Monday, July 9, 2007

Digestive Enzymes

Captured from:
Also indexed as: Pancreatic Enzymes, Pancreatin, Papain, Proteolytic Enzymes

See also: Bromelain

What do they do? Digestive enzymes—which include pancreatic enzymes, plant-derived enzymes, and fungal-derived enzymes—include three classes of enzymes: proteolytic enzymes needed to digest protein, lipases needed to digest fat, and amylases needed to digest carbohydrates. In several conditions that cause malabsorption, such as pancreatic insufficiency and cystic fibrosis, doctors sometimes prescribe digestive enzymes to improve absorption of food.

Doctors often tell people to try using pancreatic enzymes with meals when they have symptoms of indigestion that cannot be attributed to a specific cause. In a double-blind study, microencapsulated pancreatic enzymes were shown to reduce gas, bloating, and fullness after a high-fat meal.1

According to one theory, allergies are triggered by partially undigested protein. Proteolytic enzymes may reduce allergy symptoms by further breaking down undigested protein to sizes that are too small to cause allergic reactions.2 Limited scientific evidence supports this theory.3 Proteolytic enzymes such as trypsin, chymotrypsin, and bromelain are partially absorbed by the body.4 5 6 Once absorbed, they have anti-inflammatory activity and may even demonstrate antitumor effects.7 8 9 10 In one preliminary study of a handful of pancreatic cancer patients, the combination of proteolytic enzymes and other cancer treatments appeared to extend survival, despite the fact that most of the patients died.11

Proteolytic enzymes may also improve immune system function, for example, in people with shingles (herpes zoster), though this area of research has not been adequately explored.12

Where are they found? Only small amounts of the animal-based proteolytic enzymes, trypsin and chymotrypsin, are found in the diet; however, the pancreas can synthesize these enzymes. The plant-based proteolytic enzyme bromelain comes from the stems of pineapples and is useful in many conditions. Papain comes from unripe papayas. All of these enzymes are available as supplements.

Enzymes have been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):
Rating.. .......Health Concerns

....................Low back pain (chymotrypsin, trypsin)
....................Pancreatic insufficiency (including pancreatitis)
....................Sprains and strains (chymotrypsin, trypsin)
....................Celiac disease
....................Indigestion (Lipase)
....................Tendinitis (proteolytic enzymes)
....................Acne Rosacea
....................Chronic candidiasis
....................Crohn’s disease
....................Food allergies
....................Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
....................Low back pain (papain)
....................Sprains and strains (papain)

***Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing
......a substantial health benefit.
**Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies sug-
....gesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
*An herb is primarily supported by traditional use, or the
..herb or supplement has little scientific support and/or mini-
..mal health benefit.

Who is likely to be deficient? People with pancreatic insufficiency and cystic fibrosis frequently require supplemental pancreatic enzymes (which include proteolytic enzymes, lipases, and amylases). In addition, those with celiac disease13 or Crohn’s disease14 and perhaps some people suffering from indigestion15 may be deficient in pancreatic enzymes. As bromelain and papain are not essential, deficiencies do not exist.

How much is usually taken? The digestive enzymes—proteolytic enzymes, lipases, and amylases—are generally taken together. Pancreatin, which contains all three digestive enzymes, is rated against a standard established by the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP). For example, “4X pancreatin” is four times stronger than the USP standard. Each “X” contains 25 USP units of amylase, 2 USP units of lipase, and 25 USP units of protease (or proteolytic enzymes). Three to four grams of 4X pancreatin (or a lower amount at higher potency) with each meal is likely to help digest food in some people with pancreatic insufficiency.

Those with chronic pancreatitis need to discuss enzyme intakes with their physician. Under medical supervision, seriously ill people with pancreatic insufficiency caused by pancreatitis are given very high levels of enzymes to improve fat digestion. In one successful trial, enough pancreatin was used with each meal to supply slightly over 1,000,000 USP units of lipase.16 Because pancreatin is rapidly emptied from the stomach during digestion, people taking these enzymes may obtain better results by spreading out supplementation throughout the meal.17

Supplemental enzymes that state only product weight, but not activity units, may lack potency.

Are there any side effects or interactions? The most important digestive enzymes in malabsorption diseases are usually fat-digesting enzymes called lipases. Proteolytic enzymes can digest, as well as destroy, lipases. Therefore, people with enzyme deficiencies may want to avoid proteolytic enzymes in order to spare lipases.18 If this is not possible (as most enzyme products contain both), people with malabsorption syndromes should talk with their doctor to see if their condition warrants finding products that contain the most lipase and the least protease.

In theory, too much enzyme activity could be irritating because it could start to “digest” parts of the body as the enzymes travel through the digestive system. Fortunately, that does not happen with supplemental amounts. Research has not determined the level at which such problems might arise.

