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How Does Protease Break Down Protein?

author image Rachel Nall
Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and "Jezebel," "Charleston," "Chatter" and "Reach" magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.
How Does Protease Break Down Protein?
Bite of steak on a fork resting on a dinner plate Photo Credit: Warren Price/iStock/Getty Images

Your body relies on substances called enzymes in order for chemical reactions to take place. Enzymes are not actually used in the reaction, but they do help to speed it along. One example of an enzyme used in many chemical reactions is protease. Knowing how this enzyme affects your body can help you to understand any symptoms you could have related to poor digestion.

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Protease is an enzyme that breaks down proteins, specifically digestive proteins, according to Enzyme Essentials, an enzyme educational website. Protein is a vital part of your diet—an estimated 20 percent to 25 percent of your calories should come from it. Protein is a necessary building block for your muscles, skin, hormones and more. This makes the action of protease very important.


Protease specifically works in your body during the digestive process. These enzymes are used by your body to break down protein bonds—known as peptide bonds. They attach to specialized sites on a protein—much like a key—and “unlock” the bond, according to Enzyme Stuff. This process is known as hydrolysis, which means something has been broken down. Protease comes together with hydrochloric acid in your body to break down large protein molecules. Your intestines then absorb the resulting molecules, according to Enzyme Essentials.


Protease actually represents a number of compounds specifically designed to break down proteins, according to Enzyme Stuff. Each member of the protease enzyme group breaks down a specific kind of protein. For examples, pepsin breaks down proteins into peptides—the building blocks of protein. Trypsin breaks down proteins and is found in the pancreas. Bromelain breaks down a wide variety of proteins and has some anti-inflammatory properties that help to fight off infection.


If you do not have protease in your body to break down digestive proteins, you will experience several adverse symptoms, according to Enzyme Essentials. Recognizing these may help your doctor determine a proper diagnosis. You may experience symptoms of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, anxiety and insomnia. Your immune system also may be compromised, causing you to become sick often.


Protease’s ability to bind to proteins and break them down makes it useful for manufacture as a medication, according to Enzyme Essentials. For example, protease inhibitors can be taken in patients with HIV in order to prevent the body from breaking down HIV proteins, according to AEGIS, a member of the Aids Data Treatment Network of informative websites. Protease also has been used in cancer treatments, to relieve inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, and to improve immune system functioning, according to Enzyme Essentials.

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