Proteolytic enzymes digest protein by aiding in the digestion process, breaking it down into amino acids. They can be taken as a supplement, but better yet, they can be found naturally in certain foods. A great example is papaya, which contains the proteolytic enzyme papain, a popular meat tenderizer.
Where do we get proteolytic enzymes? While it is important to note that the pancreas makes proteolytic enzymes to digest the proteins in the foods we eat, they can be obtained using proteolytic enzymes supplements as well. If you go for the supplements, not all supplements are vegetarian or vegan so look for formulas that fit your dietary habits.
Some manufacturers derive their enzymes from animal sources. For example, supplements that contain trypsin or chymotrypsin are extracted from livestock, while supplements that contain papain or bromelain come from plant sources. Some proteolytic enzyme supplements may have a blend of animal and plant enzymes. However, the best way to get these much needed enzymes is through whole, uncooked food such as fruits and vegetables!
How Proteolytic Enzymes Work
How do enzymes work in the body? In “The Complete Book of Enzyme Therapy,” author Dr. Anthony J. Cichoke, Ph.D., explains that enzymes cause biological reactions in the body and are able to be used over and over again, unlike vitamins and minerals. They’re required for every single chemical action that takes place in our bodies. The digestive system, immune system, bloodstream, liver, kidneys, spleen and pancreas — as well as the ability to see, think, feel and breathe — all depend on enzymes.
Clearly, enzymes are very important! All of the vitamins and minerals we eat, and all of the hormones our bodies produce, need enzymes in order to work properly. Additionally, enzymes regulate our metabolic function to include stamina, energy levels and immune system functionality.
Why is it so difficult to get these much-needed enzymes? When we eat foods that have been cooked or processed, we lose the effectiveness of these enzymes, which is why many people find the need to use supplements during or between meals. Overall, these enzymes encourage healing of tissues and muscle recovery, in addition to the support they provide to the function of our digestive systems.
How does it all work? As stated, the main purpose of proteolytic enzymes is to break down protein into its building blocks, amino acids. The National Center for Biotechnology Information states that proteases likely arose at the earliest stages of protein evolution as simple destructive enzymes necessary for protein catabolism and the generation of amino acids in primitive organisms.
Your digestive tract produces a number of these enzymes. According to Dr. Lauralee Sherwood in her book “Fundamentals of Human Physiology,” there are three major proteolytic enzymes: trypsinogen, chymotrypsinogen and procarboxypeptidase, each of which is secreted in an inactive form. There are certain triggers that activate them — however, each of these proteolytic enzymes attacks different peptide linkages.
The end products that result from this action are a mixture of small peptide chains and amino acids. Mucus secreted by the intestinal cells protects against digestion of the small-intestine wall by the activated proteolytic enzymes. These proteolytic enzymes are also known as proteases. The three main proteases are pepsin, trypsin and chymotrypsin. The protease enzyme breaks down protein found in meats, poultry, fish, nuts, eggs and cheese and may be helpful for people with food allergies or those who have difficulty digesting protein.
Ultimately, proteolytic enzymes are essential regulators and modulators that are needed to respond to stresses in the body. When our bodies are stressed, it creates inflammation, and inflammation is at the root of most diseases. These enzymes help our bodies respond to the inflammation by working to provide protection.
However, the three most commonly known proteolytic enzymes are pepsin, bromelain and papain. Pepsin is naturally produced by the intestines while bromelain and papain are food enzymes found in pineapple and papaya, respecitvely.
- Pepsin is naturally occurring in the gut and essential for the digestion and breaking down of proteins.
- Bromelain, which has unbelievable health benefits, is a protease enzyme found in the juice and stem of pineapple. It’s similar to pepsin in that is it is a natural digestive aid. It is also effectively used for bloating, gas as well as digestive conditions like IBS.