A serious condition involving damage to the large intestines called fibrosing colonopathy has resulted from the use of pancreatic enzymes in children with cystic fibrosis. In some cases, the problem was linked to the use of high supplemental amounts of enzymes.19 20 21 However, the amount of enzymes used has not been linked to the problem in all reports.22 In some cases, lower amounts of enzymes have caused fibrosing colonopathy if the enzymes are enteric-coated.23 Some researchers now believe that some unknown interaction between the enteric coating and the enzymes themselves may cause damage to the intestines of children with cystic fibrosis.24 Until more is known, children with cystic fibrosis needing to take pancreatic enzymes should only do so under the careful supervision of a knowledgeable healthcare professional.

Are there any drug interactions? Certain medications may interact with digestive enzymes. Refer to the drug interactions safety check for a list of those medications.


1. Suarez F, Levitt MD, Adshead J, Barkin JS. Pancreatic supplements reduce symptomatic response of healthy subjects to a high fat meal. Dig Dis Sci 1999;44:1317–21.

2. Oelgoetz AW, Oelgoetz PA, Wittenkind J. The treatment of food allergy and indigestion of pancreatic origin with pancreatic enzymes. Am J Dig Dis Nutr 1935;2:422–6.

3. McCann M. Pancreatic enzyme supplement for treatment of multiple food allergies. Ann Allergy 1993;71:269 [abstr #17].

4. Ambrus JL, Lassman HB, DeMarchi JJ. Absorption of exogenous and endogenous proteolytic enzymes. Clin Pharmacol Ther 1967;8:362–8.

5. Avakian S. Further studies on the absorption of chymotrypsin. Clin Pharmacol Ther 1964;5:712–5.

6. Izaka K, Yamada M, Kawano T, Suyama T. Gastrointestinal absorption and anti-inflammatory effect of bromelain. Jpn J Pharmacol 1972;22:519–34.

7. Deitrick RE. Oral proteolytic enzymes in the treatment of athletic injuries: a double-blind study. Pennsylvania Med J 1965;Oct:35–7.

8. Seligman B. Bromelain: an anti-inflammatory agent. Angiology 1962;13:508–10.

9. Cichoke AJ. The effect of systemic enzyme therapy on cancer cells and the immune system. Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients 1995;Nov:30–2 [review].

10. Wolf M, Ransberger K. Enzyme Therapy. New York: Vantage Press 1972, 135–220 [review].

11. Gonzalez NJ, Isaacs, LL. Evaluation of pancreatic proteolytic enzyme treatment of adenocarcinoma of the pancreas, with nutrition and detoxification support. Nutr Cancer 1999;33:117–24.

12. Kleine MW, Stauder GM, 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.

13. Patel RS, Johlin FC Jr, Murray JA. Celiac disease and recurrent pancreatitis. Gastrointest Endosc 1999;50:823–7.

14. Gullo L. Indication for pancreatic enzyme treatment in non-pancreatic digestive diseases. Digestion 1993;54(suppl 2):43–7.

15. Suarez F, Levitt MD, Adshead J, Barkin JS. Pancreatic supplements reduce symptomatic response of healthy subjects to a high fat meal. Dig Dis Sci 1999;44:1317–21.

16. Nakamura T, Tandoh Y, Terada A, et al. Effects of high-lipase pancreatin on fecal fat, neutral sterol, bile acid, and short-chain fatty acid excretion in patients with pancreatic insufficiency resulting from chronic pancreatitis. Int J Pancreatol 1998;23:63–70.

17. Taylor CJ, Hillel PG, Ghosal S, et al. Gastric emptying and intestinal transit of pancreatic enzyme supplements in cystic fibrosis. Arch Dis Child 1999;80:149–52.

18. Layer P, Groger G. Fate of pancreatic enzymes in the human intestinal lumen in health and pancreatic insufficiency. Digestion 1993;54(suppl 2):10–4.

19. Stevens JC, Maguiness KM, Hollingsworth J, et al. Pancreatic enzyme supplementation in cystic fibrosis patients before and after fibrosing colonopathy. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 1998;26:80–4.

20. Oades PJ, Bush A, Ong PS, Brereton RJ. High-strength pancreatic enzyme supplements and large-bowel stricture in cystic fibrosis. Lancet 1994;343:109 [letter].

21. Campbell CA, Forrest J, Muscgrove C. High-strength pancreatic enzyme supplements and large-bowel stricture in cystic fibrosis. Lancet 1994;343:109–10 [letter].

22. Milla CE, Wielinski CL, Warwick WJ. High-strength pancreatic enzymes. Lancet 1994;343:599 [letter].

23. Jones R, Franklin K, Spicer R, Berry J. Colonic strictures in children with cystic fibrosis on low-strength pancreatic enzymes. Lancet 1995;346:499–500 [letter].

24. Powell CJ. Pancreatic enzymes and fibrosing colonopathy. Lancet 1999;354:251 [letter].


Copyright © 2002 Healthnotes, Inc. All rights reserved.

Learn more about Healthnotes, the company.

Learn more about the authors of Healthnotes.

The information presented in Healthnotes Online is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over-the-counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2002.


To view information on another Disease, click on PancSOD Laibary!
PancSOD Library

No comments: