Enzyme preparations are one of the most useful nutritional supplements available. Enzymes are molecules that speed up chemical reactions – they either help build new molecules or they split the bonds that join molecules together to break them into smaller units.In the case of enzyme products, most often they contain digestive enzymes derived from hog pancreas (pancreatin), fungal, or plant sources. These enzymes function very similar to the way the digestive enzymes secreted by the human pancreas function. Enzyme preparations have been shown to be useful in the following situations:
- Cancer Digestion support
- Hepatitis C Herpes zoster (shingles)
- Inflammation, sports injuries and trauma Pancreatic insufficiency
- Food allergies Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders
What is the pancreas?
The pancreas is a digestive organ in the abdomen that lies just below the stomach. Its primary job is to produce enzymes required for the digestion and absorption of food. Enzymes secreted include lipases that digest fat, proteases which digest proteins, and amylases which digest starch molecules.
Can taking supplemental digestive enzymes actually improve digestion?
Yes, in fact, using digestive enzyme preparations to support proper digestive function is used in conventional medicine in cases of pancreatic insufficiency and cystic fibrosis (a rare inherited disorder). Pancreatic insufficiency is characterized by impaired digestion, malabsorption, nutrient deficiencies, and abdominal discomfort.
How do I determine if my pancreas is secreting enough enzymes?
Physicians use both physical symptoms and laboratory tests to assess pancreatic function. Common symptoms of pancreatic insufficiency include abdominal bloating and discomfort, gas, indigestion, and the passing of undigested food in the stool. For laboratory diagnosis, most nutrition-oriented physicians use the comprehensive stool and digestive analysis. Another indicator of pancreatic insufficiency is the intestinal overgrowth of the yeast Candida albicans. As well as being necessary for protein digestion, the proteases serve several other important functions. For example, the proteases, as well as other digestive secretions, are largely responsible for keeping the small intestine free from parasites (including bacteria, yeast, protozoa, and intestinal worms).1
Are digestive enzymes absorbed?
There is strong evidence that the body seeks to conserve its digestive enzymes by reabsorbing them. Numerous human studies have shown that when supplemental digestive enzymes are given
orally they are absorbed intact into the bloodstream.2-6
How can digestive enzymes help food allergies?
Digestive enzymes can help with food allergies by improving digestion. In order for a food molecule to produce an allergic response it must be a fairly large molecule. In studies performed in the 1930s and 1940s, digestive enzymes were shown to be quite effective in preventing food allergies. 7,8 It appears that many practitioners are not aware of, or they have forgot about, these early studies. Typically individuals who do not secrete enough proteases will suffer from multiple food allergies.
Do the digestive enzymes digest blood proteins?
NO! There are special factors in the blood that block the enzymes so that they do not digest blood proteins.
Why are digestive enzymes used as natural anti-inflammatory agents?
The proteases are important in preventing tissue damage during inflammation and the formation of fibrin clots. Proteases cause an increase in the breakdown of fibrin, a process known as fibrinolysis. Fibrin’s role in the promotion of inflammation is to form a wall around the area of inflammation which results in the blockage of blood and lymph vessels which leads to swelling. Fibrin can also cause the development of blood clots that can become dislodged and produce strokes or heart attacks.
Pancreatic enzymes and protease enzyme preparations have been shown to be useful in the treatment of many acute and chronic inflammatory conditions including sports injuries, tendinitis, rheumatoid arthritis.9,10 In
addition to being used as an anti-inflammatory agent in cases of trauma and inflammation, pancreatic enzymes are often used in the treatment of thrombophlebitis, a disease in which blood clots develop in veins, which become inflamed, and can dislodge to cause strokes or heart attacks.
How do the digestive enzymes help autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis?
The benefits in some inflammatory conditions appears to be related to helping the body breakdown immune complexes formed between antibodies produced by the immune system and the compounds they bind to (antigens). Conditions associated with high levels of immune complexes in the blood are often referred to as “autoimmune diseases” and include such diseases as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, and multiple sclerosis. Higher levels of circulating immune complexes are also seen in ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and AIDS.11-13
If I need to take digestive enzymes, how can I determine potency?
In order to get the most out of digestive enzymes it is essential to use a high quality product at an adequate dosage. To judge the quality of an enzyme preparation it is important to know what you are looking for. Most of the proteolytic enzymes have well established guidelines developed by the United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) or the Food Chemical Codex (FCC).
Protease in this formula is derived from fungal sources that exert similar action to those found in animal sources (pancreatin from hog pancreas or ox bile) such as chymotrypsin and trypsin. The advantages are that fungal sources are more stable, exert a grader range of activity at different pH levels, and exert greater proteoloytic effects. Papain and bromelain are proteolytic derived from papaya and pineapple, respectively. Serrapeptase is derived from a bacteria that resides in the intestines of silk worms. It is also called “silk worm” enzyme as it is the enzyme used to breakdown the cocoon of the silk worm.
