Proteolytic enzymes (proteases) are available as supplements to aid in the proper digestion of food . These enzymes also help regulate metabolic functions (for example, they help break down and digest proteins into amino acids).
Proteolytic enzymes are produced in the pancreas , so the body can make its own reserves, but they are also found in some types of food. Papaya and pineapple are considered to be the two plant sources that contain the highest levels of proteolytic enzymes .
Papaya (which contains the enzyme papain) and bromelain (found in fresh pineapples) are used commercially to prepare tenderizers due to their ability to break down proteins in meat.
Other names for proteolytic enzymes include:
What are proteolytic enzymes used for?
Proteolytic enzymes are believed to have many potential health benefits, including:
- Supports a healthy immune system
- Promote tissue healing
- Promote muscle recovery
- Helps in digestive function (especially protein digestion)
According to the Winchester Hospital Health Library, 'proteolytic enzymes are primarily used as a digestive aid for people who have problems digesting protein. However, proteolytic enzymes can also be absorbed internally to some extent and reduce pain and inflammation. "
But what does the research say?
As with many herbs and natural supplements, there is not enough clinical evidence to support the many claims that proteolytic enzymes are effective in treating a variety of diseases.
Most of the research data is very out of date and a lot of research has been done on animals rather than humans. Several studies have been published, but many of these data are considered insufficient by medical experts .
The main use of proteolytic enzymes is to alleviate digestive problems. But an earlier, small, double-blind, placebo study found that taking proteolytic enzymes to treat indigestion (dyspepsia) was not beneficial.
The results measured a comparison between people with indigestion who received pancreatic enzymes for 24 days versus study group participants who took a placebo. There was no evidence of any short-term beneficial effects of pancreatic (proteolytic) enzymes .
Several studies provide preliminary evidence that proteolytic enzymes may be helpful in treating various types of pain (eg, prolonged neck pain) as well as osteoarthritis. For example, a 1996 double-blind placebo study found moderate pain relief with the use of proteolytic enzyme mixtures .
Another study with 400 participants looked at the outcomes of those taking proteolytic enzymes compared to those taking the standard anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac for osteoarthritis.
The study showed that in the group taking the drug and in the group taking proteolytic enzymes, the efficacy of pain relief was the same.
But, according to the Winchester Hospital Health Library, these studies are not considered conclusive because there were "several flaws," including the fact that there was no placebo group (a group taking a sugar pill) .
A 1965 double-blind placebo study (the gold standard of research) in 44 people with sports injury ankle injuries showed that proteolytic enzymes promoted faster healing and a 50% reduction in time without exercise compared with the placebo study group .
According to Memorial Slone Kettering Cancer Center, the estimated efficacy of proteolytic enzymes in a variety of conditions includes :
- Inflammation – Some studies show benefits in treating inflammation, but there is insufficient data from clinical trials to conclusively support these claims.
- Autoimmune disorders : There is insufficient clinical research data to support the use of proteolytic enzymes for the treatment of autoimmune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis).
- Viral infections : There are no clinical trial data to support the beneficial use of proteolytic enzymes for the treatment of viral infections.
- Cancer (and symptoms of cancer treatment) : Research results are conflicting.
- Hepatitis C : There is insufficient scientific evidence to support the use of proteolytic enzymes for the effective treatment of hepatitis C.
Some of the most recent scientific evidence supporting the beneficial use of proteolytic enzymes for the treatment of various conditions includes combination products such as proteolytic enzymes plus bioflavonoids or other substances.
Possible side effects.
Although proteolytic enzymes are considered relatively safe, they can sometimes cause allergic reactions. Another reported side effect is an upset stomach, which includes diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
Pancreatin, one of the proteolytic enzymes, is known to block the absorption of folic acid (vitamin B). It is also important to take folic acid supplements while taking pancreatin.
The proteolytic enzyme papain (derived from papaya) may enhance the blood-thinning properties of Coumadin (warfarin) and possibly other blood thinners , including heparin and others.
A medical contraindication is a special situation (such as a procedure, medication or treatment) in which a supplement or medication should not be used due to the high probability of harm to the person receiving the treatment / medication.
Contraindications to the use of the proteolytic enzyme bromelain include :
- Bromelain can also cause problems when combined with blood thinners.
- Taking bromelain is not recommended if you are taking sedatives.
- Bromelain should not be taken while a person is taking antibiotics because it can increase the concentration of some antibiotics in the blood.
If you are taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications or any other supplements, it is important to check with your doctor before taking proteolytic enzymes (or any other herbs or natural supplements).
Dosage and preparation
The efficacy of proteolytic enzymes is additionally expressed in milligrams or grams and also in "activity units" or "international units". These terms refer to the strength of the enzyme (especially its efficiency / digestive capacity) .
The correct dose depends on your age, general health, and other factors. Therefore, it is recommended that you consult with your doctor, naturopath, or other healthcare provider on the correct dosage. Also, be sure to read the directions on the label; do not exceed the dosage recommended by the manufacturer.
Proteolytic enzymes can be obtained from plant sources (such as pineapple stems) or from the pancreas of various animal species (pigs and cows are the most common sources).
Supplements are available as:
- Chewable tablets
Some supplements contain only one enzyme (such as papaya supplements), while others combine multiple proteolytic enzymes in a single capsule or tablet. Bromelain, papain, pancreatin, trypsin, and chymotrypsin are typically combined in a supplement mix.
Food can also be supplemented with proteolytic enzymes, which are said to help treat a variety of health conditions, when supplements and raw foods with proteolytic enzymes are taken together.
What to look for
When shopping for proteolytic enzyme supplements, look for a product that has an indication of its effectiveness. Many brand names simply list the weight of each enzyme (in milligrams or grams). It does not provide any information on the activity or strength of the product you are purchasing. Select products that have "activity units" on the label.
Hydrochloric acid in the stomach can break down proteolytic enzymes and render them ineffective. To prevent this from happening, choose an enteric-coated supplement. This means that it is coated with a substance that prevents the additive from dissolving before it enters the intestines (where the nutrients are absorbed).
Choose organic foods. Those recommended reviewed by third party agencies such as USP, NSF International or ConsumerLab.com.
Herbal and natural products are not regulated by the government (for example, the US Food and Drug Administration – FDA), which strictly controls the sale of prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
Can I include proteolytic enzymes in my diet?
Yes, as mentioned, papaya and pineapple are two of the best sources of proteolytic enzymes. Other foods rich in proteolytic enzymes include:
What do proteolytic enzymes do in the body?
Proteolytic enzymes are a group of enzymes that work to break down protein molecules (which look like chain structures in the body). These structures are cut into shorter pieces (called peptides) and then broken down into amino acids.
What is the best way to cook food with proteolytic enzymes?
Eating raw food is the best way to prevent the breakdown of enzymes; this happens when food is heated. Minimally cooked foods (such as steamed vegetables) also contain most of their natural enzymes. Other ways to prepare and consume foods rich in proteolytic enzymes include:
- Fresh raw fruits
- Fruit juices, fresh and raw
- Raw nuts and seeds
- Lightly cooked whole grains (such as wheat germ)
Get the word of drug information
Although the body produces proteolytic enzymes on its own, some people may still be deficient. This is usually the result of a disorder such as pancreatic insufficiency . Symptoms of pancreatic insufficiency include gas, indigestion, abdominal discomfort, and undigested food excreted in the stool.
A person with these (or any other symptoms) should see a doctor. Never attempt to treat any potential medical condition with natural supplements without first consulting a professional physician.