stress of the digestive process." Diseases involving malabsorption are relatively uncommon. Severe malabsorption leading to malnutrition can cause various problems, but these are serious problems requiring medical treatment and will not be helped by enzyme pills such as Nu-Zymes. Any claim that Nu-Zymes could treat disease-related malabsorption would be considered a drug claim and would violate state and federal laws.
The average North American diet lacks enzymes. The enzymes in food cooked or processed in heat above 118° F are destroyed. Most foods today are cooked or processed which makes the essential enzymes essentially nonexistent. The enzyme content of food has no relevance to health. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which collects voluminous data on our food and nutrient intake, does not measure "food enzyme consumption" because it has no nutrition or health significance
One of the largest "energy drains" on the body is digestion of food. Ideally, you eat, your body breaks the foods down into small energy producing particles (through having an ample supply of enzymes present) and you get all of the "fuel" you need to run your body and repair it on a regular basis. With a lack of enzymes, the food doesn't fully digest. Instead, it gives you gas, indigestion and bloating or drains your energy and "clogs" your entire system with potentially hazardous by-products. Such by-products include: food allergies, yeast, bacteria and other undesirable factors. The digestion of food is not an energy drain on the body. The enzymes in Nu-Zymes do not enhance the digestive process. There is no such thing as "clogging" of the "body system." Incomplete digestion, were it to occur, would not cause allergies.
Nearly every person can benefit from supplementation with enzymes. Even healthy people may improve their absorption and utilization of nutrients through the use of digestive enzymes. Of course the benefits will vary, depending upon the individual's diet and general health. This paragraph falsely implies that nearly everybody is suffering from enzyme deficiency.
Individuals in good health can expect to notice less fullness after meals, increased energy, faster emptying of the stomach contents, decreased gas, and more regular bowel habits. Individuals in good health are unlikely to notice any difference as a result of "enzyme supplements."
For years body types have been recognized as distinct differences in human form. Each body type is different due to biochemical reactions which help us function properly. These biochemical reactions cannot occur in the body without enzymes. A deficiency in a particular enzyme can significantly affect the function of that body type. No body type corresponding to this description has been recognized by the scientific community.
Deficiencies of certain enzymes in certain body types can result in the following health problems: hypoglycemia or diabetes; mood swings; depression; allergies; PMS; acne; fatigue; cold hands/feet; low blood pressure/high blood pressure; neck and shoulder pain; arthritis; muscle spasms; difficulty losing weight; . . . high cholesterol/heart disease; toxic buildup/leaky gut syndrome; joint inflammation; sexual dysfunction; osteoporosis; insomnia; weakened immune system; sinus infections. This list is complete nonsense. Most of the conditions have nothing whatsoever to do with any type of enzyme deficiency. A few of the listed conditions may be associated with uncommon metabolic disorders in which lack of an enzyme occurs. No condition on the list can be alleviated by enzyme pills. Any claim that Nu-Zymes could treat diseases would be considered a drug claim and would violate state and federal laws.
To find out what body type you are, what enzymes you may be deficient in, and what resulting health problems you risk facing, get our new Body Type Analysis Guide - available FREE with every order of Nu-Zymes. No "body type" system related to enzyme deficiency has been recognized by the scientific community. No questionnaire can de devised that would determine whether an individual suffers from an enzyme deficiency.

Others who have promoted nonsensical "enzyme deficiency "concepts include:

  • Jay Kordich, an advocate of "juicing" who claims that "live foods" are superior to cooked or processed foods because they contain "active enzymes."
  • Howard F. Loomis, D.C. whose "Enzyme Replacement System" is based on treating "enzyme deficiency states" with products "targeted to organs stressed by subluxation." The alleged deficiency states are identified by taking a history, examining the patients, obtaining a "24-hour urinalysis, " and correlating this information with "recurring spinal subluxation patterns." The products listed in Loomis's 1995 catalog include Chiro-Zyme, a line of "carefully formulated combinations of herbs, vitamins and minerals with plant enzymes," each named with an abbreviation for certain spinal segments and an organ or body function. The product C8 to T1 Thy, for example, was claimed to "nourish the tissues of the thyroid gland stressed by subluxations of the upper thoracic and cervical spine."
  • Infinity2, a multilevel company whoe professional distributors used live cell analysis to persude people they need to take enzyme pills.
  • Ronald Schneider, whose Web site describes him as a "leading enzymologist" and "self taught holistic nutritionist".who "has studied at the Arizona State Public Medical Library and has over 10 years of research material." Schneider claims that, "Although digestive enzymes occur naturally in our foods, they are destroyed by commercial growing, cooking and processing methods. Carbonated drinks, strenuous exercise, environmental factors and stress further deplete our enzyme stores and ability to make more enzymes for bodily functions."
  • National Safety Associates (NSA), which markets Juice Plus+®, based on the theories of Humbart Santillo, N.D.

FDA Enforcement Action

On January 28, 2003, the FDA warned MediaPower that promotional material for Nu-Zymes and two other products contained illegal therapeutic claims and were misbranded. The warning letter, addressed to CEO Kenneth Byers with a copy to company president Christopher M. Homer, objected to claims that Nu-Zymes is useful in treating or preventing a variety of diseases, including acid reflux, arteriosclerosis, arthritis, colon cancer, diabetes, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, heart disease, and irritable bowel. The letter also warns that a promotional statement that "Nu-Zymes is manufactured in an FDA . . . approved facility" is illegal because the FDA does not approve facilities that manufacture dietary supplements.

Quackwatch Home Page

This article was revised on March 11, 2003.