Updated: Oct 20, 2018
Enzymes cause biological reactions in the body and are vital for every single chemical reaction in our body. 'There are approximately 1300 different enzymes found in the human cell. These enzymes can combine with coenzymes to form nearly 100,000 various chemicals that enable us to see, hear, feel, move, digest food, and think. Every organ, every tissue, and all the 100 trillion cells in our body depend upon the reactions of metabolic enzymes and their energy factor.’ -1
Most people pigeonhole enzymes into digestion support alone, but proteolytic enzyme therapy has profound benefits for multiple conditions like cancer, heart disease, reducing scar tissue, improving recovery and healing, pain reduction, reducing inflammation, chronic fatigue, asthma sinusitis, and so much more. Given their importance for systemic health, enzyme therapy might be what you are looking for to improve your health, longevity and function.
Signs of enzyme insufficiency may be accelerated aging, premature wrinkles, high blood pressure, joint pain and stiffness, excess scar tissue, poor healing, lack or energy, or gastric symptoms like excess bloating or gas, heartburn, diarrhea and constipation. Increasing your enzyme potential through food or lifestyle choices, or supplementing with exogenous enzymes can dramatically shift your health.
‘We all make digestive and metabolic enzymes as needed, and it is a proven fact that as we age we make less with each passing year' 2. It’s been suggested that declining enzyme levels are correlated with decreased lifespan because 'the average human loses 70% of their enzyme reserves by the time they’ve reached 40 years of age.’3 The more stress, illness and injury we subject our bodies to, the faster our natural enzyme production becomes depleted.
Dr. Edward Howell came up with the theory of "Enzyme Potential" in the 1940's, and suggested that we have a limited ability to produce enzymes. He proposed that some people have great enzyme potential, and they are the type of people that thrive in health, often despite poor lifestyle choices. The opposite end of the spectrum are people with poor enzyme potential, those who struggle to thrive most of their life, despite dedication to managing their health.
What Are Enzymes?
Our bodies produce enzymes, we can also eat them through our food, or supplement with exogenous enzymes. Enzymes are found in foods in a raw, or semi cooked state, and cooking naturally destroys the enzymes in foods. Fermented foods are also rich in enzymes, which is yet another reason to add more of them to the diet. If you are eating a diet high in processed food, and eating mostly cooked foods then you are likely not getting enough exogenous enzymes, and your body is having to work harder to produce more.
Enzymes are recycled many times in the body, speeding up processes that would otherwise happen more slowly. Enzymes lower the amount of energy needed for a reaction to occur, thus assisting the body to function more efficiently.
Digestive enzymes are catalysts that help us turn food into energy. The old saying you are what you eat is more correctly, you are what you absorb and metabolise. If you are suffering from digestive symptoms, it’s probable that you are lacking adequate enzymes to process the food you are eating. Protease breaks down protein, Lipase breaks down fats, Amylase breaks down carbs, Cellulase breaks down fiber and of course Lactase breaks down lactose. Supplementing with any or all of them can assist in managing symptoms while you hunt for the root cause of why enzyme production is down.
Metabolic enzymes regulate every biochemical reaction in the human body. We need enzymes for hormone regulation, slowing aging, repairing injury, dissolving blood clots, removing toxic compounds from the body, reducing inflammation, modulating the immune system, energy production, fighting infections and healing wounds.
Proteolytic enzymes or protease, help the body to break down proteins into smaller amino acids. When taken with meals, proteolytic enzymes help to break down the proteins in our food. When taken away from meals, proteolytic enzymes have powerful systemic affects in breaking down endogenous or rogue proteins in the body for excretion or use elsewhere. This systemic ability helps boost your body’s ability to heal and function.
"Just about everything that makes us sick is either a protein or is protected by a protein and is therefore subject to control by proteolytic enzymes. For example:
Your DNA stores the code for all of your body's proteins and enzymes. In essence, your DNA is a protein manufacturing plant. Genetic diseases are the result of your DNA no longer producing those proteins and enzymes accurately or doing it insufficiently or excessively
Bacteria, viruses, yeasts, and fungi are all protected by proteins. Attacking those proteins is key to destroying the invaders
Food allergens are almost all proteins
Cancer cells are protected by proteins" 4
Given the above, you can see how proteolytic enzymes can help with chronic illnesses. Additionally proteolytic enzymes reduce inflammation, and given that most chronic illnesses stem from inflammation, enzyme therapy is a safe and powerful approach to healing and thriving.
