What is Enzyme Supplementation?

Posted by Alexander Harper on

In the last thirty some years I have personally taken enzyme supplements for my own health, studied enzymology, taught enzyme therapy to practitioners, supplied enzyme therapy to clinics, and formulated enzyme supplements for private label practitioners and nutritional companies.  When able I’ve listened to others give their theories and/or read books written by those marketing enzymes.   Sadly, I have come to realize there is still confusion about supplemental enzymes and what they not only mean to our nutrition but our overall health.  Keeping this in mind lets just spend a few moments making sure we are on the same page and have a similar understanding by covering some enzyme supplementation basics.


Enzyme supplementation comes in three forms: animal derived, fungal derived and fruit derived enzymes.  To clear some of the confusion enzymes are not vitamins or minerals, which are considered co-enzymes (requires enzymes for absorption and utilization).  They are not probiotics, which are microorganisms (bacteria) derived supplements.

Pancreatic enzyme (animal gland) derived:  formulations are prepared from sacrificed hog pancreas or pancreas from oxen.  Pancreatic animal derived enzymes are different from fungal or fruit derived enzymes by several factors one being their coating requirement and the other its limited use in the human digestive tract because of this necessary enteric coating.  The secretions from the human stomach destroys (breaks down) animal pancreatic enzymes, and therefore the tablets containing pancreatic enzymes are coated so that the tablet does not break down or unravel until after it has passed through the stomach and most of the digestive tract of the small intestine.   They do their work mostly in the blood, which is the proper pH for them to activate rather than the digestive system.

Plant based enzymes are derived from pharmaceutical grade microbial or mycelia enzymes (also known as fungal or plant based enzymes).  They are grown on a food medium (host) under controlled lab supervision as a fungus (mycelia or microbial).  They are fed and grown to a state in which they are effective at specific pH ranges and able to adequately break down food molecules.  The fungi is then removed and what is left is now in liquid form. This liquid is dried to a fine powder and laboratory specs are made to be certain they contain neither toxins nor fungus just a pure enzyme substance.  These supplemental digestive enzymes will now work in specific pH ranges they were grown for and can be blended for either a broader alkaline pH range for blood or a broader yet more acidic pH range for digestion. These plant-based enzymes do not require protection from stomach acid and work in their specific pH range they were grown to work in and in the presence of water. All digestive enzymes whether they are plant based supplemental enzymes or those made metabolically by the body are “hydrolytic”, meaning they require water in which to work.


Plant (fruit) derived enzymes are derived from pineapple, papaya and kiwi: Bromelain is present in all parts of the pineapple plant but the stem is the most common commercial source after harvesting the fruit. The stem part is peeled, crushed and pressed to get the juice containing the soluble bromelain enzyme. Further processing includes purification and concentration of the enzymes.  Papain is usually produced as a dried material by collecting the latex from the fruit of the papaya tree. The latex is collected after scoring the neck of the fruit where it may either dry on the fruit or drip into a container. This latex is then further dried. It is now classified as a dried, crude material. A purification step is necessary to remove contaminating substances. This purification consists of the solubilization and extraction of the active papain enzyme system through a government-registered process. This purified papain may be supplied as powder or as liquid.  Everyone needs to know that the papaya grown in Hawaii are almost all genetically modified since 1998.  Kiwi is derived from it’s fruit portion and the main protein component of kiwi fruit is actinidin, used as meat tenderizers or drink additives.  It works similar to papain.  Bromelain, Kiwi and Papaya are produced in Thailand, China, Taiwan, Hawaii or other tropical parts of the world where the fruits are grown.

Supplemental plant based digestive enzymes are classified by three food groups:  they do their work to properly break down food molecules, achieve nutrient absorption and further assist immune system balance:

·       Carbohydrate splitting (polysaccharolytic) enzymes which are around thirteen different types to digest (break down) all carbohydrates (fruit, plants & starch) and are necessary for utilization of water soluble vitamins,·

  • Lipolytic (lipase) enzymes digest triglycerides (lipids, fats & oils) and are necessary for utilization fat soluble vitamins,·

·       Proteolytic (protease) enzymes digest proteins and are necessary for the utilization of amino acids.  Proteases can be blended to work not only in the acid pH of the stomach but also in the small intestine to assist in proper protein digestion and/or in the alkaline pH of the blood to work systemically as in improved blood circulation, rheology, fibrin breakdown, clearing of excessive proteins and/or cross-linked proteins that create allergies.

There are different strengths and blends of enzymes on the market and in another blog I’ll attempt to cover food enzymes.


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