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What are enzymes?

Enzymes are substances that speed up chemical reactions. One role of enzymes in the body is to break down the food we eat and release energy. Some vitamins and minerals help facilitate enzyme activity in the body.

What are digestive enzymes?

Digestive enzymes are a group of enzymes that break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates in the body from foods eaten to help with absorption. The main types of digestive enzymes are proteases which break down proteins, amylases which break down carbohydrates, and lipases which break down fats. Digestive enzymes are produced and secreted by the mouth, stomach, and pancreas to assist with the breakdown of food. Examples of digestive enzymes include amylase, pepsin, trypsin, and pancreatic lipase.

What does elevated liver enzymes mean?

Liver enzymes are enzymes that increase the speed of reactions within the liver. The main types of liver enzymes include:

  • alanine transaminase (ALT),
  • aspartate transaminase (AST),
  • alkaline phosphatase (ALP), and
  • gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT).

Liver enzymes are usually elevated when the liver becomes inflamed or damaged. Signs and symptoms of elevated liver enzymes include abdominal tenderness or swelling, nausea, vomiting, dark urine, change in stools, jaundice, fatigue, weakness, or loss of appetite. Liver enzyme levels can be evaluated during a routine blood test.

What causes elevated liver enzymes?

Elevated liver enzymes are caused when the liver becomes inflamed or damaged. Common causes of elevated liver enzymes are certain over-the-counter medications such as tylenol or ibuprofen, prescription medications such as statins, and certain health conditions including...

  • hepatitis A,
  • hepatitis B,
  • hepatitis C,
  • heart failure, and
  • non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Elevated liver enzymes may also be associated with...

  • obesity,
  • other forms of hepatitis,
  • Celiac disease,
  • Wilson’s disease,
  • inflammatory diseases,
  • certain inflammatory diseases such as mononucleosis, and
  • sepsis.

Are enzymes proteins?

Yes. Enzymes are proteins which are made up of long chains of amino acids and help to increase the speed of reactions by lowering the minimum amount of energy required to create a reaction (activation energy). Enzymes are formed from very precise sequences of amino acids and are highly specific for the substances they react with in order to help catalyze reactions of the body. The six kinds of enzymes are hydrolases, oxidoreductases, lyases, transferases, ligases, and isomerases.

Related Terms

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Photo of Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson

Medically reviewed by:

Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson, Ph.D., RD

Kristin is an RDN who also earned her Ph.D. in Nutrition from Arizona State University with an emphasis on insulin resistance, lipid metabolism disorders, and obesity. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Mayo Clinic where she focused on nutrition-related proteomic and metabolic research. Her interests include understanding the exact mechanism of action of various genetic variations underlying individual predispositions to nutrition-related health outcomes. Her goal is to help all individuals prevent chronic diseases and achieve long, healthy lives through eating well.

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