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Accessory food nutrients

Enzymes - Phytochemicals - Minerals - Vitamins - Other

Essential nutrients are only the tip of the iceberg of many hundreds of nutrients found in our foods. The group of nutrients called accessory nutrients are beneficial nutrients that your body either can make or, if cannot, are not considered essential to health. This is somewhat vague distinction, for it is not uncommon that these non-essential food nutrients can make a difference between disease and health.

In other words, body either can't always produce as much of those nutrients as it needs, or benefits from their intake, or supplementation, in the way it wouldn't be able to duplicate without it. 

Accessory nutrients include digestive enzymes, phytochemicals and non-essential minerals and vitamins.


Enzymes are complex, protein-based molecules, capable of initiating, mediating and/or speeding up chemical reactions necessary for functioning of a living organism. They usually remain unchanged during and after the reaction. Vast majority of enzymes are catabolic, assisting in breaking substances down into simpler elements, and the rest is anabolic - assisting in combining simpler elements into more complex compounds.

These two basic enzymatic processes constitute body metabolism.

On the mention of enzymes, most people think of digestive enzymes. They are contained in foods, and also produced "on demand" by the body. Digestive enzymes help break proteins (proteases), carbohydrates (amylases) and fats (lipases) by adding to them water molecule (hence their general name hydrolases). Each of these three main groups includes a number of more narrowly specified digestive enzymes.

But digestive enzymes are only a tiny portion of all body's metabolic enzymes. Many more - over 3,000 types and millions of specific enzymes - are produced by the body for breaking down, synthesis and conversion of myriad of substances down to the cellular level. Most of them are very narrowly specialized in regard to the substances they react with.

All enzymes are classified into six groups, according to the type of chemical reactions they mediate. In addition to hydrolases, needed for digestion (and also exerting anti-inflammatory action), particularly important are oxidoreductases (comprising oxidases and dyhydrogenases) - catalyzing basic metabolic reactions, or serving as free-radical quenchers superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase - and transferases, vital for protein synthesis and functioning of your detox system.

An enzyme consist of a protein molecule and coenzyme, which is often a vitamin, or vitamin-related. Enzyme cofactor, which is often a mineral, is also needed for the enzymatic reaction to take place.

Most of the health importance of vitamins and minerals
is due to their role in enzymatic activity as cofactors and coenzymes.

Obviously, mineral and vitamin deficiencies can directly affect body's enzyme levels and efficiency.

Without enzymes, the biological process supporting life would simply stop. In fact, all it takes is inhibition of a single key enzyme, shutting down one of many vital metabolic pathways (most pesticides kill by blocking specific enzyme).

Considering vast number of enzymes, it is virtually impossible to have an effective control of body's enzymatic activity as a whole. Much fewer in numbers, digestive enzymes alone are different story. While the body can produce these enzymes, mainly in the pancreas, it can become enzyme-deficient on low-enzyme diets, such as those consisting mainly of cooked and processed foods. Digestive enzymes contained in food are very sensitive to heat,

and nearly all are destroyed in cooking,

and very often in food processing as well. In order to digest cooked foods, your body has to produce all needed enzymes. It puts too much of enzyme-producing burden on the pancreas, which can lead to its enlargement and exhaustion.

Since body's enzyme production declines naturally with aging, adding digestive enzymes in supplemental form to your diet is recommended, especially if your diet consists mainly of cooked and processed foods.

Enzyme activity in general can be significantly reduced by a number of enzyme-inhibiting or enzyme-destroying factors. Excessive alcohol consumption inhibits enzymes both, directly, by alcohol's own and action of its metabolites, as well as indirectly, by impairing absorption of a number of nutrients needed for enzymatic activity. It also depletes antioxidant enzymes by significantly raising level of free radicals, as well as detox enzymes - primarily those in the liver.

Collapse of the liver stripped off of its detox protection for long enough to be structurally and functionally destroyed by toxins illustrates well the damage potential of inhibiting enzymatic activity.

Toxins from tobacco smoke have similar effect, only the main target shifts from the liver to the lungs.

Number of medications interfere with digestive drugs; antacids, for instance, by lowering stomach acid inhibit activity of pepsin, needed to initiate protein breakdown. Worse yet, many medications are actually designed to inhibit particular enzyme, mainly those active at the cellular level; that may alleviate particular symptom, but by inhibiting, possibly crippling the enzyme-dependant metabolic pathway, is very likely - as we know all too well - to

cause new health problems.

Not seldom, more serious than symptoms they were designed to suppress.

Medications are also generally toxic to the liver.

Environmental toxins, food additives and processing agents, refined sugar, excessive sun exposure, physical activity and prolonged stress are also among the factors inhibiting or depleting your metabolic and protective enzymes. Even some natural foods - in fact, quite a few of them - inhibit digestive enzymes. Beans, legumes, seeds and grains contain protease inhibitors, usually inactivated by cooking. Since that, as mentioned, destroys their natural enzyme content, sprouting offers better alternative.

Crucial importance of proper enzyme function cannot be overemphasized as a factor in any health-related context. Lowered enzyme level literally suffocates the body, making it much more vulnerable to a disease.


