If you struggling with chronic joint discomfort, systemic enzyme therapy could be the miracle you’ve been waiting for.
When you’re hurting, even the littlest things can be exhausting.
When you’re struggling to get out of a chair, tie your shoes, or sleep through the night, the last thing you want is another appointment on your plate.
You may be wondering why you even bother to drag yourself across town to see the doctor that has failed to help you time and again.
But your discomfort doesn’t have to be permanent. There are other avenues to explore — especially systemic enzyme therapy.
1. What are Proteolytic Enzymes?
Proteeo-what now? If you’re among the millions of Americans who have yet to hear about proteolytic (pro-tee-o-lytic) enzymes, don’t worry, we are here to break it down for you.
Proteolytic enzymes, also called proteases, perform a variety of tasks to help maintain your body’s overall health.
An enzyme is a substance that speeds up chemical reactions in your body. Proteolysis is the process of breaking down proteins into smaller components, called amino acids.
So, proteolytic enzymes are simply enzymes that break proteins down into smaller components.
There are two general categories of enzymes: digestive enzymes and systemic enzymes.
Digestive enzymes in your gut break down the food you eat into smaller components that are more easily absorbed.
While proteolytic enzymes are involved in breaking down the protein you eat, they are also essential to the life cycles of the tiny proteins making up your body.
You may recall from high school biology that proteins are complex molecules made up of long chains of amino acids. They are the building blocks of your cells, organs, and tissues and they play a key role in a wide range of functions.
For example, antibodies are proteins that help you fight off infection and disease. Proteins are the building blocks of many hormones, which help regulate growth and metabolism. Even enzymes themselves are proteins!
The proteolytic enzymes that your body produces have a hand in DNA replication, cell growth and division, tissue remodeling, and blood coagulation.
Without enzymes acting as catalysts, some of these processes would take hundreds of years!
Proteolytic enzymes are so useful, that more than 2 percent of genes are encoded with them.1
Key takeaway: Proteolytic enzymes play a key role in the life cycle of protein molecules. They perform a variety of functions that are essential to overall health and wellness.
2. What are some common proteolytic enzymes?
Proteolytic enzymes aren’t only found in the human body, they exist in nature too. These powerful enzymes are found in other mammals, as well as plants, fungi, and bacteria.
Systemic enzyme therapy treatment relies on these natural sources to reinforce the powerful processes taking place in your body.
Two of the most potent sources of proteolytic enzymes are bromelain and papain.
- Bromelain, extracted from the stem and fruit of the pineapple, is a natural compound containing a group of powerful proteolytic enzymes. It has been studied extensively for its ability to promote a healthy inflammatory response.
- Papain, extracted from papaya, is another collection of powerful proteolytic enzymes shown to support a healthy immune system and promote wound healing.
To optimize the effects of systemic enzyme therapy, bromelain and papain are best taken together in a combination product. To make these potent enzymes even more effective, they can be taken along with some of mother nature’s other powerhouses, such as:
- yucca root
- citrus bioflavonoids
- devil’s claw
Key takeaway: Two of the most powerful proteolytic enzymes are bromelain, extracted from pineapple, and papain, extracted from papaya.
3. The history of systemic proteolytic enzyme therapy
Proteolytic enzyme therapy can be traced back hundreds of years to its use in traditional folk medicine.
Bromelain, which is among the most powerful plant-based proteolytic enzymes, is extracted from the stem or fruit of the pineapple plant.
Pineapples are native to Central and South America, where indigenous people used them to treat a variety of ailments. By the time Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean in 1493, pineapples were being cultivated throughout the region.2
Modern use of proteolytic enzymes like bromelain began in the 1950s with an Austrian doctor named Max Wolf and his American partner Dr. Helen Benitez.
Dr. Wolf founded the Biological Research Institute. There he developed a formula using the plant-based enzymes bromelain and papain, along with natural pancreatic enzymes.
In 1960, Dr. Wolf turned his attention to the role of enzymes in aging and age-related pathologies. A few years later, he founded the Medical Enzyme Research Institute in Germany.
Throughout his long career, Dr. Wolf treated a number of well-known celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplain, Pablo Picasso, and several members of the Kennedy family. 3
Dr. Wolf’s legacy remained strong in Germany, where decades later Wobenzym was used to treat the German National Hockey Team. In an attempt to deal with the punishing physical toll that hockey inflicts, the team began taking enzyme capsules before and after games.
