April 10, 2021

A variety of supplements and tablets against a white background

In the past few years, over-the-counter enzyme supplements have become increasingly common for treating pancreatic insufficiency. That’s not all, though. People also use these supplements to manage other health problems. What is the usual fate of orally ingested enzyme supplements, though?

Are these OTC medications as effective as advertised? Or are they doing you more harm than good? Read on as we discuss how over-the-counter enzyme supplements work, their efficacy, and whether they have adverse side-effects.

What Are Over-the-Counter Enzyme Supplements?

According to The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act 1994, OTC enzymes are dietary supplements. Clinicians may prescribe these enzyme products for treating pancreatic insufficiency.

Pancreatic insufficiency occurs when your pancreas is unable to produce adequate amounts of digestive enzymes. For instance, you may use these products if you have pancreatic amylase, protease, and pancrelipase insufficiency.

What Is the Usual Fate of Orally Ingested Enzyme Supplements?

Understanding what is the usual fate of orally ingested enzyme supplements is critical to determining their usefulness.

On the face of it, the use of orally ingested enzyme supplements may sound perfectly fine. However, their effectiveness comes into question when you consider their ability to survive in the highly acidic environment of your stomach. In all likelihood, these enzymes degrade in the stomach.  

Other gastrointestinal proteases may also digest these enzymes. However, there is evidence available that suggests otherwise. According to a study, researchers were able to detect un-degraded protein in the plasma of volunteers after they had orally ingested enzyme supplements.

This indicates that these enzymes did not degrade in the stomach and were absorbed in the bloodstream.

Research also suggests that pH-sensitive enteric-coated pancreatic enzymes may not have a significant impact on digestion on their own. According to a study, when you orally administer pH-sensitive enteric-coated pancreatic enzymes, they only reduce fecal fat excretion by 43%.

Interestingly, if you mix conventional enzyme preparations with pH-sensitive enteric-coated pancreatic enzymes, the overall efficacy of enzyme supplements can improve. These enzyme preparations do not carry a protective coating. Together, they can be useful for patients with pancreatic insufficiency.

Thus, we can assume that over-the-counter enzymes do have some effect. However, it may not be as efficient as presumed.  

Are OTC Enzyme Supplements Dangerous?

Using a knife and fork to slice open a capsule on a plate carrying pills

Besides knowing what is the usual fate of orally ingested enzyme supplements, it is also important to understand if these enzyme products are dangerous. You see, people don’t just use OTC enzymes for treating pancreatic insufficiency.

Many manufacturers also sell other enzyme supplements to consumers for other purposes. They suggest these enzymes are effective for a wide range of health problems.

For instance, some OTC enzymes may serve as a potential treatment for inflammatory diseases, allergies, burns, multiple sclerosis, or cancer. However, there is little evidence available to back these claims.

Some of the most popular OTC enzyme supplements include trypsin, papain, bromelain, and trypsin.

You can derive many of these enzymes from plants. Let’s review what you can use them for and their potential side-effects.


Bromelain is a type of proteolytic enzymes. You can extract it from the stem and fruit of pineapples. People use bromelain along with trypsin and rutin to manage the symptoms of osteoarthritis.

However, Bromelain also has potential side-effects. These include diarrhea, gastrointestinal cramping, and allergic reactions. Bromelain can also have potential drug interactions. It can interact with anti-platelet or anticoagulant drugs. It can also have a moderate interaction with amoxicillin.

You can use amoxicillin as an antibiotic to treat bacterial infections. These include urinary tract infections, chest infections, and dental abscesses. If your doctor has prescribed amoxicillin for the treatment of an infection, it’s important you ask them if you can use Bromelain.


Trypsin is another proteolytic enzyme. Manufacturers derive it from fungal, bacterial, or porcine-based sources. Manufacturers advertise it as a potential treatment for diabetes, colon cancer, rectal cancer, osteoarthritis, allergies, etc. People may also recommend trypsin for improved healing.

However, it can cause side-effects such as transient pain and burning sensations.


Papain is a plant-based enzyme. You can derive it from papaya. Most people commonly use it as a meat tenderizer. However, you may also use papain to treat throat inflammation, heal wounds, and reduce muscle soreness.  

Using this over-the-counter enzyme can have adverse side-effects. It can cause allergic reactions and gastritis. Most prominently, it may lead to esophageal perforation.


Chymotrypsin is another popular enzyme that is orally ingested. People use it to reduce inflammation and swelling commonly associated with abscesses. You may also consider using it to treat inflammation due to ulcers, trauma, or surgery.

Once again, there is a lack of strong scientific evidence regarding its efficacy. The side-effects of chymotrypsin include causing an anaphylactic reaction in users. This happens in very rare cases.  

To the uninitiated, an anaphylactic reaction is a very serious and rapid allergic reaction that can potentially cause death.

You may experience symptoms such as an itchy rash, tongue swelling, vomiting, low blood pressure, or shortness of breath. These symptoms usually occur within minutes and can last for hours.

If you experience any of these symptoms after taking chymotrypsin, we recommend seeking medical help immediately.

Wrapping It Up

A hand holding supplements

If you suffer from pancreatic insufficiency, your physician may recommend pancreatic enzyme preparations. However, being aware of what is the usual fate of orally ingested enzyme supplements can help you determine whether this form of treatment is helpful for you.

We also recommend avoiding other over-the-counter enzyme supplements such as papain, trypsin, bromelain, and chymotrypsin. These enzymes promise to cure a variety of ailments, but the scientific research for this is lacking.

Moreover, they also cause dangerous side-effects in users. We suggest talking to a physician if you are using these enzymes. Given your medical history, they will be able to guide you better.

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