Enzymes are active proteins found in all living cells. They perform an incredibly important role in our bodies by speeding up the chemical reactions that keep us alive, so without them, we couldn’t survive.
Enzymes are essential for our metabolism, respiration, digestion, energy production, nerve and muscle function, as well as our body’s ability to maintain and repair itself.
We naturally produce enzymes ourselves, but their production reduces as we age. To boost our enzyme potential, we can provide our bodies with digestive enzymes by eating raw, sprouted and fermented food; and we can take supplemental enzymes.
Systemic enzymes look after overall health by supporting vital bodily functions. In this way, amongst other things, they can:
• Cleanse the blood
• Reduce inflammation
• Modulate the immune system
• Help to protect us from infection, illness and disease
• Break down toxins and allergens
• Remove fibrin, a fibrous protein that in excess can contribute to blood clotting, cancer development, high blood pressure, inflammation and excessive scar tissue.
Some people supplement with systemic enzymes to help with specific issues, such as a replacement for NSAIDs to reduce swelling and pain. Others use them to support their general health and wellbeing.
We produce proteolytic enzymes in the pancreas and stomach in the form of peptidases, proteases or proteinases.
They are well known for their use as digestive enzymes, aiding gut function and helping digestive issues such as heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis.
However, when taken on an empty stomach between meals, they can also have a systemic enzyme effect, playing a vital role in the body’s maintenance, repair and function. For example, bromelain (found in pineapples) is a proteolytic enzyme that has analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects and may also protect against cancer.
Inflammation has its place when it comes to protecting your body from infection and illness. But problems occur when inflammatory processes get out of balance and out of control, leading to chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.
Circulating immune complexes (CICs) in the blood are associated with autoimmune diseases including lupus, vasculitis and rheumatoid arthritis. However, they are also found in healthy individuals and are needed as part of the early stage of healing.
It’s the modulation of the CIC response that’s vital, because if they are not cleared from the tissues and blood, CICs can form deposits throughout the body, and that’s what can lead to chronic inflammation and autoimmune disease.
Systemic enzymes can regulate the CICs and reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines such as Tumour Necrosis Factor (TNF) and C-reactive protein (CRP).
While the exact reasons for, and mechanism of action of, systemic enzymes is not entirely understood, this ability to modulate the immune system can partly explain why they can be effective anti-inflammatories.
According to Dr Mercola, they also help to support immunity by dispelling foreign proteins, protecting us from viral invasion, bacteria, viruses, yeasts and fungi.
There are several studies to support the use of proteolytic enzymes for the reduction of inflammation, some of which are listed below.
Pooling of data from several studies shows that oral supplementation of bromelain can reduce the pain and inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis.
Although more research is needed into the correct dosage, longevity of treatment and reaction times, another review of ten studies showed bromelain to have great promise in the treatment of osteoarthritis.
These studies focused on osteoarthritis of the knee and included one trial published in 2000 which compared a proteolytic enzyme preparation containing bromelain with standard NSAID treatment.
The systemic enzyme therapy (SET) equalled the effect of conventional anti-inflammatories, showing a reduction in pain of 80% in the participants during three weeks of treatment and four weeks of follow-up.
This is not the only study showing comparative results in knee osteoarthritis between bromelain and NSAID medication.
A 2004 study on 105 patients with knee osteoarthritis divided them into two groups over six weeks. One half took an oral proteolytic enzyme-rutosid or ERC (a combination of bromelain, trypsin and rutin) while the other half were prescribed typical anti-inflammatory medication.
Once again, the systemic enzymes equalled the NSAIDs in their analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects, with a slight superiority in the results of the enzyme combination group.
Patient tolerability of the ERC was good, and the researchers hypothesised that it could be used as a safe alternative to ‘NSAIDs such as diclofenac in the treatment of painful episodes of OA of the knee’.
Given that there is a link between NSAID use and heart attack risk, with the risk shown to be highest in those taking higher doses, it is wise to consider an alternative.
Recent research published by Tobias Marzin et al. in 2017 confirmed “a substantial and significant effect of systemic enzyme therapy on fatigue, muscle soreness and damage, as well as immunological and metabolic biomarkers, in male sportsmen with medium performance level (mostly runners and general athletes).”
The researchers used a product called Wobenzym which contains bromelain, trypsin, pancreatin, papain, chymotrypsin and rutin. In this randomised, placebo-controlled, two-stage clinical trial, selected male subjects were split into two groups, the first with less strength training and the second with more.
Then systemic enzyme therapy was orally administered for 72 hours before, and 72 hours after, a day of ‘exhaustive eccentric exercise’.
