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Therapeutic Properties of Systemic Oral Enzymes

by Michael Sellar(more info)

listed in nutrition, originally published in issue 71 - December 2001

"Systemic oral enzymes are like no other medicine available anywhere in the world." Loes and Steinman[1]

Systemic oral enzymes have been praised as having "miraculous healing powers". They are used to treat problems ranging from sports injuries and arthritis to heart disease and cancer.

If they are so miraculous you may wonder why you have not heard much if anything about them. If this is so, it is probably because English is your mother tongue. Systemic enzymes are used very widely in many European countries and have been for decades.

Although much research has been published, these have been in non-English language journals. Also, the formula widely used in Europe was not available here. However, several medical journals recently published reviews of systemic oral enzymes in English. Also, the enzyme formula used in Europe is now available in the UK and USA, so the value of systemic enzymes in healing is bound to spread among both therapists and the public at large.

Enzyme Table

Enzymes – The Life Force

Enzymes are biochemical catalysts, which orchestrate complex biological changes in living systems. Every transformation that takes place within the living world is their responsibility. They mark the difference between life and non-life. They represent the life force of each cell. Over 3,000 enzymes have been identified, each being specific in their function.

Dr Edward Howell spent his professional life studying enzymes. His work concentrated on exogenous enzymes found in raw foods. He believed we were born with an enzyme potential that was limited and exhaustible. His theory was that if we don't get enough enzymes from the food we eat, a great strain would be put on the digestive system to produce enough enzymes to break the food down. This in turn would mean reduced availability of the metabolic enzymes that run our bodies. He believed this deficit of metabolic enzymes was at the root of most chronic health problems.[2]

Systemic Enzyme Therapy

Digestive enzymes have long been available as supplements to help break down food. Systemic enzyme therapy (SET) refers to enzymes taken by mouth on an empty stomach, which, after absorption, flow throughout the body to wherever they are needed. These make up the metabolic shortfall directly. The most important enzymes for the purpose of SET are the hydrolases, which are mainly proteolytic enzymes, since they have such a wide range of activity in the body.

For therapeutic purposes a combination of enzymes is required. The mixture most often used combines bromelain and papain from plants, amylase and lipase from bacteria, and trypsin and chymotrypsin from the pancreases of pigs. The formula is called Wobenzym. It also includes the bioflavonoid rutin.

Enzymes Are Absorbed

A near century-old dogma states that enzymes taken orally could not possibly be absorbed intact into the body because the molecules are far too large. However, it has been conclusively shown by various means - histological, biochemical, immunological and biological, including marking them with radioactive dyes - that enzymes do pass the intestinal barrier in an undamaged macromolecular form and realize their activities in the body.[3]

There are three mechanisms of absorption: by pinocytosis (endocytosis), binding to specific receptors at the top of the intestinal villi; via the so-called 'M' cells which overlay the Peyer's patches; and through the opening of 'tight junctions' of the intestinal epithelium.[4]

Not all enzymes will be absorbed, but around 25% pass intact into the bloodstream and lymphatic system.5 Once absorbed they find their way to where they are needed to reduce inflammation, lessen pain, diminish oedema, aid detoxification, maintain efficient blood circulation, speed up wound healing, fight infections, and lessen the side effects of some conventional procedures.

Enzymes for Sports Injuries

Chelsea FC footballers were given Chymoral (trypsin and chymotrypsin) after injury in the 1964/65 season. This led to a 31% reduction in the total number of games that the players were not available for selection, compared with the previous season. One player with a painful, swollen and tender elbow and ankle was able to resume training less than 48 hours later when all signs had disappeared. Two other players with ankle injuries that would normally keep them from training for at least a week were able to resume training in less than 72 hours.[6]

Taking enzymes before sports helps to prevent injury. Of 450 boxers, half were given Chymoral and half a placebo before their fights. The enzyme groups received 37 injuries compared with 52 in the placebo group. Of the 89 injured boxers, 55 took Chymoral. These were compared with 34 who took a placebo. Those in the enzyme group saw their bruising, abrasions, haematomas and sprains clear up in 4-5 days compared with 2-3 weeks in the placebo group. Sutured cuts took 2 weeks to heal compared with 4 weeks in the placebo group.[7]

A number of more recent studies have confirmed that taking systemic enzymes both before and after injury results in less stiffness and muscle fatigue, with injuries clearing up more rapidly with less pain and inflammation.[8]

With such convincing evidence for their effectiveness, it is not surprising that many of Europe's greatest athletes from Olympic gold medallist skier Hermann Maier to tennis stars Martina Hingis and Stefi Graf take systemic enzymes as a regular part of their daily routine.

