Pectic enzymes are a group of enzymes made up of polygalacturonase, pectozyme, and pectin lyase, with the most widely used and studied of commercial pectinases being polygalacturonase. Found naturally in plant materials, this enzyme has many benefits for your digestive health. Read on for the whats, hows, and whys!
What Is Pectinase?
Pectin is a polysaccharide molecule found in plant cell walls. Pectic substances are used in industrial applications to break down pectin, which helps to degum plant fibers, ferment coffees and teas, treat waste water, make paper and pulp products, and for retting (softening) hemp fibers and for fruit juice extraction from fruit purée to increase juice yield. It also reduces the cloudiness in juice and wine mixtures.
Pectinase enzyme production is done via solid-state fermentation (SSF), a harvesting practice that uses a solid medium to capture and culture enzymatic material from the cell wall components of plant tissues.
Not only does pectinase work as an industrial enzyme, but the food industry applications of pectinases can be quite beneficial to health, particularly gut health, and it is for this reason that pectinase is found in our VeggieShake formulas.
The Health Benefits of Pectinase
Found in fruits and vegetables and commonly used as a thickening agent in jellies and jams, pectinase (like the enzymes cellulase and hemicellulase) aids our digestion thanks to its prebiotic and nutritional contributions.
Prebiotics are foods containing dietary fiber that we can't digest but our good gut bacteria can, strengthening the health of our gut flora and contributing directly to colon health. Pectinase as a digestive enzyme helps with the breakdown of that fiber.
In nature, pectinase is used to break down the pectin in cell walls to make them soft enough to be edible. For perspective, that's essentially the difference between a hard green tomato and a soft but firmly ripe red one.
Like the amylase in our saliva, pectinase helps to start the digestion process early, and when that enzyme activity is harnessed for commercial applications in our food products, we're able to absorb more nutrients and benefits from our food. Here are some scientific findings that show the health benefits of pectinolytic enzymes.
1. Promotes Healthy Gut Bacteria
The gut is one of the most active sites of immune system functioning. There is a constant balancing act going on between our good gut bacteria and harmful bacteria that will overgrow if not held in check. Those who have ever needed a strong course of antibiotics may know that the antibiotics wiping out your infection are also wiping out the good bacteria indiscriminately. Often it's the bad bacteria that comes back first, making the patient sick all over again.
One study found that apple pectin improved the pH condition of the gut, allowing beneficial bacteria to grow and thrive and increasing the production of specific short-chain fatty acids useful for colon health. While this was an animal study done on rat models, it's nevertheless an indication of how pectin may benefit human digestion, because we have the same microbiota noted in the study. Rats and humans are vastly different but the bacteria is not, and it thrives with the pectinase commonly found in food processing techniques.
2. Increases the Safety and Absorption of Plant Nutrients
Absorption is an extremely important component of digestion, because while you may be eating all the right foods, if there is a malabsorption issue once the food is consumed, you aren't getting those nutrients. Absorption problems are ongoing for those with gut disorders like IBS, Crohn's disease, or gastritis, but malabsorption can be an issue in anyone's digestive tract. Vitamin D for example is needed to help calcium absorb, and if one of these nutrients is deficient, the other isn't getting where it needs to be in your body. Creating the optimal conditions to maximize nutrient absorption is imperative, and pectinase can help with that.
One study showed that adding pectinase enzymes (among others like beta-glucanases, cellulases, and xylanases) to livestock animal feed allows for a better utilization of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Not only that, but pectinase enzymes used in food processing help to improve bacteria separation from leafy green vegetables, specifically isolating Salmonella from spinach and lettuce before we consume it.
Pectinase not only cleans our plant-based foods, but it also helps increase our ability to absorb their nutrients.
3. Improves Colon Health
By creating a flourishing environment for our gut bacteria, pectinase also contributes to colon health. When our beneficial gut bacteria are thriving, they produce short-chain fatty acids like butyrate that improve the health and functioning of our colon cells, including blood flow, permeability, and intestinal motility (independent movement). By improving these aspects of colon health, we're better able to resist diseases, better able to absorb the maximum amount of nutrients from our food, and better able to resist the absorption of more harmful elements like cholesterol, preventing some portion of it from entering the bloodstream in the first place.
Pectinase Nutrition Facts
Pectinase activity is often measured in foods as Apple Juice Depectinizing Units (AJDUs), which notes the hydrolysis (breakdown) of various polymers into sugars and short-chain molecules. A higher number of AJDUs means more enzyme activity.
A vegan source of pectinase can come from fermenting Aspergillus niger, a fungus that in nature blights plant foods like onions, peanuts, and various fruits, but in a laboratory setting can be isolated and harvested for its beneficial elements.
Protection with Pectinase
However it comes to your food, pectinase enzymes are plant compounds that improve the foods they're used to process and benefit the gut health of those who consume them. That is why pectinase is a natural part of VeggieShake blends, and why you should welcome its inclusion in the ingredients list of your foods.