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Your immune system rivals the brain and nervous system in complexity. This network of specialized cells and organs has evolved over eons of time as your body’s defense against attacks by “foreign” invaders such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites, as well as possessing the ability to eliminate diseased and damaged cells. But when your immune system becomes dysfunctional, many diseases, such as allergies, chronic fatigue syndrome, and lupus can take over.

In addition, researchers have recently discovered that the immune system is critical to maintaining a healthy inflammation response—and researchers note that high levels of inflammation are linked with an increased risk for cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.

The immune system maintains a balanced inflammation response through its release of cytokines. As messengers of the body, cytokines are any of several regulatory proteins such as interleukins, lymphokines and growth factors that are released by cells of the immune system, and act as intercellular mediators in the generation of an immune response. Cytokines mediate the body’s repair processes and can induce immune and immune-related cells into frenzy or quiet them. To bring information, cytokines do not enter the cell, but deliver the information via special receptors (specific for each cytokine) on the cell surface (see figure one).

When cellular cytokine production is balanced, the immune system works extremely well. But when cytokines are overabundant, the body’s inflammation response is widespread and chronic, scarring cellular repair processes within the body’s arteries and organs such as the kidneys and liver, which lead to cirrhosis, fibrosis and sclerosis, and various age-related health maladies.


In 2001, a team of scientists and I discovered that enzyme therapy reduced cytokine overproduction in the blood of patients suffering from different acute and chronic inflammations, but they did not influence the small cytokine concentration in the blood of healthy subjects. The study, published in the July 2001 issue of Cancer Chemotherapeutics and Pharmacology, noted that the nutritional enzymes papain, bromelain, trypsin, and chymotrypsin have been shown to be beneficial in clinical settings such as radiotherapyinduced fibrosis, bleomycin pneumotoxicity and immunosuppression in cancer, all of which are now known to be accompanied by excessive cytokine activity. Much of this activity is a result of the overproduction of transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta)—a type of cytokine associated with cancer, diabetes, and other inflammation- and immune-mediated diseases.

Until now, about 120 different cytokines have been identified and described. They generally act over short distances and at very low concentrations. They do not last long in the blood and are produced anew each time in response to an immune stimulus. In a healthy stable organism, the cytokines roam freely in very small concentrations in the blood vessels and tissues and the production of new cytokines is also quite small. This situation changes dramatically during trauma, for example sports-related injury, an infection, or in the presence of diseased cells and damaged tissues.

Unfortunately, this problem can become ongoing in the human body due to modern pollution, poor diet, medical drugs, lifestyle such as smoking or drinking, aging, and emotional stress. During such times, the organism starts to produce huge amounts of specific inflammation-related cytokines—many more than can be attached to the receptors. This process causes surrounding cells to participate in fighting against the microorganism, removing dead or degraded cells, and cleanse the blood. However, instead of ending, the inflammatory response progresses. When the immune system remains in a state of cytokine overproduction, the demands on the body become extraordinary. Unfortunately, the modern body is not up to the task of quieting this damaging immune response. Why? According to experts the reason is simple: we don’t receive adequate enzymes anymore from our diet. Enzymes are available in our fresh nutrition only in small concentrations, and like some vitamins, that are destroyed by prolonged shelf life. Enzymes are heat unstable proteins and therefore are destroyed by cooking. Together with the reduced age-related reduction in absorption capacity of our intestine, we become progressively enzyme deficient.

Enzyme deficiency is not as obvious as vitamin deficiency and until now we were not able to detect this defect as early as necessary or even really recognize it as a distinct condition. However, enzyme deficiency can be found in a great number of people. Raw, fermented and lightly cooked foods are enzyme rich, but, unfortunately, most people eat very little raw or fermented foods. Instead, most of us consume highly processed foods devoid of beneficial enzyme activity. Even if we consumed far more amounts of raw and fermented foods, our diet alone would still not compensate for the extreme environmental stress of modern living, including side effects from prescription medications, lack of sleep, job-related stress, and other lifestyle habits which stimulate cytokine production. Thus, supplemental systemic enzymes are necessary to daily health.


