A protease (also known as a proteolytic enzyme, peptidase or proteinase) is an enzyme that helps digest different kinds of proteins in a process called proteolysis. Proteases are a category of enzymes; some are produced by the body, some are found in foods, and some are produced by bacteria and other microbes. Proteases assist with many different body processes including digestion, immune system function, and blood circulation.
How Do Proteases Work?
Proteases break down a protein’s bonds by hydrolysis, a chemical process that converts proteins into smaller chains called polypeptides and even smaller units called amino acids.
Proteins have a complex folded structure and require protease enzymes to disassemble the molecule in very specific ways. Without proteases the intestinal lining would not be able to digest proteins, causing serious consequences to your health.
What Do Proteases Do?
Proteases play a key role in many physiological processes: they are important for DNA replication and transcription, cell housekeeping and repair, immune function, stopping the flow of blood, and many other critical body functions – all of which involve breaking down proteins.
Where Do Proteases Come From?
Proteases, including trypsin and chymotrypsin, are produced by the pancreas. You will also find them in fruit like papaya (papain) and pineapple (bromelain).
Bacteria and other microbes also produce proteases. Sometime pathogenic bacteria produce proteolytic enzymes that mimic human proteases, and these can have negative consequences for health. Also, when out of balance, your body may produce too many or not enough proteases which can lead to cardiovascular, metabolic and immune system conditions.
The Health Benefits of Protease Enzymes
Proteolytic enzymes have many health benefits. The first that comes to mind is digestion. Proteases are extremely important for the digestion of foods, but their intestinal duties go even further. They also digest the cell walls of unwanted harmful organisms in the body and break down unwanted wastes such as toxins, cellular debris, and undigested proteins. In this way, proteases help digest the small stuff, so that our immune system can work hard to avoid toxin overload. By breaking down proteins, protease activities give our cells the amino acids they need to function.
In this way, digestion plays a huge role in overall health, and enzymes are a big part of digestive health. With the distinct ability to break down peptide bonds and liberate amino acids, proteolytic enzymes are now being studied by modern science and medicine for their clinical and therapeutic use in the realms of general oncology and overall immune function.
The following list describes some health benefits of protease, as well some of the exciting research on the functions of the body’s protease enzymes and their applications to human health.
1. Supports Gut Health
A 2010 U.S. study on inflammatory bowel diseases found that the proteolytic enzyme bromelain from fresh pineapple juice could help reduce chronic indications and concerns in the colon. Research suggests that bromelain counteracts intestinal pathogens like Vibrio cholera and Escherichia coli, but the mode of action is still unclear. It may prevent the bacteria from sticking to the intestinal walls, or it may interact with the body’s secretion signaling, keeping diarrhea in check.
2. Soothes Skin Burns and Stomach Ulcers
A 2010 Brazilian study in Burns journal found that protease helped cellular repair of third-degree skin burns and stomach ulcers in laboratory mice. The study looked at a protease from the mountain papaya.
3. Helps the Body Recover From Bruises, Fractures, and Tissue Injuries
Clinical trials have shown that protease enzymes can speed the healing of sprains, bruises, fractures and tissue injuries.[5, 6] Some natural healthcare providers use a bromelain cream that brings more blood flow to a wound. Bromelain enzyme also reduced bruising and swelling from episiotomy scars after childbirth in women.
4. Slows or Stops Irritation
The body’s natural protease enzymes respond to irritation in the body, particularly those associated with allergies, harmful organisms, intestinal issues, and restoring health to tissues after blood stopped flowing to that area. Interestingly, invasive bacteria in our body also emit proteases that mimic and hijack our own, which our bodies then have to stop through a complex series of physiological reactions. Some research suggests that bromelain enzyme, from pineapples, may also reduce irritation inside the body.
5. Eases Bone and Joint Discomfort
Although preliminary and not to be interpreted as a new therapy, a few studies have found that proteolytic enzymes helped ease osteoarthritis symptoms. Studies found that enzyme therapy that included bromelain and trypsin was as effective and better tolerated, with fewer side effects, than the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) diclofenac (DC).[10, 11]
6. Assists Recovery From Sprains and Sports-Related Injuries
Research suggests that protease enzyme combinations may aid in the recovery of sports injuries. A small German study of 44 people with sports-related ankle injuries found that those given the protease bromelain experienced faster recovery, and needed less time away from training. A more recent study found that enzyme therapy reduced exhaustion and speeded muscle recovery after exercising at maximum strength and pain levels.
7. Digests Proliferating Cells
The digestive proteolytic enzyme bromelain ate away at cells that were growing excessively in both mouse and human cells. Bromelain reduced the cell growth and played a role in regulating the expression of proteins that boosted the immune system’s ability to fight against serious health issues.