Key takeaway: Systemic enzyme therapy has been used for hundreds of years. The modern era of proteolytic enzyme therapy started with Dr. Max Wolf, a prominent researcher and physician to the stars.
4. How can proteolytic enzymes help?
You can use proteolytic enzymes to help you handle a number of life’s most troublesome ailments.
Proteolytic enzymes are called systemic because they can affect any part of your body. Unlike digestive enzymes, which are confined to your gut, oral systemic enzymes are absorbed into your blood stream.
Once they enter the blood stream, systemic enzymes can travel freely, supporting the work of your body’s own enzymes.
Because proteolytic enzymes are involved in so many different functions, there are both short- and long-term reasons to use them.
Common short-term systemic enzyme therapy uses include:
- back troubles
- joint discomfort
- muscle tightness
- neck issues
- inflammatory response issues
- post-exercise muscle fatigue
- knee problems
- irritated hips
- wound healing
- clearing airways
To support and maintain health, long-term systemic enzyme therapy uses include:
- promoting healthy blood pressure levels
- supporting healthy fibrin levels
- encouraging a healthy immune response
- supporting cardiovascular health
- encouraging a healthy inflammatory response
- promoting healthy blood coagulation
- cleaning the blood of waste products
In the next section, we will dive a bit deeper into these potential benefits to discover how and why enzyme therapy might work for you.
Key takeaway: Systemic enzyme therapy may improve your life in both the short- and long-term by soothing joint discomfort and encouraging a healthy inflammatory response.
5. What does the science say?
While Dr. Max Wolf may have been the first to research proteolytic enzymes, he certainly wasn’t the last.
In the intervening years, researchers have studied systemic enzymes from all directions. While many of these studies and trials have been limited in scope, they give us a good idea of how proteolytic enzymes work in humans and other mammals.
Many people experience extreme discomfort in the body’s major joints.
Knee and hip problems affect millions of people, many of whom would prefer to use safe, natural remedies to soothe their discomfort.
Fortunately, systemic enzyme therapy is an option.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial (the gold standard of clinical trials) conducted in 2014, found that a systemic enzyme formulation reduced discomfort and promoted mobility in people with local inflammatory processes of the knee.4
The systemic enzymes also more effectively reduced the need for “rescue” pills.
Researchers concluded that enzyme therapy was more effective than a placebo and comparable to the standard pharmaceutical treatment, but with fewer unwanted side effects.5
Back and neck problems:
Back and neck problems can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term) and levels of discomfort can range from mild to severe.
In fact, lower back discomfort is one of the most common reasons for people to seek out medical care and miss work.
Many of the issues affecting the back and neck have to do with inflammatory responses, compression, degeneration, and disordered joints in the spine.
In 2016, a review published in a leading medical journal, evaluated levels of discomfort and mobility in people with joint deterioration and discomfort of the knee.6
Comparing a systemic enzyme formula to the standard therapy, researchers found no difference between the efficacy of the two. The systemic enzymes reduced discomfort and promoted mobility just as well as the standard treatment, but with fewer side effects.7
Although little research has been done into similar degenerative problems of the spine, this research has positive implications.
Other positive implications can be seen in animal studies.
Animal studies have also shown that proteolytic enzymes help improve tissue permeability at sites of damage and discomfort, allowing accumulated fluids to flow back into the blood stream.8
This reduction of accumulated fluids could imply relief from the effects of tissue expansion, such as the compression of sensitive tissue.
Muscle tightness and fatigue:
We all know that the more physical activity we are, the better our overall health will be. Exercise can boost heart health, help you maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels, improve mood, and keep off excess weight.
But anyone who has started a new exercise program lately can tell you that it gets worse before it gets better.
During exercise, your muscles can sustain damage, causing a great deal of discomfort. It is not uncommon to wake up the next day feeling tightness, tension, and fatigue in areas of your body that were engaged during a new or strenuous workout.
But there is good news.
A recent study published in a leading British medical journal concluded that systemic enzyme therapy can reduce muscle soreness in physically active adults.9
This placebo-controlled trial of adult male joggers and strength trainers concluded that taking systemic enzymes before and after strenuous exercise reduces the inflammatory response, cutting down on muscle damage, fatigue, and soreness.10
Most people, especially children, get a few colds every year. Stuffiness and runny nose are unpleasant to say the least. But when a cold progresses into something worse and you begin experiencing discomfort in your face and head, you may be desperate for relief.
Fortunately, systemic enzymes can help promote healthy sinuses.
