Enzymes: What You Learned Was Wrong

by Dr. William Wong

Think you know all about nutrition? OK, name the primary functions of proteolytic (protein eating) enzymes in the body? If you said digestion go to the rear of the class! Digestion is one of the last things a proteolytic enzyme does. While most of us can name the actions of every vitamin and herb in creation, 99% of the people in the natural health, pharmaceutical and even medical world don’t know what enzymes really are, what they do, and how they are being used to help human function.

First, let’s talk about what an enzyme is. An enzyme is a large protein molecule that cleaves, cuts or eats specific pre-designated things (think of Pac Man with shark-like teeth). Depending on the programming of the “teeth”, the enzymes fit over certain substances in a lock and key fashion, cutting through one specific type of thing, a particular type protein let’s say, yet leaving undisturbed protein of a similar but slightly different type.

Enzymes are essential as “biocatalysts”, in other words, they speed the action of chemical reactions. Without enzymes involved in every cellular event in our bodies, the chemical reactions within us would be so slow as to make life as we know it impossible. There are some 3000+ enzymes in the human body, most of them of the proteolytic type. These 3000+ enzymes create between 7000 to 25000 different enzyme reactions. The 3000 enzymes themselves are created as a result of either our own enzyme production (which is finite in nature), or created from ingesting enzymes from our live or uncooked food.

This leads us to two issues:

  1. Enzymes are heat sensitive. Temperatures of 105 to 125 degrees F kill enzymes and their related activity. So cooked foods have virtually nothing in the way of enzymes. Enzyme cultured in laboratories can be made with increased resistance to heat both in terms of degrees and in terms of time exposed to higher temperatures but overall, the enzymes in food die from cooking.
  2. Many scientists and physicians in the US still believe that enzymes are too big to pass through the intestinal tract and get into the bloodstream intact. Something the size of PAC Man when compared to the dots he eats cannot possibly be absorbed through the tiny pores of the intestinal membrane. This ignores the medically known fact that Salmonella, a molecule 5 times larger than the largest enzyme, easily passes through the intestinal wall to be absorbed whole (i.e. without being broken down and digested), into the bloodstream. For those late bloomers here in the States – there are over 200 peer-reviewed medical and university studies proving beyond the shadow of a doubt not only the absorption of enzymes but their medical therapeutic actions.

By now you may be asking yourself just what do enzymes do? Let’s take a look at the three major forms of basic enzymes in the body and look into the work they do. There are three major subdivisions of enzymes in the human system:

  • Proteases, which eat or breakdown protein.
  • Lipases, which eat or break down fats.
  • Amylases, which eat or breakdown carbohydrates.

“Wait a minute”, you’ll say, “that all sounds like digestion; I thought you said that digestion is the last thing an enzymes does?” Quite so; let’s look at what these enzymes are cleaving and where!

Of the 3 enzymes listed, proteases and lipases have systemic functions. That means they perform jobs all over the body in almost every system. Only amylase, the carbohydrate lysing (cleaving or eating) enzyme acts almost solely in digestion. The first thing the proteolytic enzymes do is to create what is known as the enzyme cascade. Most of the enzymes active in the reactions that occur body-wide are proteolytic in nature; that is, they are concerned with cleaving a type of specific protein or another (we have literally hundreds of different types and arrangements of proteins in our bodies). So the vast majority of the 7000 to 25,000 enzymatic reactions that need to happen within us are proteolytic in nature. Aside from the 25,000 possible reactions of protein eating enzymes science now knows, they have 5 primary functions:

Natural Anti-Inflammatory

They are the first line of defense against inflammation. 1, 2, 3. Inflammation is a reaction by the immune system to an irritation. Let’s say you have an injured right knee. The immune system sensing the irritation the knee is undergoing creates a protein chain called a Circulating Immune Complex (CIC for short), tagged specifically for that right knee. (The Nobel Prize in biology was won in 1999 by a scientist who found the tagging mechanism). This CIC floats down to the right knee and causes pain, redness and swelling – the classic earmarks for inflammation. This at first is a beneficial reaction; it warns us that a part of ourselves is hurt and needs attention. But, inflammation is self-perpetuating, itself creating an irritation that the body makes CICs to in response!

Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Celebrex, Vioxx and the rest of the Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS) all work by keeping the body from making all CICs. This ignores the fact that some CICs are vital to life, like those that maintain the lining of the intestine and those that keep the kidneys functioning! Not to mention the fact that they, along with acetaminophen are highly toxic to the liver. Every year 20,000 Americans die from these over the counter drugs and another 100,000 will wind up in the hospital with liver damage, kidney damage or bleeding intestines from the side effects of these drugs 4, 5.

