Teachings of an apple

Garrit van Dijk

Nutritionist / Orthomolecular Health Practitioner


You know that rotting apple in the bottom of your fruit bowl? Most of that ‘rotting’ is a direct result of enzymes in that apple that help to break it down. Essentially, this is a digestive process happening before your very eyes. And the cool bit, well at least it is for a science geek like myself, is that it happens underneath the skin of the apple, and without bacterial influence (unlike the rotting meat in the back of your refrigerator).  Those enzymes, in the apple, were activated immediately after that apple was removed from its life source - the tree. One of the fascinating things about this natural process is the balance and harmony. The apple comes with the right amount of enzymes to break down an apple. The pineapple comes with a little more, and a different blend. Why? Well, because it’s not an apple. The nutrient make-up is different from an apple.

We use enzymes to help us break down food as well. In fact, we use enzymes for a whole lot more than just breaking down food. Go ahead, lift your arm. Enzymes helped you do that. Without these little non-living structures, you would not have been able to do that.

But let’s focus on digestive enzymes for this conversation.

There are two categories of digestive enzymes - endogenous, and exogenous. Endogenous digestive enzymes are manufactured in your body for the breakdown of the common foods we eat. And Exogenous... well you can probably already guess that these are from sources outside your body, and often directly from the foods we eat. 

Besides the two categories of digestive enzymes, in each category there are three distinct types of digestive enzymes: protease, for the breakdown of proteins; amylase, for the breakdown of carbohydrates and sugars; and lipase, for the breakdown of fats.

Surprise… Even though gluten is found in the food group we know as ‘carbs’, it is actually the main storage protein found in wheat grains (as well as a few additional sources), but the plot twist doesn't stop there.

Though often thought of as a single compound, gluten is a collective term that refers to many different types of proteins. In fact, there are hundreds of related but distinct proteins, mainly gliadin and glutenin.

So, what we have learned so far is this…

  • Digestive enzymes are needed to break down food.
  • There are different types of digestive enzymes for different groups of nutrients.
  • Gluten comes from ‘carbs’,
  • but, gluten is a protein.
  • And,... gluten is a collective term for hundreds of related proteins.


You may have heard that enzymes are highly specific. This means that a single type of enzyme can ONLY conduct one task. As such an enzyme needed for the gluten protein of gtiadin (yes, that is spelled correctly), could only be used for the breakdown of that exact protein and no other reactions. 

But I do have some good news. 

In the case of digestive enzymes, although there is a level of specificity, it is not as specialised as other enzymes in the body, and there are some specific digestive enzymes that can actually help (at least in part) with the digestion of glutens.

That being said, the enzymes: peptidase, semi alkaline protease, deuterolysin, and cysteine protease derived from Aspergillus oryzae, Aspergillus melleus, Penicillium citrinum, and Carica papaya L., as well as the enzyme known as Dipeptidylpeptidase IV (or DPP IV), have in recent studies demonstrated ‘improved gluten-induced symptoms’ in participants with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. 

It must be said though that if you are going to use a digestive enzyme… any digestive enzyme… to help with the digestion of food, then it must be taken at the time you eat the food. It is not likely to be effective if you take it after the food has left your stomach, which is about 45 minutes after eating.

Although there is no substitution for total avoidance of gluten containing foods, at least there is a glimmer of hope for some of us with this recent research.