Benefits of Proteolytic enzymes
Reduction in pain, injury, inflammation, and edema with healing benefits, unlike pain medication which merely masks symptoms. 5
Managment of blood clots and repair to the cardiovascular system
Reducing scar tissue and fibrous tissue build up
Analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects 6
Support to the immune system in dealing with foreign proteins
Reduced fibrin (involved in high blood pressure, scar tissue, cancer, muscle or connective tissue damage)
Powerful anti inflammatory effects without negative side effects
Reduced mucus production and thinning of mucus
A pathogen anti-adhesion affect making it harder for pathogens to invade
Reduced sinusitis 7
Fibrin is a substance involved with many symptoms or illnesses, and lack of enzymes causes fibrin buildup. Fibrin in the blood restricts blood flow and forms clots, increasing blood pressure, increasing risk factors for cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks or strokes. Excess fibrin collects in areas of trauma like injuries, and lack of enzymes to metabolise the fibrin can slow down healing, and increase scar tissue, which can lead to further problems with circulation, function and movement compensations. 'Excess fibrin also appears in hormone imbalance with estrogen dominant conditions like fibrocystic breasts or uterine fibroids'. 8 Cancer cells surround themselves with fibrin to avoid detection by the immune system.
Choosing A Good Proteolytic Enzyme Supplement
The main proteolytic enzymes our body makes are pepsin, trypsin and chymotrypsin and supplement formulas are derived from pigs or cows. Plant based enzymes can be obtained from foods like pineapple, or papaya, kiwi fruit, ginger, fermented foods, asparagus. Two of the most researched enzymes are papain from papayas, and bromelain from pineapple 9.
Plant based enzymes tolerate varying levels of stomach acid better than animal based enzymes, and thus have a wider scope of use, and increased ability to help people independent of their stomach acid levels.
Choosing a good proteolytic enzyme supplement:
choose a plant derived formula
Look for one that lists substrates with acronyms not mg. Ie protease is measured in HUT
If you are after systemic benefits, opt for one with a high HUT value like this one
Get one with a range of enzyme types for varied benefits
Look for a formula with Serrapeptase, the main ingredient formulas designed to reduce excess fibrous growth such as fibroid tumors or inflamed joints.
Avoid formulas with fillers and other ingredients
Look for one with Bromelain is a very well researched enzyme for multiple conditions
There are a few contraindications to using proteolytic enymes. Avoid using them if you are about to have surgery as they can increase surgical bleeding, are taking antibiotics or blood thinners, if you have a stomach ulcer, or if you have an allergy to pineapple or papaya. Be aware that proteolytic enzymes can also potentiate the affect of sedative drugs or herbs.
Remember to take them away from meals for systemic effects so that they pass through your digestive system and enter your blood circulation for a metabolic effect. There is no upper limit in supplemental enzymes doses.'The reason for this is that the body has an estimated 100 trillion cells. Any one of those cells could be using thousands of different enzymes every second. This allows for huge quantities to be used by the body without overdosing.' 10
You can increase enzymes by avoiding processed foods, eating more raw foods (especially those listed above), eating more fermented foods, or simply eating less. 'By eating less, we are ultimately preserving vital energy (making less digestive enzymes) and again, extending our potential.' 11
We would recommend the following formulas we have trialed and tested:
Enzymedica Enzyme Defense Extra strength which has one of the highest HUT values available (300,000), and other beneficial ingredients. The 'extra strength' version is expensive but worth it. 12
Enzyme Defense regular strength is the next best option, and half the price
Doctors Best Broad Spectrum Proteolytic Enzymes, 101,000 HUT value
High Potency Bromelain 3000 GDU value
We highly recommend trialing some proteolytic enzyme therapy for any or all of the conditions discussed above. We have used them primarily for chronic fatigue, digestion, allergies and sinusitis, and increased healing post surgery with great effects. The research in this exciting field is already abundant, and growing - so do yourself a favour and see the benefits for yourself.