Protease - The Enzyme that Makes Protein & Amino Acids Tick
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Protease - The Enzyme that Makes Protein & Amino Acids Tick

Dr. Josh Axe — Food is Medicine
Sep 26, 2018

Research suggests that proteases found in some foods, like papaya, are able to bind to cancer-causing toxins in the colon, keeping them away from healthy colon cells. According to research published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, protease enzymes are involved in the degradation of cancer invasion and metastasis.

Maybe we don’t give enzymes enough credit. They are required for literally every single chemical action that takes place in our bodies — from digestion to immune function and blood flow. We are able to see, think and breathe because of protease. What are proteases? They’re enzymes that allow for the breakdown of proteins in the body.

Because of this, proteolytic enzymes are at the cutting edge of biological research, and they have become a major focus for the pharmaceutical industry. According to a scientific review published in the Biochemical Journal, “although the predominant use of proteases has been in treating cardiovascular disease, they are also emerging as useful agents in the treatment of sepsis, digestive disorders, inflammation, cystic fibrosis, retinal disorders, psoriasis and other diseases.” (1)

But what exactly does protease do, and why are proteases so essential for our overall health? These are complex enzymes and researchers are still learning about their role in the human body, but hopefully I can help you to understand their importance.

What Is Protease? Protease Definition and Role in Body

Proteases have been called biology’s version of Swiss army knives, able to cut long sequences of proteins into fragments. A protease is an enzyme that breaks the long, chainlike molecules of proteins so they can be digested. This process is called proteolysis, and it turns protein molecules into shorter fragments, called peptides, and eventually into their components, called amino acids. We need a steady supply of amino acids for proper growth and repair. (2)

Proteins start as a tough, complex, folded structure, and they can only be broken down or disassembled with protease enzymes. The process of digesting proteins starts in the stomach, where hydrochloric acid unfolds the proteins and the enzyme pepsin begins to disassemble them. The pancreas releases protease enzymes (primarily trypsin), and in the intestines, they break protein chains apart into smaller pieces. Then enzymes on the surface and inside of intestinal cells break the pieces down even further, so they become amino acids that are ready for use throughout the body.

When these protease enzymes aren’t present in the body to break down protein molecules, the intestinal lining would not be able to digest them, which can lead to some serious health issues.

Proteases are produced by the pancreas, and they are also found in some fruits, bacteria and other microbes. The digestive tract produces three different forms of protease in our digestive tracts: trypsinogen, chymotrypsinogen and procarboxypeptidase. These three proteases attack different peptide linkages to allow for the generation of amino acids, the building blocks of protein.

What does protease do? Everything! These enzymes allow for the proper function of our digestive and immune systems, kidneys, liver, spleen, pancreas, and bloodstream. Protease plays a part in regulating metabolic function, and it allows for the vitamins and minerals we ingest to work properly. And, on top of that, proteases are needed for hormones to function properly and encourage muscle recovery and tissue healing.

Types of Proteases

Protease enzymes are often classified based on their origins. Some proteases are produced in our bodies, some come from plants and others have a microbial origin. Different types of proteases have different biological processes and mechanisms. (3)

Our digestive systems naturally produce three types of proteases…

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