Last update: June 11, 2024

5 minute read

What Are Enzymes?

Learn about enzymes and their vital role in speeding up biochemical reactions, to keep your body at peak performance.

Stephanie Wright

By Stephanie Wright, RN, BSN

Edited by Dr. Jacquie Leone, NMD, HN

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What springs to life when you think about the many chemical reactions inside your body right now? Without disrespect to your biology teacher, these aren't just random, chaotic events. There's a behind-the-scenes maestro at work here. This article shines the spotlight on these wonders of biochemistry. So, what are enzymes?

Key takeaways

  • Enzymes are proteins or RNA substances that speed up biochemical reactions in your body
  • Factors like temperature, pH shifts, enzyme and substrate concentrations, and the presence of inhibitors can influence enzyme function
  • Enzymes are an important part of your body, and maintaining their health is a crucial aspect of overall well-being

    What are enzymes?

    They're substances, mainly proteins (though some are ribonucleic acid or RNA), that trigger biochemical reactions in the body. They do this by binding and modifying molecules known as substrates.

    All this heavy lifting happens at the enzyme's "active site,” a specially designed pocket where the magic of molecular transformation happens. When a substrate drops into an enzyme's active site, it's like a key fitting into its perfect lock.

    But enzymes are more than just unlockers; they actively tweak their shape to better "fit" their substance to accelerate the reaction. If you've ever wondered why some reactions happen faster than others, it's because of these dedicated little enzymes hard at work! Now that you know what they are, let's dive into how they work and explore the factors that influence their performance.

    How do enzymes work?

    Enzymes are clever! But what makes them shape-shift to grab onto substances and speed up chemical reactions?

    The answer is in their structure - specifically, their active site. It's the engine room of an enzyme, a spot custom-designed to hold only a particular substrate.

    Picture it as a lock and its substrate as the key. But these locks are super adaptable, molding themselves around their keys for a perfect fit. Here's how it happens:

    1. A substrate drops into the active site of an enzyme.
    2. The enzyme tweaks its shape to surround the substrate perfectly. This shape change is called the induced fit.
    3. This fit lowers the reaction's activation energy - the kickstarter energy necessary to launch a reaction.
    4. With less energy needed, reactions occur more rapidly.

    How does environment influence enzymes?

    Enzymes aren't just workers; they're ultra-sensitive workers! They react to even the tiniest of changes in their environment. Temperature, pH, and enzyme substances all affect their function and reaction rates.

    How does temperature affect enzymes?

    Enzymes like it cozy. A mild 37°C (or 98.6 F) is their happy place. Any hotter or cooler, their vital chemical bonds change shape, making it hard for substrates to attach. Crank the heat up even more, and enzymes fall apart!

    How does pH influence enzymes?

    The active site hosts a range of acidic or basic amino acids. Any change in pH can alter these acids, affecting substrate binding. Toss in an extreme pH, and enzymes can denature scientific lingo for crumble apart.

    How do enzyme and substrate concentrations impact enzyme function?

    • More enzymes and more substrates mean more reactions. But there's a saturation point. Past a certain concentration, adding more enzymes or substrates doesn't speed things up.
    • With an increase in enzyme concentration, there will be more sites available for the substrate to attach, increasing the rate of reaction.
    • It’s similar to substrate concentration. The more substrate molecules available, the greater the chances of colliding with the enzyme and, therefore, more product formation. Similarly, the effects are only valid up to a specific limit of concentration.

    Can anything stall enzymes?

    Enzymes have their adversaries, too. These molecules, named inhibitors, can reduce or even halt the activity of enzymes in your body’s chemical reactions. They achieve this in two ways:

    • Competitive inhibitors: These tricky molecules resemble the enzyme’s surface and hog the active site, blocking other substances from latching on.
    • Non-competitive inhibitors: These sneaky substances attach themselves to parts of the enzyme other than the active site. This clever move distorts the enzyme's shape and makes it useless.

    Dos and don’ts of maintaining healthy enzyme levels

    Keeping your enzymes happy is a balance of the right diet, the best environment, and a dash of know-how. Here’s a quick table of some do's and don'ts to help maintain healthy enzyme levels.


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      Eat a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet

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      Include raw fruits & veggies in your diet (they contain natural enzymes!)

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      Regularly exercise to keep your metabolism (and enzymes) up

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      Stay well-hydrated

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      Ensure your diet includes necessary vitamins & minerals


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      Don't skip meals

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      Don't lead a sedentary lifestyle

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      Don’t drink alcohol excessively, as it can harm your enzyme systems

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      Don't use supplements without proper consultation

    Enzymes in the body

    Enzymes are a key component of your biological system. They act as triggers in your body, speeding up biochemical reactions and maintaining life as you know it. But, side effects are sometimes seen leading to specific health conditions.

    Advantages and disadvantages of enzymes in the body

    Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

    Here are some frequently asked questions about enzymes.

    Final thoughts

    From metabolism to DNA replication, enzymes are at the heart of life-sustaining biochemical reactions. Just like your body needs a healthy lifestyle and proper nutrition, enzymes benefit from the best conditions and supplemental help.

    We explored how factors like temperature, pH, substrate concentrations, and enzyme inhibitors can influence enzyme function. But remember, health is a complete journey.

    Sources and references


    Stephanie Wright avatar

    Stephanie brings over 13 years of diverse nursing experience to the table, having honed her expertise in critical care, mental health, and utilization management. Her journey as a registered nurse across these various healthcare sectors underscores her adaptability and deep commitment to patient care.

    Fact checker

     Dr. Jacquie Leone avatar

    Dr. Leone holds a BA in Psychology, a Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine, and board certification in holistic nutrition. In addition to practicing medicine, Dr. Leone has developed and currently teaches science and nutrition courses for a nationally accredited institution. She specializes in chronic illness, gastrointestinal dysregulation, inflammatory conditions, and mental health. Her unique approach combines the wisdom of Eastern medicine with the technology and science of Western medicine, offering an integrative approach heavily focused on functional medicine.

    At VitaRx, we're not just passionate about our work — we take immense pride in it. Our dedicated team of writers diligently follows strict editorial standards, ensuring that every piece of content we publish is accurate, current, and highly valuable. We don't just strive for quality; we aim for excellence.

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