To prevent these cytokines from building up and migrating to other locations into the body, where they could do harm and cause inflammatory havoc, the blood contains large amounts of “cytokinecatchers.” Systemic enzymes transform an ordinary molecule into a super cytokine catcher. One of the most prominent enzyme-catchers in our blood is a large molecule known as alpha-2 macroglobulin (a2M) with high concentrations of 2.5 grams to 4 grams per liter of blood. Alpha-2 macroglobulin normally exists in an inactive form (slow form). However, when a2M meets an enzyme (protease) in the blood it binds the enzyme and that binding transforms it into the fast- or active form (see figure 2). Interestingly, the a2M molecule not only binds to enzymes, it preferentially does so to enzymes derived from the outside the body (such as from our diet or supplemental systemic enzymes), especially bromelain, papain, pancreatin, subtilisin, and nattokinase. The “fast” or activated form of a2M is able to produce receptors to bind different cytokines and growth factors. Until now, 13 different cytokines has been shown to bind to the activated fast form a2M molecule.

Why is it so important to remove excess cytokines from the body? Too many cytokines of all kinds deliver confusing and false information. Too many jeopardize the inflammatory process and it cannot find an end. Progression will continue and the disease will become chronic. The common denominator of all chronic inflammatory processes is an extremely elevated concentration of the immune system’s cytokines in the patient’s blood. Therapies to reduce these overproduced cytokines include anti-tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) therapy in rheumatoid arthritis or antitransforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) therapy in cancer patients are successfully used in a pharmaceutical approach but are accompanied with considerable side effects. Supplemental systemic oral enzymes, however, have been shown to outperform these medications in published and peer reviewed clinical studies. How is this? The answer is astonishingly simple. During inflammation we have:
* Non-activated a2M
* Too many cytokines
* Inadequate enzymes in the blood


The knowledge about the connection between enzyme deficiency and chronic inflammatory diseases is still rather new, filtered out by scientists only in the last decade. Low enzyme concentration in our diets leads to enzyme deficiency, which favors the development of diseases like chronic infection, chronic inflammation, fibrosis and immune dysfunction.

We need proteolytic enzymes in our blood to reduce the excess cytokine production during inflammation. A quality-manufactured systemic oral enzyme formula elevates the concentration of enzymes in the blood and subsequently the concentration of activated alpha2macroglobulin in the blood also rises. This was reported in the 2001 report in Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharamcology, which also showed how enzyme-activated alpha-2 macroglobulin supported the clearance of cytokines during inflammation.


Many people take supplemental systemic oral enzymes for immune health maintenance and to maintain low-normal inflammation response. In this sense, their use of supplemental systemic enzymes can complement or replace a daily baby aspirin, which many doctors recommend as a means of reducing the body’s inflammation response. Studies have indicated that supplemental systemic enzymes are safer than aspirin.

To demonstrate that enzymes reduce inflammation levels, doctors use a test called high sensitivity C-Reactive Protein or CRP, which can be covered by most health insurance policies. It is now thought that even high-normal CRP levels mean a highly increased risk for heart disease. Systemic oral enzymes have been reported to reduce the body’s CRP levels, indicating that they help to maintain a low to normal inflammation response.

Individual Dosing

Enzyme molecules are absorbed by the intestines through the use of special transport mechanisms. This active performance by the intestinal cells is highly dependent on individual factors and on the actual conditions in the intestines of the individual. Suggested dosages can therefore only represent rough guidelines. Initially, the enzyme dosage should be relatively high and subsequently reduced step by step until the individual maintenance dose has been reached. In order to obtain the optimal level of enzyme concentration throughout the day, the recommended dosage is three tablets two times a day. The exception to this would be highly painful acute conditions such as following sports injuries, in which case a massive-dose therapy protocol of 15 to 20 tablets several times daily is indicated. Administration should be carried out one hour before or at least two hours after a meal. It is important the enzyme preparation always be taken with a sufficient amount of water (at least one eight-ounce glass). The usual maintenance dose is three tablets two times daily. However, many doctors experienced with enzymes find that their patients receive even better results with dosages of five to ten tablets three times daily.

Dr. Lucia Desser is a Ph.D. from the University of Vienna, Austria.

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