In the current scenario, proteins or protein supplements are widely used by the fitness enthusiast fraternity as their protein requirements have increased due to an increase in their physical activity. Protein is one of the most important survival macronutrients which is composed of amino acids i.e. building blocks of protein. There are 20 amino acids which are responsible for protein synthesis. Among them, 9 are essential while remaining are considered as non-essential. This categorisation (essential and non-non-essential) of amino acids are based on the body’s ability to synthesise these building blocks. Non-essential amino acids are synthesised by our body but essential ones are not that’s why they are consumed from external sources like plants or animals.
Proteins play a major role in the overall development of the body. Even, the pioneering unit of our life — cell is made up of proteins. Besides the proteins are also used for the synthesis of enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, etc. Protein-rich foods that we consume are first digested in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract where they are converted into amino acids before getting utilised in the body. That’s why we require certain digestive enzymes for better utilisation of the proteins.
Digestion is the most potent process of all other processes that occur in our body. The whole metabolism is controlled and regulated by a group of digestive enzymes which are released by several organs such as mouth, stomach, pancreas and liver. These enzymes play a cardinal role in the proper digestion of food. However, the digestion process gets initiated as food enters the mouth and extends to the intestine, where it finally disintegrates into simplest components. Afterwards, simpler compounds are absorbed and the remaining unabsorbed substances are excreted by our body.
What are digestive enzymes?
Digestive enzymes are globular proteins which are predominately produced in the pancreas and liver, then secreted in response to digested food coming from the stomach for further digestion.
There is a diverse group of digestive enzymes which helps in the breakdown and absorption of nutrients. Sengupta (2018) broadly categorised proteins into four groups are as follows:
- Proteolytic enzymes (break down proteins into amino acids)
- Lipolytic enzymes (disintegrate fat into fatty acids and glycerol)
- Amylolytic enzymes (split carbs and starch into simple sugars)
- Nucleolytic enzymes (breakdown nucleic acids to nucleotides.
Overall, digestive enzymes enhance the absorption rate of nutrients from food and prevent any GI discomfort like nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhoea and bloating. In addition to this, digestive enzymes ameliorate the absorption rate of whey or other proteins. Furthermore, lack of these enzymes result in improper digestion and expose an individual to certain conditions like lactose intolerance, celiac (wheat protein indigestion due to lack of an enzyme).
In urban areas disturbed eating pattern, unhealthy diet and irregular circadian rhythm (sleep cycle) are the main causes of nutritional deficiency that could impair digestion. This nutritional deficiency may lower the production of digestive enzymes which in turn, reduces the absorption rate of amino acids and thus, diminishes the recovery period decreasing muscle size and strength.
Moreover, as the protein intake increases digestive enzyme secretion also increases for proper digestion and absorption. As proteins are required for building new muscles, tissue repair and muscle hypertrophy. It is normally observed that bodybuilders or athletes are frequently consuming protein supplements to meet their enhanced protein requirement. Sometimes, protein supplements without digestive enzymes are difficult to digest and absorb which may lead to abdominal discomfort, nausea, vomiting, uneasy feeling and bloating. That's why protein supplements fortified with digestive enzymes aids in the digestion process and also increases the absorption rate in an incremental way.
Conventionally, proteins supplements that are advertised in the market are usually complemented with protease enzyme. Protease includes a group of enzymes which are responsible for protein degradation. They are also referred to as proteolytic enzymes. Protease can be obtained via various sources like natural foods (pineapple, papaya, whole grains), enzyme supplements or foods fortified with enzymes.
Protease targets the peptide bonds in the proteins to release the amino acids which are utilised for muscle growth or repairing of damaged cells.
Health benefits of protease
Supports Gut Health
Hale et al.(2010) demonstrated that pineapple juice with proteolytically active bromelain enzyme reduces the inflammation in the colon.
Eases Bone and Joint Discomfort
Akhtar et al. (2010) indicated that enzyme therapy with bromelain and trypsin is an effective and safe treatment for painful episodes of osteoarthritis in the knee. It can be considered as an alternative treatment.
Assists Recovery Strain and Sports-Related Injuries
Certain researches showed that protease enzyme in combination may help in the rehabilitation of sports-related injuries. Marzin et al. (2016) study revealed that enzyme therapy diminishes muscle fatigue, reduces soreness and speeds up the muscle recovery post exercise at maximum strength and painful levels.
Helps The Circulatory And Lymph System
Juhasz et al.(2008) conveyed that protease enzyme improves the circulation as well as reduces the risk factors which are correlated with a cardiovascular condition.
Along with proteases, sometimes supplements are fortified with peptidase which assists in degradation of casein (milk protein) or gluten. So, people with gluten intolerance can go for supplements complimented with this enzyme.
Overall, proteins with digestive enzymes are well tolerated and enhance the absorption rate of amino acids as well. Therefore, protein supplements commonly contain protease or peptidases.
- Sengupta, S.(2018).A list of Digestive Enzymes and their functions. Retrieved from https://bodytomy.com/list-of-digestive-enzymes
- Akhtar, N.M., Naseer, R., Farooqi, A.Z., Aziz, W., & Nazir M. (2010). Oral enzyme combination versus diclofenac in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee--a double-blind prospective randomized study. Clin Rheumatol. 23(5), 410-5
- Marzin, T., Lorkowski, G., Reule, C., Rau, S., Pabst, E., Vester, J. C., & Pabst, H. (2017). Effects of a systemic enzyme therapy in healthy active adults after exhaustive eccentric exercise: a randomised, two-stage, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. BMJ open sport & exercise medicine, 2(1), e000191. doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2016-000191
- Hale, L.P., Chichlowski, M., Trinch C.T., & Greer P.K.(2010). Dietary supplementation with fresh pineapple juice decreases inflammation and colonic neoplasia in IL-10-deficient mice with colitis. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 16(12), 2012-21
- Juhasz, B., Thirunavukkarasu, M., Pant, R., Zhan, L., Penumathsa, S.V., Secor Jr., Eric R., Srivastava, S., Raychaudhuri, U., Menon, V. P., Otani, H., Thrall, R.S., & Maulik, Nilanjana (2008). Bromelain induces cardioprotection against ischemia-reperfusion injury through Akt/FOXO pathway in rat myocardium. Am. J. Physiol, 294(3), 1365–1370