A comparative study of German children with sinus problems found that bromelain supplements promoted a fast recovery. Children taking bromelain felt better faster than children using standard treatments. The study notes that bromelain has become a common therapy for German children with sinus troubles.11
Key takeaways: Research shows that systemic enzyme therapy has powerful effects on the human body, helping to reduce discomfort caused by disordered joints, back and neck problems, exercise, and blocked sinuses.
6. Is systemic enzyme therapy safe?
The safety of systemic enzyme therapy is well-established.
A 2016 review (summary) of six different clinical trials evaluated the safety of proteolytic enzyme combinations. The side effects of proteolytic enzymes were compared with the standard pharmaceutical therapies for discomfort and inflammatory conditions.12
While the efficacy was the same between the two therapies, there were fewer side effects with systemic enzymes.13
According to these studies, the risk of systemic enzyme therapy side effects is low. The side effects observed were almost exclusively gastrointestinal, such as cramping and diarrhea.14
Because systemic enzyme combinations promote healthy blood clotting, there has been some concern about an incompatibility with blood thinners.
But in 2011, researchers conducted an observational study of 129 pre- or post-surgical German patients taking both the pineapple-derived enzyme bromelain and blood thinners.15
Based on their clinical observations, the researchers concluded that taking bromelain before surgery does not further increase the risk of people already taking blood thinners.16
There is no data available regarding the safety of systemic enzyme supplements in pregnant or breastfeeding women. As such, pregnant and breastfeeding women should not use them unless directed to by a doctor.
Key takeaway: Systemic enzyme supplements have an excellent safety profile.
7. How to use systemic enzyme therapy
If you are ready to begin a systemic enzyme therapy treatment program, there are two ways to go about it; the first is a systemic enzyme therapy diet.
This diet focuses on adding enzyme-rich foods like raw or fermented fruits and vegetables to a well-balanced. It is important to keep in mind that the more cooked or processed foods are, the less active enzymes they contain.
Good food sources for proteolytic enzymes include:
- miso soup
Pineapple, which contains bromelain, is undoubtedly the best food source of systemic enzymes. Unfortunately, the fruit itself has a low concentration of enzymes.
The concentration may be a bit higher in the core. You can juice the core or add it to a smoothie with papaya, the best food source for papain.
But if you’re not a big fan of pineapple stems, your best bet for a strong dose of enzymes is with a supplement.
Proteolytic enzyme supplements contain a far more potent dose than you could ever get from food. These products also combine the most powerful enzymes into one, easy-to-take pill.
Key takeaways: Proteolytic enzyme therapy involves taking daily supplements that are safe, potent and easy to take.
8. Final thoughts and key takeaways
Proteolytic enzyme therapy is a safe and natural approach to many of life’s most distressing ailments. You can use them to both soothe and avoid discomfort and to maintain overall health.
Here are a few key takeaways:
1 Proteolytic enzymes are found in both the human body and plants like pineapple and papaya.
2 Digestive proteolytic enzymes help break down the protein you eat, but systemic proteolytic enzymes play a key role in the lifecycle of your cells and tissues.
3 Systemic enzymes have a variety of short- and long-term effects, including soothing discomfort and supporting a healthy immune system.
4 Years of scientific research has shown that systemic enzyme supplements have a powerful effect on the body.
5 You can get proteolytic enzymes from foods like pineapple and papaya, but the most potent source is from a supplement that combines key enzymes with other natural substances that promote good health.
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1. Craik, CS et al. The Biochemical journal, vol. 435,1 (2011): 1-16. doi:10.1042/BJ20100965
2. J Ethnopharmacol. 1988 Feb-Mar;22(2):191-203.
3. Cichoke, AJ. The Complete Book of Enzyme Therapy. Avery: New York, (1999).
4. Bolten, Wolfgang W et al. Arthritis vol. 2015 (2015): 251521. doi:10.1155/2015/251521
6. J Pain Res. 2016 Nov 4;9:941-961. eCollection 2016.
8. Cell Mol Life Sci. 2001 Aug;58(9):1234-45. 81
9. Marzin, Tobias et al. BMJ open sport & exercise medicine vol. 2,1 e000191, (2017). doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2016-000191
11. In Vivo. 2005 Mar-Apr;19(2):417-21.
12. J Pain Res. 2016 Nov 4;9:941-961. eCollection 2016.
15. In Vivo. 2005 Mar-Apr;19(2):417-21.