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Protease Enzymes: What Are They And How Do They Work?

A protease is a type of enzyme that helps your body perform proteolysis, which is the breaking down of proteins into smaller elements like amino acids. As with most digestive enzymes, though, proteases do a lot more than just one thing, though. In fact, they contribute to several crucial bodily functions. In this article, we'll be exploring why your body needs proteases so badly as well as where you can find them.

Protease: Where It Fits In The World Of Enzymes

Proteases are one of three main types of digestive enzymes that your body needs. While we explored the other two in detail within our What Are Enzymes article, to summarize, the other two enzymes are lipase, which helps your body digest fat, and amylase, which helps your body process starches and glycogen. Proteases fall under the category of proteolytic enzymes, which are enzymes that not only help your body process protein but aid in dividing cells, forming blood clots, maintaining your immune system and more. (1) In this article, we'll be referring to proteases as a whole category. But here are the four main classes of proteases so you know what to look out for on ingredient labels and the like:
  • Serine
  • Cysterine
  • Aspartyl
  • Metalloprotease
Now, for practical purposes, what you need to know is that all of these protease classes achieve the same thing. They just do it in different ways. Think of it as akin to how an electric car and a standard one will both get you from point A to point B, just using different mechanisms.

Where Does Protease Come From?

Your pancreas produces an inactive form of protease naturally. It's only after this inactive protease interacts with the enzyme trypsinogen that your body can use it for the above purposes. (2) In addition to your body's own natural production, you can receive the enzyme from two additional sources – supplements and food. Let's look at food sources first.


protease enzyme pineapple Pineapples contain the protease bromelain, which research has proven to be effective at helping combat pancreatic insufficiency. (3) We'll explore pancreatic insufficiency in more detail shortly but in a nutshell, it's a condition that reduces your pancreas' ability to produce the digestive enzymes your body needs. In addition to helping your digestive system, bromelain reduces inflammation, especially in your sinuses. Some people even take it to reduce soreness after workouts as well. (4)


papaya protease enzyme Papaya contains papain, which is another protease that aids in breaking down proteins. In addition, research shows that it may be effective at reducing IBS symptoms like bloating and constipation. (5) What's more, research also shows that papain is highly effective at combatting parasitic infections, making it a great addition to a parasite cleanse. (6) Other papain benefits include these: (7)
  • Reduced inflammation in the throat
  • Decreased shingles symptoms
  • Reduced diarrhea
  • Lessened symptoms of psoriasis
It's worth noting, however, that pregnant women should avoid papaya. Unripened or semi-ripe papaya can cause stimulate contractions. (8)


This popular fermented milk-based beverage contains several digestive enzymes, including protease, lipase, and lactase. (9, 10, 11) Lactase is an ingredient that helps your body process milk and other dairy products. It's especially useful for people who suffer from lactose intolerance. Since the pasteurization process kills enzymes, it's helpful that fermenting adds this enzyme back in. If you're unfamiliar with kefir, it's a drink resembling a thin yogurt. To make it, you insert "kefir grains" (which resemble cauliflower) into milk. These grains are actually yeasts and helpful bacteria. During the fermentation process, you leave the drink to sit (usually overnight), and the bacteria digests the milk to produce the enzymes. Et viola! You have kefir! Read also about coconut kefir and water kefir.


kimchi protease enzyme Kimchi is a Korean dish consisting of fermented vegetables. Just like with kefir, kimchi contains healthy bacteria that produces proteases (among other enzymes, including lipases and amylases, which help you digest fats and carbs respectively). (12, 13) In addition to the benefits that come from protease, research also shows that kimchi can lower cholesterol and other risk factors for heart disease. (14) No wonder the Japanese are so healthy!

All About Protease Supplements

Supplements containing protease have become incredibly popular due to increased rates of digestive issues. Most often, you'll find protease included with other enzymes in a comprehensive formula. This is because all enzymes work together to ensure proper digestive function. Our modern diets can be messy sometimes, and it's not always easy to get the amount of natural protease-containing foods that you need to combat the issue effectively. Some medical conditions and lifestyle choices also can contribute to decreased protease levels. Essentially, any condition that leads to chronic inflammation can harm the pancreas. Specifically, conditions such as diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and pancreatitis can all contribute to exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). (15) EPI occurs when your pancreas is unable to produce the digestive enzymes (including protease) that your body needs. Thankfully, supplements can help restore your body's levels of these enzymes when you take them under a doctor's supervision.

What The Research Says About Protease Supplements

protease enzyme supplements digestion Research confirms that protease supplements are quite effective when it comes to their main feature – improving digestion. One study found that when patients with indigestion took a protease supplement, their symptoms greatly reduced. These symptoms included bloating, belching, heartburn and reduced appetite. (16) Another study found that a protease supplement greatly reduced symptoms of IBS, including bloating, constipation and painful stools. (17) As we touched on briefly, though, protease is good for a lot more than just digestion. These additional benefits carry over to protease supplements as well. In one study, researchers found that a supplement with protease was as effective as modern (artificial) medicine at reducing pain from osteoarthritis. (18) Additional research has shown that protease supplements can even reduce swelling in situations as severe as recovery from dental surgery. You know it's legit when it can combat that sort of pain! (19)


Protease is a type of enzyme that helps your body digest protein and turn it into smaller molecules, like amino acids, that your body can use for fuel. While your pancreas produces protein naturally, there are some instances – such as when you suffer from ailments like diabetes, cystic fibrosis, pancreatitis or when you smoke cigarettes – where the organ could use an extra hand. That's where foods such as pineapple and papaya come in handy. For more comprehensive enzyme therapy, you should speak with your doctor about taking a digestive enzyme supplement like ours. This will provide you with not just proteases but other types of crucial enzymes as well.