- Papain, another protease enzyme and seemingly the most popular, is derived from the latex of the papaya and is also similar to pepsin. This enzyme is especially concentrated in the fruit when it’s unripe. Papain is extracted to make digestive enzyme dietary supplements and is also used as an ingredient in some chewing gums. Papain stimulates the digestion of fats and proteins and is useful to improve overall nutrient absorption. According to Ayurvedic medicine, papain has digestive qualities, reduces bloating, is a diuretic and reduces inflammation. Papain supplements may also help soothe heartburn.
6 Proteolytic Enzymes Benefits
1. Control Inflammation and Optimize Blood Flow
Proteolytic enzymes modulate the inflammatory process by a variety of mechanisms, including reducing the swelling of mucous membranes, decreasing capillary permeability, and dissolving blood clot-forming fibrin deposits and microthrombi.
Lane Lenard, Ph.D.; Ward Dean, M.D.; and Jim English, contributors to The Nutrition Review, tell us that by reducing the viscosity (thickness) of the blood, enzymes improve circulation. This consequently increases the supply of oxygen and nutrients to and the transport of harmful waste products away from traumatized tissue. Proteolytic enzymes also help break down plasma proteins and cellular debris at the site of an injury into smaller fragments. This greatly facilitates their passage through the lymphatic system, resulting in more rapid resolution of swelling, with the consequent relief of pain and discomfort in the bones and joints affected. These enzymes can help athletes recover faster from hard workouts and races.
2. Prevent Atherosclerosis and Diabetic Heart Disease
Papain, the proteolytic enzyme found in papayas, may be very helpful for the prevention of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease. Papayas are an excellent source of the powerful antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin A (through their concentration of pro-vitamin A carotenoid phytonutrients). These nutrients help prevent the oxidation of cholesterol. Only when cholesterol becomes oxidized is it able to stick to and build up in blood vessel walls, forming dangerous plaques that can eventually cause heart attacks or strokes.
One way in which dietary vitamin C may exert this effect is through their suggested association with a compound called paraoxonase, an enzyme that inhibits LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol oxidation. A study published in Molecular Imaging confirmed that proteolytic enzymes demonstrate the antiatherosclerotic therapeutic effects.
3. Reduce Severity of Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Ulcerative Colitis
Studies have shown that the use of certain protoelytic enzymes help reduce the severity of inflammatory bowel diseases and induced remission of ulcerative colitis. The National Center for Biotechnology Information states that oral administration of five milligrams per day of bromelain markedly decreased the development and severity of inflammatory bowel disease. Bromelain was also anecdotally reported to induce remission in two patients with refractory ulcerative colitis.
4. Clean Up Your Immune System
Among the important actions of proteolytic enzymes is an increase in the potency of natural killer cells. Proteolytic (protein-destroying) enzymes also degrade pathogenic complexes that can inhibit normal immune function. While these immune complexes are a normal part of the immune response, when they occur in excess, they can be the cause of certain kidney diseases, nerve inflammations and a number of rheumatologic diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis.
Evidence suggests that trypsin, papain and other proteolytic enzymes can break up existing pathogenic immune complexes and even prevent their formation in the first place, enhancing lymphatic drainage. This provides a stimulatory effect on the immune system, meaning proteolytic enzymes are also immune system boosters.
5. Help Prevent Colon Cancer
The nutrients in some proteolytic enzymes have also been shown to be helpful in the prevention of colon cancer. The fiber in some foods such as papaya is able to bind to cancer-causing toxins in the colon and keep them away from the healthy colon cells. In addition, papaya’s folate, vitamin C, beta-carotene and vitamin E have each been associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer.
6. Provide Anti-inflammatory Properties
Proteolytic enzymes provide synergistic protection for colon cells from free radical damage to their DNA due to their ability to aide in the absorption of nutrients within the body. They help the body break down and digest protein and have anti-inflammatory properties that can decrease swelling and inflammation in the colon. In particular, this makes bromelain and papain preparations especially useful for people with Crohn’s or coeliac disease and ulcers.
