Lysozymes are key enzymes that are naturally produced by the body’s secretory cells within the mucosal membranes of the body. These enzymes are found in the saliva, tears, mother’s milk, digestive system and reproductive organs. Lysozymes are considered the most important bactericidal proteins within the mucosal immunity.
Within the body, the mucosal surfaces of the digestive tract, eye conjunctiva, respiratory pathways and reproductive regions are the largest area of exposure to potential pathogenic microorganisms. The mucous membranes contain a sophisticated immunological system led by lysozymes that protects the body from pathogenic development in these regions.
Lysozymes are powerful anti-microbials:
Lysozymes were discovered in the culture of a chicken egg in 1922 by Nobel laureate Sir Alexander Fleming. Fleming first observed the antibacterial action of lysozyme when he treated bacterial cultures with nasal mucus from a patient suffering from a head cold.
This enzyme attacks the protective cell walls of bacteria. Bacteria build a very tough protective skin of carbohydrate chain, interlocked by short peptide strands, which brace their delicate membrane against the cell’s high osmotic pressure.
Lysozyme breaks these carbohydrate – peptide linked chains, destroying the structural integrity of the cell wall (1, 2, 3). Lysozymes act as anti-microbial agents, causing bacterial cell wall to burst under its own internal pressure. In addition to its effectiveness in lysing the bacterial cell wall, lysozyme also appears to be effective at damaging the cell walls of yeast, including C. albicans (4, 5).
Newborns naturally get their lysozyme from mother’s milk. Reduced lysozyme levels in newborns are associated with respiratory infections and bronchopulmonary dysplasia (6). Children who are fed a formula diet that does not contain lysozyme have a three time greater rate of irritable bowel symptoms (7).
Stressors deplete our lysozyme reserves:
The body is constantly producing lysozymes but certain factors deplete lysozyme reserves and reduce the ability to produce new enzymes. These limiting factors include the following:
- Chronic mental/emotional stress
- Chronic infections
- Anti-biotic and NSAID usage
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Low stomach acid
- Leaky gut syndrome
- Chronic exposure to air pollution
- Major food sensitivities
When the body is chronically stressed through any of the above mechanisms all enzyme formation is negatively affected. In particular, the enzymes involved in the mucosal immunity can be severely altered. This increases the risk of digestive disorders, asthma, allergies, vaginal infections and chronic pulmonary dysfunction.
Lysozymes improve gastrointestinal health through the following:
- They compete directly with the pathogenic microorganisms for epithelial attachment sites in the gastrointestinal tract, thereby preventing the attachment and colonization of the gastrointestinal tract by way of adhesion and clearance of bacteria.
- Lysozymes bind to and destruct the cell walls of bacteria, triggering their autolysis and eventually cell death.
- Lysozymes also potentiate the activity of other immune factors such as IgA and AMPs in the mucous membrane to further restrict the entry and attachment of bacteria and viruses.
Best ways to improve lysozyme content:
As we grow older, our bodies produce fewer enzymes which increases the importance of attaining enzymatic material through our diet and supplementation. Raw cow, goat and sheep milk are fantastic sources of lysozyme. These sources should ideally come from grass-fed, free-ranging animals and never from commercialized farms.
Fermented raw dairy such as kefir, yogurt, Indian lassi, raw cheeses and African amasi are the rich sources of lysozymes. Uncooked eggs (particularly the white portion) are particularly good sources of lysozyme as well. Undenatured grass-fed, whey protein or raw whey liquid are also outstanding sources of lysozyme.
One could also find good supplemental lysozymes which are most often sold in natural anti-microbial combinations.
Sources for this article include: