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What are Proteolytic Enzymes?

By Simone Lawson
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Proteolytic enzymes refer to a group of enzymes that break down long molecules of proteins into shorter pieces that eventually become amino acids. These enzymes work to aid the body in digesting proteins. Proteolytic enzymes are produced naturally in the pancreas but may also be found in certain foods. Supplements containing these enzymes may be used to address a variety of health concerns.

Papaya and pineapple produce naturally high amounts of bromelain and papain, which are proteolytic enzymes. These enzymes are found naturally in the pancreas, but if digestive problems occur, it may be helpful to add pineapple and papaya to the diet. If the body is experiencing a deficiency in proteolytic enzymes, the symptoms may include indigestion, gas, abdominal bloating and undigested food passing through the stool.

If digestive issues are constant and severe, it may be helpful to purchase bromelain and papain in the form of a pill supplement. These supplements have been found helpful in treating enzyme deficiencies but are not necessarily considered useful in treating common indigestion. Caution should be used with these supplements, and it may be best to consult a physician before attempting a supplement regimen.

The use of proteolytic enzymes for treatments other than digestive issues, such as acute pain, has occurred in some cases, but further research is still being conducted to determine its effectiveness. A double-blind, randomized trial was performed in Germany in 1996 by Dr. H. Tilscher, who found that a mixture of proteolytic enzymes helped reduce chronic neck pain.

Another double-blind trial performed in Japan in 1965 by Dr. T. Murata found encouraging results using proteolytic enzymes to treat women suffering from postpartum breast engorgement. The enzymes helped reduce breast discomfort in lactating women. Some women in postpartum condition may generally find the use of proteolytic enzymes helpful in relieving symptoms associated with the condition.

Some alternative medicine practitioners have claimed that proteolytic enzymes may benefit those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or other autoimmune diseases. The added enzymes are thought to treat immune reactions caused by whole protein strands leaking into the blood stream. There have been very few controlled trials performed to support these claims.

Other alternative practitioners may prescribe enzyme supplements for those suffering from food allergies. The theory is that the enzymes work to ensure that food is entirely and properly digested, leaving little remnants of food so that allergic reactions are reduced or stopped. Again, there have been no controlled studies to support the theory of enzymes controlling allergic food reactions.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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