What Are Some Signs of Enzyme Deficiency?
According Cichoke, there are signs that can tell us whether we are consuming enough enzymes in our bodies. Such signs are excess gas, indigestion, heartburn, diarrhea and constipation. Other signs include premature skin wrinkles, joint stiffness, gray hair, and a decrease or lack of energy.
It is confusing to determine since many of these signs are associated with aging; however, by eating more enzymes as we age, we help fight off these deficiencies. Maybe this is why we so often hear people claim that they are “just getting old!” But a change in diet and an increase in enzymes, mostly through eating whole, unprocessed foods, could turn that around quickly. Imagine that by eating whole foods, you can naturally slow the signs of aging!
Best Food Sources of Proteolytic Enzymes
It’s important to learn how proteolytic enzymes work so that you get the right foods into your diet. The body is forced to use a tremendous amount of its energy digesting what Dr. Cichoke calls “enzyme-dead foods.” These are foods that have been cooked — such as baked, fried, boiled or canned, as well as any processing, including irradiating, drying and freezing. It is a problem because it kills the enzymes, diminishing their amazing abilities. This includes preservatives and even too much salt!
Over time, the lack of important enzymes may result in age spots, allergies, declining eyesight, chronic fatigue syndrome, memory loss and chronic disease. By adding fresh, enzyme-rich fruits and vegetables to our diets and eating fermented foods, we can look and feel better while maintaining our health. Great news and all the more reason to eat your vegetables!
Raw and fermented foods are always naturally higher in enzymes. Fermenting certain foods also reduces any enzyme inhibitors that may be present, so these are wonderful additions to your diet:
What is the best way to prepare the fruits and vegetables? Ultimately, focus on fresh, raw vegetables, fruits, raw food juices, nuts, seeds, and uncooked or slightly cooked grain products such as wheat germ — plus fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir and miso. These enzyme-rich foods give your cells the enzymes they need to eliminate accumulated toxic body waste and improve your overall bodily functions.
These types of foods not only help reduce blood pressure, naturally relieve constipation and help the body make more of its own life-extending enzymes, but they can keep you youthful! Another great function, as noted by Dr. Earl Mindell in his book “The Secrets of Natural Health,” is that the enzymes act as a guide, showing vitamins, minerals or fats the passage into a specific cell in the body!
History of Proteolytic Enzymes
Proteolytic enzymes come from many sources. Some have been very popular and have been used for centuries to treat indigestion and reduce inflammation, such as pineapple used by Central and South American Natives.
Papain also gained popularity through extensive studies. G.C. Roy first investigated the action of papain in 1873 in an article published in the Calcutta Medical Journal entitled “The Solvent Action of Papaya Juice on Nitrogenous Articles of Food.” Papain was first named in the late 19th century and was simply recognized as a proteolytically active constituent in the latex of tropical papaya fruit.
Throughout the mid-1950s and 1960s, purification and separation techniques improved greatly, and pure papain was isolated. The study of papain allowed for great advances in understanding enzymes as proteins. In 1968, papain was the second enzyme to be crystallized and its structure determined by X-ray methods. Papain was the first cysteine protease to have its structure identified.
Risks of Proteolytic Enzymes
If you are new to eating raw foods, take it slow at first. It may take some time for your body to adjust to the process of digesting these foods. However, over time, it becomes easier and definitely provides the effective actions you are looking to receive. If you choose to use supplements, make sure you check the quality, as it may vary from brand to brand. Also, always consult your physician before starting any supplement program.
It has been stated that some enzymes, such as papaya enzymes, should not be taken during pregnancy because it may increase the risk of miscarriage. In addition, papain and bromelain could interfere with blood-clotting and blood-thinning drugs. Always consult a health care professional before supplementing with enzymes, especially if you are currently taking any medications.
Read Next: Absorb More Nutrients with Digestive Enzymes
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