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Health Benefits of Proteolytic Enzymes

Beverley has a degree in Science. She's also a published author off- and online. Topics include health, food, inspiration, and religion.

Pineapples

Pineapples

What Is a Proteolytic Enzyme?

First, an enzyme is defined as a protein that catalyzes (causes and quickens) a chemical reaction. A proteolytic enzyme, also called protease, peptidase, or proteinase, facilitates the breakdown of proteins. We make proteases in our bodies that aid in digestion, but we also consume proteases. For example, cysteine proteases are abundant in pineapple, papaya, kiwifruit, fig, mango, and ginger root. Each fruit contains a different variant of cysteine protease.

Cysteine Proteases in Various Fruits

1. Pineapple (Bromelain)

Bromelain is the protease in pineapple. The largest quantity of the enzyme is found in the fruit’s core and stem. Bromelain has been studied extensively since the 1890s.

2. Papaya (Papain)

The cysteine protease in papaya is called papain. It is plentiful in the fruits as well as in the leaves of the plant. Papain was first discovered in 1873 but was not isolated and researched until some time between mid-1950s and 1960s, according to a Worthington Biochemical Corporation article.

3. Kiwifruit (Actinidin or Actinidain)

The cysteine protease in kiwifruit is actinidin or actinidain. Studies show that green kiwi has the highest quantity of the enzyme. A 2014 study published in Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology states that actinidin was first researched in the 1980s, but a 2004 article from published in World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology cites an earlier date: 1978.

4. Fig (Ficin or Ficain)

Ficin or ficain is the cysteine protease in figs. Besides the fruit, the enzyme seems to be abundant in the milky, latex-like sap found in the trunk and leaves of the plant. Studies on ficin have been published as early as 1930 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

5. Mango (Actinidin)

Mango’s cysteine protease enzymes are similar to papaya’s papain and kiwifruit’s actinidin. In fact, mango has been identified as a fruit rich in a variety of digestive enzymes, including mangiferin, katechol oxidase, and lactase. So far, a 2014 study in BioMed Research International appears to be the only in-depth study of all mango enzymes, including the proteases.

Health Benefits of Proteolytic Enzymes

Proteolytic enzymes allow us to digest proteins in our diet. As I stated earlier, our bodies make digestive enzymes, but sometimes, we need a little assistance to break apart those tightly wound, complex protein structures. Proteins need to be broken down into smaller peptides and amino acids in order to be absorbed by our bodies. Proteins are important for almost all bodily functions, including energy production and consumption, growth, and healing.

The process of protein breakdown, or proteolysis, also helps our immune and circulatory systems function at optimum capacity. So, let's see specifically how proteolytic enzymes found in fruits can benefit us.

Health Benefits of Bromelain

Extensive research on bromelain show that the enzyme has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant attributes. These attributes help relieve swelling and inflammation in muscle and joint soreness, indigestion, injury, and even after surgery.

Bromelain may also:

  • decrease bad cholesterol
  • treat respiratory infections, colitis, burns, insect bites and stings
  • balance hormones
  • normalize blood circulation
  • alleviate constipation and allergic reactions in the body

Health Benefits of Papain

Like bromelain, papain has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that aid in relieving gastrointestinal problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and stomach ulcers.

Papain may also:

  • decreases swelling, pain, fevers, cold sores
  • alleviates skin and allergy issues, such as shingles and celiac disease
  • protects our immune system
  • help fight cancer and cardiovascular concerns (more studies are needed for stronger evidence)
  • prevent food spoilage

Health Benefits of Actinidin

Actinidin gives our digestive system extremely powerful support.

Actinidin can:

  • greatly speed up the digestion of beef
  • treat ailments like bloating, constipation, IBS
  • balances the stomach’s good bacteria, particularly after disruption from antibiotic use

Health Benefits of Ficin

Ficin also acts as an antioxidant as well as an anthelmintic (to eliminate or destroy parasites), and may prevent some types of cancer. More definitive studies are needed to support the latter benefit.

In addition, ficin purified from fig tree sap is often used to manufacture the material for surgical stitches.

Health Benefits of Mango Protease Enzymes

As mentioned, mango’s cysteine proteases are similar to papain and actinidin. So, the health benefits they provide will also be similar. They are also used to relieve digestive and intestinal issues and strengthen the immune system.

