“Humans are born gentle and supple.
At death, their bodies are brittle and hard.”
~ Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 76
Enzymes are the unsung heroes of health. They facilitate every chemical interaction in the body. Without them, none of our internal metabolic activities could ever happen.
Although enzymes do many things, today we’ll focus on a particular category of enzymes, called proteolytic (literally, “protein dissolving”) enzymes. One of the important functions of these substances is keeping our organs and tissues from becoming stiff and brittle as we age.
But before we talk about how we can use enzymes this way, it will help to understand where this tendency to become stiffer over time comes from.
As we experience injuries, inflammation and other stresses, the body repairs and protects itself by using a substance called fibrin. Fibrin heals damage and protects tissues from the effects of inflammation and oxidation. Think of it like a fine mesh that covers injured tissues to hold them together.
An example of the repair function of fibrin is the creation of scar tissue. Other examples include what happens in our arteries and other tissues when they are exposed to inflammation and damaging free radicals.
In fact, many diseases such as hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), ischemic strokes (strokes due to blood clots obstructing arteries in the brain), fibrocystic breast disease, uterine fibroids, and endometriosis have a component of hardened tissues related to fibrin.
Normally, the repair and protective effects of fibrin are a good thing. In fact, once healed from the injury, the healed tissue is actually stronger than it was originally.
But all by itself, this repair job tends to be rigid and hard. It’s as if the body creates a kind of armor plate to protect the area from any further damage. When this interferes with healthy functioning, it’s called fibrosis.
In a young, healthy body, the rigidity of these repairs is moderated by circulating proteolytic enzymes that soften them. This makes them more flexible and resilient.
The problem happens with age as our bodies make less enzymes. By the time we reach age 40 we are producing dramatically fewer enzymes than we did at age 20. It’s not a coincidence that with age we are affected by increasing stiffness in joints, organs and blood vessels. This progression is related to the stiffness caused by fibrosis.
That’s where we can take advantage of proteolytic enzymes.
There are many of these enzymes within the body. We also get them from food sources. Here’s a short list of the more common dietary ones:
- Bromelain (from unripe pineapple)
- Nattokinase (from natto, a fermented soy product)
- Papain (from unripe papaya)
Another outstanding proteolytic enzyme is called serrapeptase.
Serrapeptase comes from silk worms. It is the enzyme that allows the silkworm to dissolve through it’s tough cocoon and emerge as the silkworm moth.
In the human body, serrapeptase has the unusual property of digesting hard, stiff non-living tissue without damaging live tissue. It also acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory.
The most common use for serrapeptase is in treating scar tissue, fibrosis, abnormal blood clotting (for example varicose veins) and arterial plaque. Other uses include breaking up congestion in the lungs such as in chronic bronchitis.
Serrapeptase is generally safe and effective for most people. However some people should not take it. People with bleeding disorders and those who are taking blood thinning drugs should avoid it. Also, if someone is on aspirin therapy or taking large amounts of vitamin E or fish oils, they should be cautious taking serrapeptase and do so only under medical supervision.
Because it is degraded by exposure to stomach acid, the best way to gain the benefits of serrapeptase is to take it in an enteric-coated form. Also, it’s best to take it separately from food.
I recommend working with a knowledgeable natural health practitioner when using serrapeptase.
Pryor, K. Serrapeptase: insect-derived enzyme fights inflammation. Vitamin Research News. December 1999.
Tony Isaacs, “Enzymes for Fibrosis, Scars, Keloids, Lung Disease and Cancer“, Healthier Talk News, July 22, 2010
Andrew Rubman, N.D., “Scar Eraser“, Bottom Line Health, June 7, 2010