Michael T. Murray, ND
We take them for granted, but we still cant live without them
We take them for granted, but we still can’t live without them. They’re enzymes and they’re needed for every normal function in every single cell in the body.
Enzymes are protein molecules that speed up chemical reactions without undergoing biochemical transformations themselves. They either help build new molecules or they split the bonds that join molecules together to break them into smaller units. Most enzyme supplements contain proteolytic enzymes, also called proteases, which break down protein. These enzymes include chymotrypsin and trypsin from pancreatin, bromelain, papain and fungal and bacterial proteases.
Proteolytic enzymes are often used to help improve digestion and relieve abdominal bloating, discomfort and excessive flatulence. Clinical research has also shown these enzymes to be quite useful in cases of cancer, hepatitis C, herpes zoster (shingles), inflammation, sports injuries and trauma, food allergies, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders.
Proteases fight inflammation by breaking down a substance called fibrin. Fibrin forms a wall around an inflamed area, contributing to swelling and the accompanying pain. By breaking down fibrin, enzymes have been shown to relieve many acute and chronic inflammatory conditions including sports injuries, tendinitis and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma and multiple sclerosis. There is also evidence that enzymes can help in cases of thrombophlebitis, a condition where blood clots can develop in the veins, become inflamed and potentially dislodge to cause strokes or heart attacks.
In 1906, John Beard, a Scottish embryologist, first reported on the successful treatment of cancer using a pancreatic extract in his book, The Enzyme Treatment of Cancer and its Scientific Basis. Current clinical research on proteolytic enzymes suggests significant benefits in the treatment of many forms of cancer. Specifically, these studies have shown improvements in the general condition of patients, quality of life and modest to significant improvements in life expectancy. Proteolytic enzymes were used in conjunction with chemotherapy and/or radiation, indicating that they can be combined safely and effectively with conventional treatments. However, proteolytic enzymes are not recommended for two to three days before or after surgery as they may increase the risk of bleeding, but should be used after that time to help speed healing and prevent/relieve a complication known as lymphedema (swelling of lymph nodes).
Another potential use of enzyme supplementation is in viral infections. In one study in the treatment of herpes zoster (shingles), an orally administered pancreatic enzyme preparation was more effective than standard drug therapy (acyclovir). In another study of patients with hepatitis C, pancreatic enzymes were shown to be slightly superior to alpha-interferon in improving laboratory values and symptoms.
Proteolytic enzymes have an excellent safety profile. Even in people with presumably normal pancreatic function, taking pancreatic enzymes produced no untoward side-effects, nor did it reduce the capacity of these subjects to produce their own pancreatic enzymes. Although no significant side-effects have been noted with any of the proteolytic enzymes, allergic reactions may occur, as with most therapeutic agents. Pancreatic enzymes should not be used by anyone allergic to pork; bromelain should not be used by anyone allergic to pineapple; and papain should not be used by anyone sensitive to papaya. Also, as the effects of proteolytic enzymes during pregnancy and lactation have not been sufficiently evaluated, they should not be used during these times unless directed by a physician.