The seed has to protect itself somehow! Here it is, this treasure chest of hard earned concentrated food all tucked away in a little seed just waiting for someone to come along and eat it. Yet, unlike fruit, if the seed is eaten, there is no chance for a plant to carry on.
Plants also have to protect themselves somehow. If Kale tasted so good, every living thing would want to eat it up! I mean, here it is a beautiful green leaf converting sunlight into sugar, so if there’s nothing to stop animals and insects from eating it, how could it ever live long enough to reproduce?
This is where natural toxins come in. For the plant, it could be some less than desirable acid that dries the mouth out or leaves a bitter – less than pleasant – taste. For seeds it’s similar for they have to keep things from eating them while they wait for the weather to change or the correct growing conditions to come along.
When we look at seeds in particular, they have to survive to the next growing season and do so under extreme conditions. Some of those conditions may involve freezing. Thus, they can’t have a high concentration of water. And, the seed needs to store not only energy (sugar – carbohydrates) but also building blocks (protein) and the means to use these resources – enzymes!
Yet, the enzymes need to be stored. This is where enzyme inhibitors come in. They are natural molecules that ‘mate’ with enzymes so they can sit dormant until it’s time to start working (growing). They basically prevent the enzyme from performing any work until the time is right.
As a side function, it turns out that the inhibitors also provide some means of protection from predictors. In some cases, the reaction that they can trigger can be quite severe. Thus, we’re going to look closer at enzymes and specifically their inhibitors.
What are Enzyme inhibitors? If you visit the Wikipedia, it states:
I love the simplest explanations! On the surface, this statement really does give you a good feeling – if you know a bit about enzymes and what they do. If you did deeper, you’ll find that the definition gets a bit more complex. In fact, the couple sentences that follow the first read:
… Since blocking an enzyme’s activity can kill a pathogen or correct a metabolic imbalance, many drugs are enzyme inhibitors. They are also used as herbicides and pesticides. Not all molecules that bind to enzymes are inhibitors; enzyme activators bind to enzymes and increase their enzymatic activity.
I’d highly recommend visiting the Wikipedia and reading through the Enzyme inhibitor description. Notice that there is a lot of information pertaining to drugs and poisons as if they are all really bad things. If taken out of context, you might think that inhibitors are really bad even in their natural state when you read:
Natural enzyme inhibitors can also be poisons and are used as defences against predators or as ways of killing prey.
Later in the same article it stays:
Enzyme inhibitors are found in nature and are also designed and produced as part of pharmacology and biochemistry. Natural poisons are often enzyme inhibitors that have evolved to defend a plant or animal against predators. These natural toxins include some of the most poisonous compounds known. Artificial inhibitors are often used as drugs, but can also be insecticides such as malathion, herbicides such as glyphosate, or disinfectants such as triclosan.
It’s not until you get to the bottom of the explanation where it talks about Natural Poisons that it gets into non-drug (synthetic) stuff.
Animals and plants have evolved to synthesise a vast array of poisonous products including secondary metabolites, peptides and proteins that can act as inhibitors. Natural toxins are usually small organic molecules and are so diverse that there are probably natural inhibitors for most metabolic processes. The metabolic processes targeted by natural poisons encompass more than enzymes in metabolic pathways and can also include the inhibition of receptor, channel and structural protein functions in a cell. For example, paclitaxel (taxol), an organic molecule found in the Pacific yew tree, binds tightly to tubulin dimers and inhibits their assembly into microtubules in the cytoskeleton.
Many natural poisons act as neurotoxins that can cause paralysis leading to death and have functions for defence against predators or in hunting and capturing prey. Some of these natural inhibitors, despite their toxic attributes, are valuable for therapeutic uses at lower doses. An example of a neurotoxin are the glycoalkaloids, from the plant species in the Solanaceae family (includes potato, tomato and eggplant), that are acetylcholinesterase inhibitors. Inhibition of this enzyme causes an uncontrolled increase in the acetylcholine neurotransmitter, muscular paralysis and then death. Neurotoxicity can also result from the inhibition of receptors; for example, atropine from deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) that functions as a competitive antagonist of the muscarinic acetylcholine receptors.
Although many natural toxins are secondary metabolites, these poisons also include peptides and proteins. An example of a toxic peptide is alpha-amanitin, which is found in relatives of the death cap mushroom. This is a potent enzyme inhibitor, in this case preventing the RNA polymerase II enzyme from transcribing DNA. The algal toxin microcystin is also a peptide and is an inhibitor of protein phosphatases. This toxin can contaminate water supplies after algal blooms and is a known carcinogen that can also cause acute liver hemorrhage and death at higher doses.
Proteins can also be natural poisons or antinutrients, such as the trypsin inhibitors (discussed above) that are found in some legumes, as shown in the figure above. A less common class of toxins are toxic enzymes: these act as irreversible inhibitors of their target enzymes and work by chemically modifying their substrate enzymes. An example is ricin, an extremely potent protein toxin found in castor oil beans. This enzyme is a glycosidase that inactivates ribosomes. Since ricin is a catalytic irreversible inhibitor, this allows just a single molecule of ricin to kill a cell.
Yet the seed survives with this toxin just fine – as long as it’s in its dormant state waiting for the right conditions to come along so it can grow.
If we revisit the Germination page of Wikipedia, we’ll find that:
And if you remember hydrolytic enzymes are enzymes that are water activated.
The question is, when the water activates the enzyme, where does the inhibitor go?
As it turns out, with many seeds it’s expelled. It doesn’t need the inhibitor any longer so it doesn’t want it getting in the way.
Thus, what if it’s the water in your mouth that activates the enzyme that’s been sitting in the dormant seed – because you eat the seed in its dormant state? It would be logical for it to be released into the mouth – thus it’s now inside your body.
This has to make you wonder about different food allergies. Could it be that the person is hyper-sensitive to the toxins that are given off by the food when it changes form?
Could it be that if people simply took advantage of the natural techniques by which seeds give up their toxins they wouldn’t have the same types of reactions to the foods?
That’s where sprouting comes in!
When you sprout a seed, the enzyme inhibitors that double as toxins are released from the seed so that the enzymes can go to work. When you sprout, you always want to rinse the seeds really well so that the ‘waste’ is removed from the outside of the seed. A large number of the toxins that your body would be sensitive too – and have to remove – are already removed by the germination process.
As it turns out, many people are surprised to learn that they are allergic to dry seeds by not sprouted ones!
If you can eat a seed raw and there is a sprout- able alternative, you should always choose the sprout-able alternative so as to not put your body in a passion where it has to expel all those toxins! It’s hard enough just getting rid of toxins that our bodies generate on their own – we don’t want to also have to get rid of other’s toxins!
Enzyme inhibitors are simply part of life. In order to improve life, we should take advantage of the natural techniques for removing toxins – soak the seeds.