Among accessory food nutrients that our body cannot make are phytochemicals (also called phytonutrients, from Greek phyton, for plant). Phytochemicals are a wide variety of plant compounds that have nutritional value. Thousands have been identified so far, but only a small number have been more thoroughly studied. The four major groups of phytonutrients are polyphenols, antioxidants, carotenoids and sulfites.

Some of familiar essential nutrients that belong to phytochemicals are beta carotene, ascorbic acid, folic acid and vitamin E.

The single most important - and the largest - group of phytonutrients are phenolic compounds, over 8,000 of them known. Not long ago they were considered undesirable, being thought of as possibly decreasing the availability of nutrients. In the aftermath of "French paradox" (i.e. finding out about the lower rate of mortality from cardiovascular causes in French people, despite their high average consumption of vine), as a result of the subsequent research of phenolic plant compounds, it has been confirmed that they have powerful antioxidative, thus generally health-protective role in the human body.

A list of 277 plant foods with known phenolic compounds content has been compiled by the USDA (top 62 antioxidant foods).

Phytochemicals in general are beneficial for health, especially when consumed in their natural (food) form. When isolated in supplemental form, they can be toxic if taken in excess, just as most any other nutrient.

Non-essential minerals

Non-essential minerals that can be beneficial for health include boron, bromine, bismuth, lithium and strontium.

Boron helps retain calcium and magnesium - which can be beneficial for bone metabolism - but at the expense of lowering manganese. There are indications that it can be beneficial for the endocrine system; however, its testosterone-like effect may contribute to hair loss in males.

Bromine can help correct hyperthyroidism, and also has anti-seizure properties. On the flip side, the excess can cause hypothyroidism (bromine-based fire retardants in products for household use are suspect), acne and psychological disturbances.

Bismuth is beneficial in correcting gastrointestinal disorders stemming from low stomach acid; overdose may cause mental confusion, visual, hearing and speech disturbances, joint and adrenal problems.

Lithium also helps with low stomach acid (lower stomach), as well as with bipolar and manic-depressive disorders; deficiency is common, but an overdose can cause adverse effects, including nausea, weight gain, hypothyroidism, liver and kidney disease.

Strontium can have beneficial effect in treating osteoporosis, but causes more of side-effects than other natural alternatives.

Non-essential vitamins

Non-essential vitamins are B8 (inositol), B10 (PABA), B11 (choline), B15 (pangamic acid) and P (bioflavonoids).

Vitamin B8 (inositol) is necessary for production of lecithin; it has important role in cellular nutrition, and promotes hair growth.

Vitamin B10 (PABA, or Para-aminobenzoic acid) is involved in the production of folic acid by intestinal bacteria; it is coenzyme in protein metabolism, and blood cell formation; important for skin health.

Vitamin B11 (choline) is, with inositol, basic constituent of lecithin; it supports kidney, liver and gallbladder function, and health of the protective nerve layer. Phosphatidyl choline, the most bio-active component of lecithin, is necessary for the synthesis of acetylcholine, body's major neurotransmitter. Deficiency can result in various symptoms and diseases, including dementia (may be a factor in developing Alzheimer's).

Vitamin B15 (pangamic acid), is originally found in apricot kernel; it supports cardiac function.

Vitamin P, or (bio)flavonoids, are the most abundant group of polyphenols, one of the four major groups of phytochemicals; they include a number of compounds, among them rutin, quercetin, hesperidin, sylimarin and catechin (from green tea); also, a group of potent fruit antioxidants, anthocyanins. Many beneficial health effects of flavonoids include supporting capillary and blood vessel integrity, wound healing and immune system.

Other accessory food nutrients

Among accessory nutrients are also lipoic acid, non-essential amino acids, and coenzyme Q10.

Lipoic acid is not only more diverse antioxidants than any other, it is also antioxidant's antioxidant, capable of recycling other antioxidants like vitamins C and E. In its regular synthetic form, alpha lipoic acid consists from its two mirror-forms: the superior R-lipoic acid and the inferior
S-lipoic acid
, which even reduces the effectiveness of the superior form. R-lipoic acid can be found as a separate supplement, and offers significantly higher potency than the standard combined form.

Yet, the most efficient form of lipoic acid is di-hydro-lipoic acid, or DHLA. It is the first metabolic transition of R-lipoic acid, thus partly "pre-digested".

Tripeptide glutathione, is one of the key body antioxidants, made of three non-essential amino acids, glutamic acid, cysteine and glycine, with glycine being antioxidant itself. It is widely present in fresh foods, but lost in processing, and mainly destroyed by cooking. The body synthesizes glutathione; however, if the degree of oxidative activity within the body is high, it can cause glutathione deficiency and resulting oxidative damage. More so if glutathione synthesis is, for any of a number of possible reasons, compromised.

 Coenzyme Q10 (also ubiquinone) is a crucial enzyme for cellular energy production, and particularly important for heart health; also, low CQ10 levels are found in some forms of cancer. Coenzyme Q10 is also synthesized by the body, but deficiency state can be caused by nutritional deficiencies, genetic malfunction, drug interactions (cholesterol-lowering drugs), or the increase in its use by the body. Body's CQ10 production declines with age, often resulting in its deficiency with the elderly.

There are many other accessory food nutrients, some known, some unknown, that are beneficial for health. It underlines the importance of diverse diet; any single food is far from supplying the body with all known and unknown nutrients it needs for the optimum health.