Systemic enzymes, on the other hand, are perfectly safe and free of dangerous side effects. They have no LD-50, or toxic dose 6. Best of all, systemic enzymes can tell the difference between the good CICs and the bad ones because hydrolytic enzymes are lock and key mechanisms and their “teeth” will only fit over the bad CICs. So instead of preventing the creation of all CICs, systemic enzymes just “eat” the bad ones and in so doing, lower inflammation everywhere and with that, pain is lowered also.

Anti Fibrosis

Enzymes eat scar tissue and fibrosis 7. Fibrosis is scar tissue and most doctors learn in anatomy that it is fibrosis that eventually kills us all. Let me explain. As we age, which starts at 27, we have a diminishing of the body’s output of enzymes. This is because we make a finite amount of enzymes in a lifetime and we use up a good deal of them by the time we are 27. At that point the body knows that if it keeps up that rate of consumption we’ll run plum out of enzymes and be stone cold dead by the time we reach our 40s. (Cystic Fibrosis patients, who have virtually no enzyme production to speak of, even as children, usually don’t make it past their 20s before they die of the restriction and shrinkage in the lungs from the formation of fibrosis or scar tissue).

So our body in its wisdom begins to dole out our enzymes with an eyedropper instead of with a tablespoon; the result is the repair mechanism of the body goes off balance and has nothing to reduce the over abundance of fibrin it deposits in nearly everything from simple cuts, to the inside of our internal organs and blood vessels. It is then when most women begin to develop things like fibrocystic breast disease, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and we all grow arterial sclerotic (meaning scar tissue) plaque, and have fibrin begin to spider web its way inside of our internal organs reducing their size and function over time. This is why as we age our wounds heal with thicker, less pliable, weaker and with very visible scars. If we replace the lost enzymes we can control and reduce the amount of scar tissue and fibrosis our bodies have. As physicians in the US are now discovering, even old scar tissue can be “eaten away” from surgical wounds, pulmonary fibrosis, kidney fibrosis even keloid years after its formation. Medical doctors in Europe and Asia have known this and used orally administered enzymes for such for over 40 years!

Blood Cleansing

The blood is not only the river of life, it is also the river through which the cells and organs dispose of their garbage and dead material. Enzymes improve circulation by eating the excess fibrin that causes blood to sometimes get as thick as catsup or yogurt creating the perfect environment for the formation of clots. All of this material is supposed to be cleaned off by the liver on “first pass” or the first time it goes through, but given the sluggish and near toxic or toxic state of everyone’s liver these days, that seldom happens. So the sludge remains in the blood, waiting for the liver to have enough free working space and enough enzymes to clean the trash out of the blood. This can take days, and for some folks, weeks! 8

When systemic enzymes are taken they stand ready in the blood and take the strain off of the liver by:

  • Cleaning excess fibrin from the blood and reducing the stickiness of blood cells. These two actions minimize the leading causes of stroke and heart attack causing blood clots 8.
  • Breaking dead material down small enough that it can immediately pass into the bowel 8.
  • Cleanse the FC receptors on the white blood cells improving their function and availability to fight off infection 9.

And here we come to the only warning we have to give concerning the use of systemic enzyme – don’t use the product if you are a hemophiliac or are on prescription blood thinners like Coumadin, Heparin and Plavix. The enzymes cause the drugs to work better so there is the possibility of thinning the blood too much.

Immune System Modulating

Enzymes are adaptogenic, seeking to restore a steady state to the body9. When the immune system is running low we become susceptible to infectious disease; when it cranked up too high then the system creates antibodies that attack its own tissues as is seen in the autoimmune diseases of MS, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Lupus. Here therapeutic dosing of oral administered systemic enzymes will tone down immune function and eat away at the antibodies the immune system is making to attack its body’s own tissue. When the immune system is run down too low the enzymes increase immune response, producing more Natural Killer cells, and improving the efficiency of the white blood cells, all leading to improved immunity.

