Should You Take Enzyme Supplements?

What You Need to Know: Enzyme supplements available without a prescription are becoming increasingly popular, but should you add them to your shopping list? For most of these over-the-counter enzymes, the risks are minimal (unless you are taking super high doses).

Background: As is the case with many dietary supplements, sales of enzyme supplements are growing rapidly. Yet, most dietary supplements have not been well-tested., so we don’t have a lot of definitive information.

We have many natural enzymes in our bodies. They can help us to digest food. Thus, some individuals use take these supplements. Others point to the anti-inflammatory effects of enzymes, and try them for osteoarthritis. In addition, there is a long history of them being used for alleged anti-cancer effects. Unfortunately, we don’t have evidence to guide us in making recommendations regarding enzyme use. But what about side effects? Here’s the view of the director of the Mayp Clinic Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program, Dr. Brent Bauer, MD:

Most over-the-counter enzymes (unless you are taking them in very high doses) have risks that are pretty minimal. Some people will get gastrointestinal upset or irritation. And when I use them with patients, I try to do it in a short trial period of 2 to 3 weeks. If you notice a big improvement, that doesn’t mean it works, but it means maybe for you, it is something you might want to continue with. If not, don’t just keep taking more and hoping for something magical to happen.

Who Shouldn’t Take Enzymes?¬†The enzyme from pineapple (bromeliad) may have anti-platelet activity, and theoretically could increase the risk for bleeding. For children with cystic fibrosis, there have been a couple of bad adverse reactions where prescriptions enzymes have led to a bad colon condition called fibrosing colonopathy.

How Can You Judge Advertising Claims? If the headline blares “Use our enzymes, we can help prevent cancer,” there probably is hype. Step back and ask whether it is worth the investment of money. Then do a bit of research. You may want to consult a natural medicine practitioner or other valued¬†health care provider to get a better sense of the risks and any potential interactions with medicines you are already taking.

I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

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Reference: Mayo Clinic. “Should you add enzyme supplements to your shopping list? Expret explains pros, cons.” ScienceDaily, 4 August 2014. <>

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Harvard AB Yale MD UPenn Radiation Oncology Radiation Oncologist, Seattle area

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