Enzymes are various types of proteins that act as catalysts to facilitate the body’s biochemical processes. More than 3,000 different enzymes have been identified in the human body. These enzymes build new proteins, cells, tissues, and organs. We all rely on optimal enzyme activity throughout our lives to enjoy peak health.
There is a class of enzymes known as proteolytic enzymes produced by the pancreas that help the body digest food and begin healing during an injury or illness. As we age, the ability of the body to manufacture these enzymes diminishes. This fact has led to the development of nutritional enzyme therapies whose primary focus is to promote digestion and support a healthy inflammation response.
Enzymes in such nutritional therapies may include bromelain and papain, which are derived from pineapples and papayas; trypsin and pancreatin are extracted from healthy porcine pancreas. Together they support the body in breaking down foods and hastening the healing process.
How do Enzymes Help Inflammation?
Proteolytic enzymes help promote the inflammation response system, thereby speeding up the inflammation process so the recovery of damaged tissues may begin more quickly. Enzymes stimulate the macrophage system, and help reduce inflammation by breaking up large circulating immune complexes that have gathered at the site of injury or illness. In addition, enzymes help promote normal microcirculation. Improved microcirculation, combined with the reduced size of the immune complexes, help accelerate the elimination of inflammatory compounds so the recovery of damaged tissues may begin.
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Enzymes also shield the synovial lining of a joint against the invasion of activated immune cells such as lymphocytes, monocytes, and granulocytes that may harm joint tissue. Furthermore, enzymes work to reduce the number of receptor proteins on the surfaces of these immune cells, thereby inhibiting further harmful action upon joint tissues. Proteolytic enzymes also help breakdown the adhesion molecules of a cell to stem the flow of activated immune cells toward the site of inflammation.
When taken orally with meals, proteolytic enzymes naturally support digestion by helping break down protein; when taken on an empty stomach, the enzymes pass through into the intestine, where they are absorbed into the lymphatic system and dispersed throughout the body to sites of injury or illness.
Research on Digestive Enzymes
In a study conducted at the Department of Natural Medicine, University Hospital, in Zurich, Switzerland,(1) Leipner and colleagues concluded, “The results of various studies (placebo-controlled and comparisons with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) in patients with rheumatic diseases suggest that oral therapy with proteolytic enzymes produces certain analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. However, the results are often inconsistent. Nevertheless, in the light of preclinical and experimental data as well as therapeutic experience, the application of enzyme therapy seems plausible in carefully chosen patients with rheumatic disorders.”
1. Leipner, et al. “Therapy with proteolytic enzymes in rheumatic disorders.” Drugs 2001; 15 (12): 779-89