Proteolytic enzymes, sometimes called proteases, are enzymes found in your body that help break down proteins ingested when eating into their base elements. These enzymes enter your digestive system and then pass through your stomach or intestines to enter your circulatory system and travel throughout your body. The enzymes can aid people who have problems digesting food, can help ease the symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis, and help people recover from hard exercise.
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Proteolytic enzymes have historically been used in the treatment of cancer, according to Dr. Michael Murray. Murray notes that studies have been conducted through the U.S. National Institutes of Health in using them to treat breast, stomach, reproductive, lymph and lung cancers to improve the quality of life and life expectancy of cancer patients. Murray notes that these enzymes should not be taken immediately before surgery since they can make surgical bleeding worse.
When your body is suffering from an inflammatory disease like rheumatoid arthritis, protease enzymes can help deconstruct immune complexes formed as a result of the condition, according to Murray. He notes that autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis produce high levels of these antibodies that can build up in your body, increasing redness, pain and swelling. Breaking down this antibody-related inflammation into its basic elements makes it easier to eliminate from your body and increase the amount of nutrient-carrying blood to the site.
The anti-inflammatory properties of proteolytic enzymes make them effective at treating sports-related injuries. By breaking down the inflammation that occurs as a result of injury, proteolytic enzymes can help an athlete heal faster, according to the University of Southern California. They do note that the results of studies of the enzymes have been inconclusive, but say that smaller studies indicated that “treatment with a proteolytic enzyme combination significantly speeded up recovery.”