Virus Fighting

Viruses harm us by replicating in our bodies. To do this, a virus must bond itself to the DNA in our cells through the medium of its exterior protein cell wall. Anything that disrupts that cell wall inhibits the ability of that virus’ viral replication by rendering individual viruses inert 10, 11. Systemic enzymes can tell the difference between the proteins that are supposed to be in your body and those that are foreign or not supposed to be there, (again the enzyme lock and key mechanism). Even now the US Military has developed a proteolytic enzyme blend to be used as an anti-biological warfare agent against Anthrax and viruses. As can be seen the primary actions of proteolytic actions are impressive and hold great promise for health and medical applications. Though the bulk of body-wide enzyme reactions are proteolytic, the remaining systemic enzyme, lipase performs some important jobs as well. The most important action of lipase lends itself to service in a few different areas:

Fat Loss / Energy Releasing by Dissolving Body Fat

Lipase breaks down body fat so that it can start the long drawn out process of becoming blood sugar. Unfortunately, as we age our own production of enzymes decreases and with that our ability to turn fat into energy decreases also. This could be one of the reasons why it is so difficult to lose weight after thirty-five. Lipase supplementation could be used to cause the breakdown of body fat, helping its conversion into energy, while decreasing body weight and cholesterol. Still, think enzymes are used only for digestion? Stick around; there are a myriad of other uses and applications for systemic enzymes that will come to the fore in the near future. Enzymes are our most important nutrients!


  1. Bodhankar S.L., Et Al: Anti Inflammatory and Analgesic activity of Exclzyme-EN. Scientific Abstracts, 54 the Indian Pharmaceutical Congress 2002, Pune.
  2. Mazzone A, et al.: Evaluation of Serratia peptidase in acute or chronic inflammation of otorhinolaryngology pathology: a multicentre, double-blind, randomized trial versus placebo. J Int Med Res. 1990; 18(5):379-88.
  3. Kee W., H. Tan S, L., Lee V. Salmon Y. M.: The treatment of breast engorgement with Serrapeptase: a randomized double-blind controlled trial. Singapore Med J. 1989:30(l):48-54.
  4. No author listed: Regular Use of Pain Relievers Can Have Dangerous Results. Kaleidoscope Interactive News, American Medical Association media briefing. July 24, 1997.
  5. Carroll A., R.: Clinical examination of an enzymatic anti-inflammatory agent in emergency surgery. Arztl. Praxis 24 (1972), 2307.
  6. Celebrex article Wall Street Journal 19 April 1999.
  7. No author listed: Regular Use of Pain Relievers Can Have Dangerous Results. Kaleidoscope Interactive News, American Medical Association media briefing. July 24, 1997.
  8. Enzymes – A Drug of the Future, Prof. Heinrich Wrba MD and Otto Pecher MD. Published 1993 Eco Med.
  9. Kakinumu A. et al.: Regression of fibrinolysis in scalded rats by administration of serrapeptase. Biochem. Pharmacol. 31:2861-2866,1982.
  10. Ernst E., Matrai A.: Oral Therapy with proteolytic enzymes for modifying blood rheology. Klin Wschr. 65 (1987), 994.
  11. Kunze R., Ransberger K., et at Humoral immunomodulatory capacity of proteases in immune complex decomposition and formation. First International Symposium on combination therapies, Washington, DC, 1991.
  12. Jager H.: Hydrolytic Enzymes in the therapy of HIV disease. Zeitschr. Allgemeinmed., 19 (1990), 160.
  13. Bartsch W.: The treatment of herpes zoster using proteolytic enzymes. Der Informierte Arzt. 2 (1974), 424-429.

Dr. William Wong

Dr. William Wong is a Texas State Naturopathic Medical Association professional member, World Sports Medicine Hall of Fame member, a Classical Naturopath, a Ph.D. Exercise Physiologist, a Certified Athletic Trainer (AATA), a Certified Sports Medicine Trainer (ASMA), and a Health/Fitness Consultant. Dr. Wong has more than 23 years of professional experience in natural health, as applied to sports medicine and rehabilitation, with the last 12 devoted almost exclusively to chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.

Dr. Wong has authored books on natural healing and has taught Physical Medicine at the South West College of Naturopathic Medicine in Arizona. His shorter writings have appeared in such diverse magazines as G.Q., Black Belt, Survival Guide, The Townsend Letter for Doctors, and Well Being Journal. In 1993, he was also inducted into the Martial Arts Hall of Fame as Wing Chun Kung Fu Instructor of the Year.

Dr. Wong has been a guest on over 500 national and local radio programs, as well as appearing on the nationally acclaimed PBS series Healthy Living hosted by Jane Seymour. In November 2002, Dr. Wong appeared on the Heartbeat of America show hosted by William Shatner. Currently, using a blend of movement, nutrition, exercise and spirituality, Dr. Wong is specializing in developing programs for longevity and virility to help people overcome the effects of aging and the after-effects of chronic debilitating conditions.

Dr. William Wong and his wife Michele are devoted to bringing forth information on new and effective natural treatments for chronic illnesses, teaching little-known information about exercise and spreading their philosophy on what they’ve found to be the cornerstones of a healthy and active life.

Author: Dr. William Wong ND, PhD