Enzymes are catalysts for numerous biochemical reactions in living things. Their purpose is to speed up chemical reactions. Generally being proteins by nature, enzymes are essential for biological function. While the body produces and contains the enzymes it needs to perform its metabolic functions, enzyme production declines with age and health status. This can be a contributing factor for poor health and common conditions associated with aging. While there are numerous purposes for the different types of enzymes in the body, practitioners of alternative and allopathic medicine have used enzyme therapy (with enzymes being administered in supplement form) for decades. There is a long history of therapeutic benefits associated with the administration of enzyme supplements including for supporting the digestion of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. When enzymes are administered in this fashion, they work to break down foods.
However, another aspect of enzyme therapy proposed by alternative health practitioners is their systemic effect. Enzymes, specifically various types of proteolytic enzymes – enzymes that break down protein – are utilized for their benefits systemically throughout the body. Evidence from scientific studies shows that enzymes, when administered orally, can be absorbed systemically and then circulate throughout the body to reach areas of inflammation. Just as enzymes catalyze reactions to break down foods when the purpose of their use it to aid digestion, when acting systemically, proteolytic enzymes catalyze reactions to reduce inflammation and other related effects. By breaking down, or dissolving, inflammatory tissue and dead cells, they also may serve to cleanse the body of unwanted and unneeded waste products.
The use of enzymes for their anti-inflammatory effect dates to at least the 1950s when the enzyme trypsin was found to relieve inflammation that was secondary to several health conditions. Another enzyme of interest for system-wide benefits is serratiopeptidase. Known as serrapeptase for short and originally found in silkworms who utilize it to break down their cocoons, this enzyme has a long history of use in Japan and Europe for its powerful proteolytic and anti-inflammatory effects. In fact, the Japanese began using serrapeptase as an anti-inflammatory in 1957. A member of a class of enzymes known as serine proteases, serrapeptase breaks down inflammatory proteins and unwanted or dead tissue and byproducts in the body, leaving healthy tissue intact and alone.
In early research on serrapeptase, scientists compared its activity with several other enzymes for anti-inflammatory effects and found serrapeptase to be the most effective of all of them. While research on its exact mechanism of action is ongoing, studies have shown that one of the ways serrapeptase reduces inflammation is by modifying specific adhesion molecules on the surfaces of cells. These molecules are directly and indirectly responsible for upregulating or downregulating the inflammatory response and bringing immune cells into the target area where damaged tissue resides. By modifying the function of these molecules, serrapeptase benefits include a reduction in the intensity of the inflammatory response. Serrapeptase also acts by regulating inflammatory cytokines and thus alleviates the onset of chronic inflammation.
Antibacterial and Biofilm Destruction
Biofilms consist of groups or bunches of bacteria that attach to each other and to tissue surfaces throughout the body within a self-made matrix of protein, polysaccharides, and DNA. This matrix and clustering offer protection to the bacteria in the biofilm, leading to an evasion of the immune defense system. The survival strategy also results in resistance to commonly employed antibiotic drugs and herbs. By being protected from the host immune system, the bacteria can cause local tissue damage as well as acute infections. A study by a team of Italian scientists found that the strong proteolytic (protein-digesting) properties of serrapeptase make it a good candidate to break down and degrade bacterial biofilms and inhibit their further formation, also making them visible to the immune system and accessible to antibiotic therapies. Furthermore, research suggests that serrapeptase modulates the expression of adhesion molecules and cell surface proteins of bacteria, preventing their ability to coalesce into biofilms.
Anti-allergy and Mucus Clearing
Several studies highlight the ability of serrapeptase to break down stubborn mucus in the sinuses as well as mucus in lungs, making it ideal for sinus symptoms secondary to allergies as well as improving lung health. The enzyme can hydrolyze the inflammatory and allergic mediators bradykinin, histamine and serotonin, decreasing pain and swelling, while improving circulation. Serrapeptase further acts to reduce the thickness and viscosity of nasal and sinus mucus and facilitate its drainage from the body. In one such double-blind study, 193 subjects suffering from acute or chronic sinus issues were asked to supplement with serrapeptase or placebo. In as early as three to four days after use, significant improvement was seen in the group taking serrapeptase versus the group consuming the placebo. Continued improvement occurred in the serrapeptase group after 7-8 days with tolerance reported to be incredibly good. The improvement of sinus symptoms seen with serrapeptase included reduction in the severity of sinus pressure and pain, thinning of sinus mucus, reduction in obstructed nasal sinuses, and less difficulty swallowing, indicating the ability of the enzyme to reduce inflammation and facilitate clearance of clogged sinuses.
Another trial included 29 individuals assigned to oral supplementation with serrapeptase or no treatment over a four-week period. Mucus and sputum parameters were assessed at the beginning of the study as well as after four weeks of supplement intake. After four weeks, serrapeptase led to decreased neutrophil count in the mucus resulting in less inflammatory cells, improved viscosity (thickness) and elasticity of mucus (or mucus relief), less frequent cough, and decreased expectoration, indicating improved airway and sinus function.
The use of enzymes for systemic anti-inflammatory effects dates back several decades. Serrapeptase is a unique proteolytic enzyme that can be a useful tool for supporting healthy sinuses and improving lung health in those suffering from environmental sensitivities. In fact, anyone struggling with these issues should consider serrapeptase supplementation.
- Tiwari M. Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. 2017
- Mazzone A et al. The Journal of International Medical Research. 1990
- Nakamura S et al. Respirology. 2003
- Jadhav SB et al. Biotechnology Reports. 2020
- Vestby LK et al. Antibiotics (Basel). 2020
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