How Enzymes Heal Injuries

The pathway of a sports injury starts from the initial tissue damage trauma through to the vascular reaction, vessel permeability disturbance, immune response, local vascular connective tissue proliferation and finally scar tissue. Enzymes are able to influence each stage of this pathway. They have the ability to break down fibrin, inhibit aggregation of platelets, break up fresh clots and accelerate blood flow. Local blood circulation is normalized, the chemicals that give rise to pain are eliminated more quickly, oxygenation is improved and oedema is reduced.9 For these reasons, SET would be valuable in vascular diseases such as thrombosis, phlebitis, varicose veins, etc.[10]

Enzymes Shorten Time in Hospital

SET given before and after orthopaedic surgery will reduce the risk of thrombosis, promote better and faster healing and shorten hospital stays.

One study demonstrated that after cartilage surgery the course of oedema, swelling, inflammation, pain and movement was markedly better in the group taking enzymes compared with a placebo.[11]

Tested both before and after fracture operations, the researchers concluded that the "influence of Wobenzym in trauma is favourable when administered postoperatively. And preoperatively improves the surgical environment and shortens duration of postoperative treatment."[12]

A recent study found that SET represented a preventative and curative option for inflammatory processes (haematoma, oedema, pain) including healing, in plastic surgery.[13]

Enzymes Fight Inflammatory Diseases

Inflammation is a common feature of injury and disease processes. While it is obviously to our benefit, it can be a two-edged sword with undesirable consequences when it contributes to clinical suffering.

Because SET combats inflammation, it is ideally suited for use in inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

In one study, 156 patients took either methotrexate - a chemotherapeutic agent - together with a non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug, or methotrexate plus Wobenzym. The latter group showed superior efficacy with regard to tenderness to firm pressure, pain on joint movement, function ability tests and morning stiffness. The study authors concluded that "SET presents a highly effective method of rheumatoid arthritis treatment which directly influences the pathogenic mechanisms of the disease."[14]

In diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, the body forms what seems to be unwanted antibodies. As they lock on to their target antigen they form immune complexes. These may themselves be destroyed by macrophages, but smaller complexes cannot always be eliminated. They find their way into tissues where they cause disease. A high level of immune complexes activates another of the body's defence systems - the complement system.

This group of plasma proteins operates as a sequential cascade. Some of the active proteins along the cascade function as mediators of a particular inflammatory response. This type of inflammation is present in so-called autoimmune diseases. In rheumatoid arthritis there are high levels of immune complexes in the joint. Most drugs will not stop them from arising but enzymes can. They are able to interrupt the cascade to prevent self-inflicted damage.[15] In the above study, circulating immune complexes fell 30.3% in the all-drug group but by 42.2% in the Wobenzym-included group.

Other aspects of the immune system were favourably influenced in this study. Serum concentrations of interferons were reduced to almost normal after six months in the enzyme-included group, but were 2-3 times higher in the all-drug group. Also, serum levels of proinflammatory cytokines were significantly more reduced in the enzyme group. For the patient this means less inflammation and less pain.

Other studies which looked at immune markers found that systemic enzymes were able to induce optimal amounts of tumour necrosis factor and interleukins, and substantially increase macrophages and natural killer cells.[16]

SET has been found to be valuable in many autoimmune and inflammatory diseases such as osteoarthritis, lupus, ankylosing spondylitis, bronchitis, sinusitis, prostatitis, cystitis, pelvic inflammatory disease, shingles and ulcerative colitis.[17]

Inflammation in Heart Disease

In recent years, the cause of myocardial infarction and ischaemic stroke has focused on blood levels of C-reactive protein, a non-specific marker for inflammation. A recent study provided very convincing evidence that among healthy middle-aged men, baseline serum levels of C-reactive protein were predictive of future cardiac events. The risk increased with rising levels even where the values were within the normal range. Those with the highest levels had three times the risk of a future heart attack and double the risk of stroke compared with those with the lowest levels.18 A more recent study by the same researchers demonstrated that measuring C-reactive protein levels can help predict the risk of heart attack in premenopausal women.[19]

Inflammation in circulating blood may play an important role in triggering heart attacks and strokes by activating blood-clotting mechanisms, which in turn can slow down or stop blood flow. Conventional medicine uses clot-busting drugs, but inflammation limits their effectiveness. It is believed that anti-inflammatory drugs should be used where inflammatory markers are elevated.