While the study didn’t show any significant improvements in muscle soreness and strength in the men who had a higher level of strength training, it did show a marked reduction of inflammatory biomarkers across the board for all training levels.
The researchers saw this as an indication of SET’s ability to support the inflammatory processes associated with muscle recovery and suggested that clinicians recommend its use for muscle soreness and fatigue, and for negating any potential muscle damage in endurance athletes.
What’s interesting is that the researchers discussed how inflammation contributes to fibrosis (the thickening and scarring of connective tissue) which impairs muscle function, and that it is a common practice to use drugs to reduce it.
The problem is that there is a fine line between inflammation protecting injured tissues to ensure recovery vs inflammation hindering recovery by causing more damage to the muscles.
Standard anti-inflammatories are not sensitive or intelligent enough to strike the right balance, and so they stop inflammation altogether, leading to a potentially ineffective or harmful course of action.
Step in systemic enzyme therapy, which can intuitively modulate inflammation, allowing things to progress naturally without any harmful side effects.
A small 2004 study administered an oral systemic enzyme combination containing trypsin, papain, bromelain, amylase, lipase, lysozyme and chymotrypsin to 10 pairs of runners.
The couples received four tablets a day or a placebo, for four days, starting one day before running downhill. Positive results were found for muscle soreness and the speed of healing in those taking the systemic enzyme supplement.
Another small study in 2009 administered a proteolytic enzyme blend including bromelain with added turmeric extract and vitamin C to healthy and untrained subjects, ranging in age from 18–45 years. After 30 days there was a significant reduction in delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), pain and tenderness post-exercise vs the placebo group.
Those taking the supplement also had reduced inflammatory markers, including CRP, as well as decreased muscle damage.
Circulating immune complexes are found in those suffering from irritable bowel disease, and this may partly explain the reason why systemic enzymes have shown some potential in the reduction of symptoms in both IBS and IBD.
Bromelain has shown promise in reducing inflammation in those with IBD, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Papain has also been shown to ease the symptoms of IBS, improving bloating and constipation.
Systemic enzymes are prolific blood purifiers. We already know that they can help to clear inflammation-causing CICs from the blood, but systemic enzymes can also break down foreign inflammatory and blood-thickening proteins including excess fibrin, the fibrous protein which can lead to cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke, harmful blood clotting, cancer development, high blood pressure, inflammation and excessive scar tissue.
SET can also oxygenate the blood and increase circulation by breaking down debris still circulating in the blood including dead blood cells, bacteria, viruses and toxins.
In fact, systemic enzymes could potentially play a significant role in the treatment of heart disease as high levels of harmful bacteria in the blood have been cited as a potential cause by French researchers.
In the words of Michael Sellar, editor of ‘Enzyme Digest’, systemic enzymes can ‘inhibit aggregation of platelets, break up fresh clots and accelerate blood flow. Local blood circulation is normalized, the chemicals that give rise to pain are eliminated more quickly, oxygenation is improved and oedema is reduced.’
He suggests that systemic enzyme therapy could be useful and effective in treating cardiovascular disorders such as thrombosis, phlebitis and varicose veins.
The International Probiotics Institute in Australia specialises in creating high-quality probiotic and gut health supplements under the trading name of Progurt.
Made from a superior blend of fermented vegetable enzymes, their Multiple Proteolytic Enzyme Concentrate is specifically helpful for optimising blood flow and nighttime circulation. Each tub contains a one-month supply and it is best taken in the evening before sleep.
Although chiefly beneficial for blood flow and circulation, making it especially useful for both ageing individuals and athletes, Enzymes – isolated from fermented plant bacteria – is also recommended for people battling inflammatory or skin conditions. Like all Progurt products, it is extremely pure.
While it may contain traces of soy, Enzymes is free from wheat, milk, egg, gluten, shellfish and traces of nuts. It is also suitable for vegetarians. Enzymes can be taken on its own or combined with Progurt’s gut health-focused products such as Probiotic, Prebiotic, Chloride and pH Caps.
Hopefully we have helped to describe the incredibly important role enzymes play in our bodies. As mentioned at the outset, without them we could not survive – and their ability to break down rogue proteins in your blood and soft tissues is second to none.
To combat the gradual reduction in natural enzyme production that inevitably comes with age, make sure to eat plenty of raw fermented food (preferably organic) and, if necessary, use a supplement.
This article is written by Rebecca Rychlik-Cunning, a Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium, @rebeccabitesback.
Systemic enzymes look after overall health by supporting vital bodily functions.