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Reducing Inflammation with Proteolytic Enzyme Supplements

Updated on January 2, 2012

Inflammation has become an important topic in medical research in recent years. According to a PubMed search that I did, there have been over 41,000 basic and clinical research articles published in the last ten years on the topic of inflammation and its role in causing diseases.

As far back as the 1960’s, though, German scientists began using proteolytic enzymes, or proteases, as a basis for some medical treatments. Proteolytic enzymes (PE) are a group of enzymes that break proteins into smaller units in the body. The proper breaking of these peptide bonds enables the body to remove metabolic waste and excess fibrin.

What is fibrin? It’s a substance that is naturally needed when the body has an inflammatory response, whether the response is caused by poor circulation, bad eating habits, obesity, surgery, trauma, or over-zealous athletic activity. Fibrin is needed to help the body heal itself. But when there is an excess of fibrin, scar tissue can build up, and the inflamed area cannot get well. This can eventually encourage the disease process in our bodies.

From Wikimedia Commons
From Wikimedia Commons

What is a Proteolytic Enzyme?

Proteolytic enzymes are naturally occurring substances that help break down proteins in a good way. They get rid of cellular debris and toxins. But they only digest proteins that are attached to non-living tissue, or proteins that aren’t supposed to be in the body in the first place. Some of the commonly discovered PE’s are:

  • Pancreatin (chymotrypsin or trypsin, derived from hog pancreas)
  • Bromelain (naturally found in pineapples)
  • Papain (naturally found in papaya)
  • Fungal Proteases
  • Serratia Peptidase (the silkworm enzyme)

What is a Proteolytic Enzyme Supplement?

When some or all of these substances are formulated into a supplement, you have the makings of an excellent adjunct for your health and well-being, one that both supports the immune system and reduces inflammation. Proteolytic enzymes have been used very extensively in Europe for at least 50 years, but seem to be catching on in North America recently.

I discovered proteolytic enzymes by accident. I had just been to the dentist to have some work done, an experience I detailed in the review I wrote on Amazon for Michael Murray’s Zymactive product. I purchased the supplement and had excellent results with it. I do recommend proteolytic enzymes AFTER, not BEFORE, a dental procedure or oral surgery. In fact, no one should take proteolytic enzymes for two weeks prior to any surgery, because the proteases may thin the blood. In addition, persons who routinely take blood thinners like Warfarin should not take a PE supplement.

How Do We Benefit?

I understand that athletes, especially boxers, martial arts practitioners, and football players benefit greatly from PE supplementation, and they can increase their intake right after a match or a game to help heal the bruises and swelling.  On a much more modest scale, I had tennis elbow the other day from doing something I shouldn’t.  I was already taking the proteolytic enzymes up to four times per day, and I was delighted to experience that my tennis elbow only lasted a day (I also used an ice-pack for 15 minutes).

There are many disease conditions in the body where inflammation is implicated.  You would do well to learn some of these.  Examples include rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders, sinusitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,  and atherosclerosis, to name but a few.

From Wikimedia Commons
From Wikimedia Commons

For the Best Results

How much can proteolytic enzymes help?  I believe they can help a lot, but let’s not kid ourselves either.   Getting healthier is also the result of good nutrition, adequate sleep, reduction of stress, and an exercise routine.  I know this is boring material that you have heard many times before, but it’s inescapable.  The PE supplements will be most effective when the individual is consciously developing good health habits.

I am presently working to improve my eating habits.  Just slowing down while eating, spending lots of time in the kitchen preparing the best meals that I can, and limiting my eating out.  There are many books on the subject of eating to reduce inflammation in the body.  I believe one cannot underestimate the importance of the role of diet in healing the body, and I will emphasize that by doing what I am doing, I am also enhancing the action of the proteolytic enzymes that I take.

How to Take Them

How many tabs should you take daily?  The package instructions will advise you on that.  You can take a maintenance dose of one tab per day, or several per day when you are dealing with post-surgical care or an athletic injury.

If you are taking a proteolytic supplement for better digestion, simply swallow a pill 20 minutes before eating a meal.  But if you are taking the supplements for a systemic effect, you need to take the formula on an empty stomach.  This means 2 hours after a meal, or 1 hour before a meal.  This will insure that the oral proteases ingested  go directly into the bloodstream, where they will start to eliminate circulating immune complexes.

The following people should NOT take proteolytic enzymes:

  • Those having surgery within the next two weeks
  • Patients with a gastric ulcer
  • Patients who are on blood thinners such as Warfarin
  • Pregnant women
  • Children with cystic fibrosis
  • Anyone allergic to pork, papaya, or pineapple

I do recommend taking these supplements if there are no contravening factors.  It's intriguing that plants found in nature (like pineapple and papaya) have the ability to provide this type of beneficial enzymatic activity.  And you would never be able to get enough bromelain or papain merely by eating lots of pineapple or papaya.  Indeed, some of the proteolytic enzyme supplements contain these two enzymes in very concentrated form -- which makes the manufactured supplements a very good deal, indeed.


The tablets described here are all-natural supplements.  The information contained in this article is not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.


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