Infections May Cause Heart Disease

One of the functions of C-reactive protein is to stop the spread of certain bacteria in the body. French researchers published a report a few years ago which implicated bacteria as a cause of coronary disease. Patients were found to have very high levels of bacteria in plaques which were blocking their blood vessels. Perhaps this is why the protein is raised. Infectious agents such as Chlamydia pneumoniae, porphyromonas and retroviruses have been implicated in heart disease.

Aspirin and other non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs are increasingly favoured in the treatment and prevention of heart disease. Antibiotics have also been shown to offer protection.

With systemic oral enzymes we can get the benefit of drugs without their side effects and long-term dangers. They can help control inflammatory processes by lowering elevated inflammatory markers and boost many components of the immune system to fight bacterial and viral infections.

Let's leave the final word on heart disease with noted enzyme researcher Rudolph Kunze: "Although enzymes reduce inflammation and we used to think that was all they did, we now believe that the central target of systemic enzymes is the immune system. It is my belief that heart disease is an immune disease very much, although obviously not totally, related to bacterial pathogens and other invaders."[20]

The Role of Enzymes in the Conventional Treatment of Cancer

A number of studies have been carried out in Europe, which clearly demonstrate an important role for enzymes as an assisting therapy with conventional treatments. The studies usually divide patients into those who received purely conventional treatment, sometimes with a placebo, and those who received the same treatment together with systemic enzymes.

Those receiving chemotherapy plus enzymes had fewer adverse effects, and were better able to tolerate the drugs. Their general condition was improved, as was their quality of life. In several studies there was an improvement in life expectancy: 20 months versus 16 months in one study, 83 months versus 47 months in another.[21]

There were a number of improvements in blood parameters: a more marked rise in the number of T-lymphocytes to total lymphocytes in one study; an improvement in various liver markers in another, and fewer metastases in patients with large bowel carcinoma.

A number of studies have also compared those given radiotherapy alone with those given radiotherapy together with oral enzymes. Again a very favourable picture emerges with significant reduction in skin and other adverse reactions, including severity of radiation-induced damage.[22]

The Role of Enzymes in the Unconventional Treatment of Cancer

Surprisingly, the foundations of SET go all the way back to 1907 when John Beard wrote The Enzyme Treatment of Cancer and its Scientific Basis. He believed that cancer was actually a healing process that was unable to stop because pancreatic enzymes were in short supply. But it wasn't until half a century later that Professor Max Wolf and Helene Benitez developed an enzyme combination for the cancer patient. Early laetrile investigator Ernst Krebs Jr included pancreatic enzymes in his treatment protocol, but perhaps the best known are William Donald Kelley and Nicholas Gonzales.

Kelley had pancreatic/liver cancer and was given only months to live. He was too ill to have surgery, which turned out to be a "great blessing". He changed his diet and way of living. Through a long process of trial and error he worked out which foods to eat and which to avoid. He calculated the correct relationships between vitamins, minerals and enzymes, as well as the proper way to detoxify. It took five years of ups and downs before he was finally free of pain and felt good. He wrote One Answer to Cancer in 1969. Kelley's protocol required taking massive amounts of enzyme supplements as part of a holistic programme.[23]

Nicholas Gonzales MD met Kelley during his second year at medical school and continues his work today in New York.

Together with Linda Lee Isaacs, Gonzales published a pilot study in 1999. The results are very encouraging. Ten patients with inoperable stage 2-4 pancreatic adenocarcinoma were treated with large doses of orally-ingested pancreatic enzymes, detoxification procedures and an organic diet between 1993 and 1996. Of these, 9 (81%) survived one year, 5 (45%) survived two years, 4 survived three years. These results far exceed the 25% survival at one year and 10% at two years under conventional treatment.[24]

Other Promising Areas of Research

SET is being used and researched in multiple sclerosis, juvenile diabetes, tinnitus and fibrocystic breast disease. Edward Howell believed that our life expectancy depended on how well we preserve our enzyme potential. Research is now focusing on the use of systemic enzymes as an anti-ageing agent.