Are digestive enzymes helpful in cancer?
Yes. Enzyme preparations have been promoted by numerous practitioners specializing in alternative cancer treatments for many years, but most recently by Nicholas Gonzalez, M.D.14 There have been several clinical studies in a variety of cancers showing improvements in quality and prolongation of life with pancreatic enzyme supplementation. 15
What other conditions might digestive enzymes be helpful for?
The list of conditions benefited by digestive enzyme supplementation seems to be growing all the time. For example, one potential use is in the treatment of viral related illness including hepatitis C and herpes simplex
infections. For example, in one study in the treatment of herpes zoster (shingles) an orally administered digestive enzyme preparation was more effective than the standard drug therapy (acyclovir).16 In a study in patients with hepatitis C, digestive enzymes enzymes were shown to be slightly superior to alpha-interferon in improving laboratory values and symptoms. 17
What does “enteric-coating” mean?
Because the secretions from the stomach can destroy or inactivate some enzymes, tablets containing digestive enzymes are often coated in such a manner so that the tablet or capsule does not break down until after it has passed through the stomach. This method is referred to as “enteric-coating.” The majority of studies with pancreatic enzymes have utilized enteric-coated preparations, but many experts feel that enteric-coating is not necessary when using digestive enzymes produced from vegetarian sources and these preparations actually work better.18 One of the problems with enteric-coating is that synthetic compounds are often used. A better approach is to use “delayed release” vegetarian capsules that also resist stomach acid to provide targeted delivery to the upper small intestine.
Are digestive enzyme preparations safe?
Digestive enzymes are generally well-tolerated and are not associated with any significant side effects. Even in people with presumably normal pancreatic function, taking digestive enzymes produced no untoward side effects nor did it reduce the capacity for these subjects to produce their own pancreatic enzymes.19
1. Rubinstein E, et al.: Antibacterial activity of the pancreatic fluid. Gastroenterol 1985;88:927-32.
2. Ambrus JL, et al.: Absorption of exogenous and endogenous proteolytic enzymes. Clin Pharmacol Therap 1967;8:362-8.
3. Kabacoff BB, et al.: Absorption of chymotrypsin from the intestinal tract. Nature 1963;199:815-7.
4. Martin GJ, et al.: Further in vivo observations with radioactive trypsin. Am J Pharm 1964;129:386-92.
5. Avakian S: Further studies on the absorption of chymotrypsin. Clin Pharmacol Therap 1964;5:712-5.
6. Liebow C and Rothman SS: Enteropancreatic circulation of digestive enzymes. Science 1975;189:472-4.
7. Oelgoetz AW, et al.: The treatment of food allergy and indigestion of pancreatic origin with pancreatic enzymes. Am J Dig Dis Nutr 1935;2:422-6.
8. Carroccio A, et al.: Pancreatic enzyme therapy in childhood celiac disease. A double-blind prospective randomized study. Dig Dis Sci 1995;40:2555-
9. Innerfield I: Enzymes in Clinical Medicine. McGraw Hill, New York, 1960.
10. Mazurov VI, et al. Beneficial effects of concomitant oral enzymes in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Int J Tiss React 1997;19:91.
11. Ransberger K: Enzyme treatment of immune complex diseases. Arthritis Rheuma 1986;8:16-9.
12. Steffen C, et al.: Enzyme therapy in comparison with immune complex determinations in chronic polyarteritis. Rheumatologie 1985;44:51-6.
13. Ransberger K and van Schaik W: Enzyme therapy in multiple sclerosis. Der Kassenarzt 1986;41:42-5.
14. Gonzalez NJ and Isaacs LL: Evaluation of pancreatic proteolytic enzyme treatment of adenocarcinoma of the pancreas, with nutrition and detoxification
support. Nutr Cancer 1999;33:117-24.
15. Leipner J and Saller R: Systemic enzyme therapy in oncology: effect and mode of action. Drugs. 2000;59:769-80.
16. Kleine MW, Stauder GM and Beese EW: The intestinal absorption of orally administered hydrolytic enzymes and their effects in the treatment of
acute herpes zoster as compared with those of oral acyclovir therapy. Phytomedicine 1995;2:7-15.
17. Kabil SM and Stauder G: Oral enzyme therapy in hepatitis C patients. Int J Tiss React 1997;19:97-8.
18. Schneider, MU, Knoll-Ruzicka ML, Domschke S, et al: Pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy: Comparative effects of conventional and enteric-coated
microspheric pancreatin and acid-stable fungal enzyme preparations on steatorrhea in chronic pancreatitis. Hepatogastroenterol 1985;32:97-102.
19. Friess H, et al.:Influence of high-dose pancreatic enzyme treatment on pancreatic function in healthy volunteers. Int J Pancreatol 1998;23:115-23.