8. Helps the Circulatory and Lymph Systems
Protease enzymes help to cleanse debris out of our circulatory and lymph system. In patients who did not have healthy lifestyle habits, using bromelain along with medication improved the medication’s effects by 121%. Research on animal and human models has found this protease enzyme improves circulation and reduces risk factors associated with cardiovascular events.[3, 13]
9. Helps Blood Clot Normally
Some forms of protease can boost the quality of blood cells, allowing a better circulatory response. Bromelain has anticoagulant properties, which means it may reduce the risk of blood clots.[3, 14]
10. May Have Antioxidant Properties
Some proteases have been found to have antioxidant properties. Studies have tested for the safety of papain isolated from the unripe papaya latex for use in healing wounds and discovered that not only is it safe and effective but that it also has antioxidant properties.[15, 16]
How to Read the Units of Measurement for Protease
Most dietary enzyme supplements contain between 30,000 and 60,000HUT of protease. HUT stands for Hemoglobin Units on Tyrosine Basis and measures the hydrolysis or breakdown of proteins into smaller polypeptides and amino acids. HUTs tell you the activity level of the enzyme. This test, or assay, for protease activity is based on 30-minute hydrolysis (break down) of a hemoglobin protein molecule at pH 4.7 and 40 degrees Celsius.
Never buy an enzyme that lists the amount in weight, like milligrams (mg) because this fails to tell you about the enzyme’s effectiveness.
The United States Pharmacopeia (USP) creates the standard measurements for supplements. These are published in the USP’s Foods Chemical Codex (FCC), an internationally accepted compendium of standards for the quality of food ingredients, supplements, and additives.
Where Can I Find The Best Source of Supplementary Protease?
VeganZyme® contains a 100% vegan form of Protease. It comes from all vegetarian, non-GMO sources, is kosher certified, gluten-free, made in the USA from globally sourced ingredients, contains no animal products, and is great for vegetarians and vegans.
VeganZyme is the most advanced full-spectrum systemic and digestive enzyme formula in the world. It is free from fillers and toxic compounds. This formula contains protease and other digestive enzymes that help digest proteins, fats, sugars, carbohydrates, gluten, fruits and vegetables, cereals, legumes, bran, nuts and seeds, soy, dairy, and all other food sources.
VeganZyme also provides a comprehensive blend of systemic enzymes to break down excess mucus, fibrin, toxins, and environmental irritants.
- López-Otín C, Bond CS. "Proteases: Multifunctional Enzymes in Life and Disease." J Biol Chem. 2008; 283(45),30433–30437.
- Hale LP, et al. "Dietary supplementation with fresh pineapple juice decreases inflammation and colonic neoplasia in IL-10-deficient mice with colitis." Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2010;16(12),2012-21.
- Pavan R, et al. "Properties and Therapeutic Application of Bromelain: A Review." Biotechnol Res Int. 2012;2012,976203.
- Gomes FS, et al. "Wound-healing activity of a proteolytic fraction from Carica candamarcensis on experimentally induced burn." Burns. 2010;36(2),277-83.
- Baumuller M. "The application of hydrolytic enzymes in blunt wounds to the soft tissue and distortion of the ankle joint—a double-blind clinical trial [in German]." Allgemeinmedizin.1990;19:178-182.
- "Conditions: Injuries, Minor. Principal Proposed Natural Treatments." EBSCO.
- Howat RCL, Lewis GD. "The effect of bromelain therapy on episiotomy wounds—a double blind controlled clinical trial." Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the British Commonwealth. 1972;79(10),951–953.
- Antalis TM, et al. "Mechanisms of Disease: protease functions in intestinal mucosal pathobiology." Nat Clin Pract Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2007;4(7),393–402.
- Taussig SJ, Batkin S. "Bromelain, the enzyme complex of pineapple (Ananas comosus) and its clinical application. An update." J Ethnopharmacol. 1988;22(2),191-203.
- Akhtar NM, et al. "Oral enzyme combination versus diclofenac in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee--a double-blind prospective randomized study." Clin Rheumatol. 2004;23(5),410-5.
- Klein G, et al. "Efficacy and tolerance of an oral enzyme combination in painful osteoarthritis of the hip. A double-blind, randomised study comparing oral enzymes with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs." Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2006;24(1),25-30.
- Marzin T. "Effects of a systemic enzyme therapy in healthy active adults after exhaustive eccentric exercise: a randomised, two-stage, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial." BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2016;2(1), e000191.
- Juhasz B, et al. "Bromelain induces cardioprotection against ischemia-reperfusion injury through Akt/FOXO pathway in rat myocardium." American Journal of Physiology. 2008;294(3),H1365–H1370.
- Lotz-Winter H. "On the pharmacology of bromelain: an update with special regard to animal studies on dose-dependent effects." Planta Med. 1990;56(3),249-53.
- Manosroi A, et al. "Antioxidant and Gelatinolytic Activities of Papain from Papaya Latex and Bromelain from Pineapple Fruits." Chiang Mai J Sci. 41(3),635-648.
- da Silva CR, et al. "Genotoxic and Cytotoxic Safety Evaluation of Papain (Carica papaya L.) Using In Vitro Assays." J Biomed Biotechnol. 2010; 2010,197898.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.