Systemic oral enzymes have been shown over the last 30 years or more, in both research studies and in clinical practice, to be effective anti-inflammatory and immune-stimulating agents which have applications in a wide array of health problems ranging from sports injuries to cancer.

They appear to be at least as efficacious as non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs without their side effects, complications, toxicity and risk of long-term health problems, including death. Such drugs provide symptomatic relief but do nothing for the underlying disease process. They may actually inhibit healing. Oral enzymes are safe and effective and set the stage for genuine healing to take place.


1. Loes M and Steinman D. The Aspirin Alternative. The Freedom Press. ISBN 1-893910-04-0. 1999.
2. Howell E. Enzyme Nutrition. Avery. ISBN 0-89529-221-1. 1985.
3. Nouza K and Wald M. Problems of resorption of enzyme macromolecules. Cas Lek Cesk. 134(19): 615-19. 1995.
4. Kleine M. Introduction to oral enzyme therapy. International Journal of Immunotherapy. XIII(3/4): 59-65. 1997.
5. Nouza K. Outlooks of systemic enzyme therapy in rheumatoid arthritis and other immunopathological diseases. Acta Univ Carol. 40(1-4): 101-04. 1994.
6. Boyne PS and Medhurst H. Oral anti-inflammatory enzyme therapy in injuries in professional footballers. The Practitioner. 198: 543. 1967.
7. Blonstein JL. Oral enzyme tablets in the treatment of boxing injuries. The Practitioner. 198: 547. 1967.
8. Loes M and Steinman D. ibid.
9. Kleine M. Introduction to systemic enzyme therapy and results of experimental trials. in Hermans G and Mosterd W eds. Sports, Medicine and Health. Excerpta Medica. 1990.
10. Nouza K. Systemic enzyme therapy in diseases of the vascular system. Bratisl Lek Listy. 96(10): 566-69. 1995.
11. Rahn HD. Efficacy of hydrolytic enzymes in surgery. in Hermans G and Mosterd W eds. Sports, Medicine and Health. Excerpta Medica. 1990.
12. Rahn HD. ibid.
13. Duskova M and Wald M. Orally administered proteases in aesthetic surgery. Aesth Plast Surg. 23: 41-44. 1999.
14. Mazourov VL et al. The efficacy of systemic enzyme therapy in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. International Journal of Immunotherapy. XIII(3/4): 85-91. 1997.
15. Kleine M. Introduction to oral enzyme therapy. ibid.
16. Kleine M. Introduction to systemic enzyme therapy. ibid.
17. Loes M and Steinman D. ibid.
18. Ridker PM, Cushman M, Stampfer MJ et al. Inflammation, aspirin, and the risk of cardiovascular disease in apparently healthy men. New England Journal of Medicine. 336: 973-79.
19. Ridker et al. Prospective study of C-reactive protein and the risk of future cardiovascular events among apparently healthy women. Circulation. 98: 731-33. 1998.
20. Loes M and Steinman D. ibid.
21. Leipner J and Saller R. Systemic enzyme therapy in oncology. Drugs. 59(4): 769-80. 2000.
22. Leipner J and Saller R. ibid.
23. Rohe F. Metabolic Ecology. Wedgestone Press. 1982.
24. Gonzales N and Isaacs LL. Evaluation of pancreatic proteolytic enzyme treatment of adenocarcinoma of the pancreas, with nutrition and detoxification support. Nutrition and Cancer. 33(2): 117-24. 1999.


  1. Jennings said..

    I have been reading about the benefits of enzymes for a number of years and more lately my wife and I have been taking them occasionally to manage indigestion; we are both of advanced age. Our 13 year old Norfolk terrier who is fed on a raw meat diet has, of late, brought up his meal being unable to digest it and has been very ill. We have been taking him to the VET for treatment until it was discovered that when he is like this and feeling very ill, if we give him a sprinkling of digestive enzymes hidden in another food that remarkably he recovers and quickly. We both discovered that when we take just a pinch of enzymes with a little water on an empty stomach that it appears to stimulate our brain and has an interesting effect of our bodies making us feel alert and energised. In our advanced years, and that too of our dog, it does appears to benefit us.

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About Michael Sellar

Michael Sellar is the editor of Enzyme Digest, a quarterly newsletter on nutrition and complementary medicine for health professionals. For subscriptions Tel: 0845 1300 776. He is also the proprietor of a complementary health resource for the residents of Stoke Newington in north London and interested people worldwide. He can be contacted by email at:

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