Health Benefits of Zingibain

Zingibain can:

  • help increase production and secretion of natural digestive juices
  • relieve digestive ailments, including the elimination of parasites and neutralization of stomach acids
  • boost our immune system
  • reduce inflammation, swelling, pain, and fever

Can Proteolytic Enzymes be Harmful to Humans?

Yes. All fruits contain proteolytic enzymes in varying quantities. As with most things, a person can be allergic to any one or all proteolytic enzymes in a fruit.

The ficin from fig latex, for instance, can cause skin redness, blisters, and other skin irritations. Other allergic symptoms include:

  • anaphylaxis (swelling of the throat, tongue, lips, and face, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and rapid heart rate)
  • wheezing
  • sinus congestion
  • stomach irritation

You may also run into issues with drug interactions. For instance, bromelain and papain can amplify the effects of blood thinners and sedatives in your system. Pregnant and breastfeeding women and patients preparing for surgery should exercise caution with proteolytic enzymes.

Why Do Cysteine Proteases Attack Gelatin?

Gelatin is made from collagen, which is an important protein found in all animals— humans included. Its function in the body is to build our bones, muscles, blood vessels, and skin to create our form, shape, and structure.

Ligaments, tendons, and even horns of animals are boiled in water to form gelatin. Pigs and cattle are the preferred animals. The gel-like, colorless, flavorless, and water-soluble substance is then used as food thickener in many food products, including ice cream, pudding, marshmallow, yogurt, candy, jelly, and Jell-O. You'll also find that gelatin is used to coat and encapsulate our medicine, as a filler in our cosmetics, and is present in a host of other products we might not even suspect.

Since gelatin is made from collagen, a protein, proteases will break down the collagen into smaller peptides and amino acids. This prevents the collagen from congealing and taking shape. So, if you use fresh pineapple, papaya, kiwifruit, fig, mango, ginger root, or even guava in your gelatin dessert, you may find that it will not set properly.

Fruit Enzyme Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What is the protease enzyme in pineapple called?
    • Bromelain
    • Ficin
    • Kiwifruit
  2. What is the proteolytic enzyme in ginger called?
    • Papain
    • Amylase
    • Zingibain
  3. What do protease or proteolytic enzymes do?
    • Split sugar molecules apart.
    • Break down carbs into smaller carb units.
    • Break down proteins into smaller peptides or into amino acids.
  4. Do all fruits have cysteine protease enzymes?
    • Yes
    • No

Answer Key

  1. Bromelain
  2. Zingibain
  3. Break down proteins into smaller peptides or into amino acids.
  4. Yes

Disclaimer

This article is strictly for informational purposes and is not meant to diagnose or advise treatment. Consult your professional health provider before consuming anything or treating any ailment mentioned in this article.

Sources

  1. Chalabi, M., Khademi, F., Yarani, R., Mostafaie, A. Proteolytic Activities of Kiwifruit Actinidin (Actinidia deliciosa cv. Hayward) on Different Fibrous and Globular Proteins: A Comparative Study of Actinidin with Papain. Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology 172(8): 4025-4037, 2014. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12010-014-0812-7.
  2. Hossain, A, Md., Rana, M, Md., Kimura, Y., Roslan, H.A. Changes in Biochemical Characteristics and Activities of Ripening Associated Enzyme in Mango Fruit During the Storage at Different Temperatures. BioMed Research International 2014, 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/232969
  3. Robbins, B.H. A Proteolytic Enzyme in Ficin, the Anthelmintic Principle of Leche De Higueron. Journal of Biological Chemistry 87: 251-57, 1930. www.jbc.org/content/87/2/251.full.pdf.
  4. Scheve, Tom. (4 August 2008). Why do pineapple enzymes tenderize steak -- and your tongue? HowStuffWorks.com. Last accessed July 7, 2018.
  5. Thompson, E.H., Wolf, I.D., Allen, C.E. Ginger Rhizome: A New Source of Proteolytic Enzyme. Journal of Food Science 38(4): 652-55, 1973. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2621.1973.tb02836.x
  6. Yuwono, T. The Presence of Actinidin (Cysteine Protease) and Recombinant Plasmids Carrying the Actinidin Gene Influence the Growth of Saccharomyces Cerevisiae. World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology 20(5): 441-447, 2004. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/B:WIBI.0000040373.44508.cf

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.