Many of you know I had surgery 2 weeks ago to remove varicose veins in my leg. The pain, bruising and swelling were of epic proportions but they are subsiding slowly. As a very active and busy person it has been very difficult for me to exercise patience to allow my body to heal at its own pace.
This week I decided to do some research on supplements to help my leg heal faster. As expected, I found that a good multivitamin and plenty of protein are essential for healing. However, I was surprised to find evidence of efficacy of a certain type of supplements for soft tissue injuries.
Proteolytic enzymes are chemically active protein substances that act to break down other proteins. Those who remember their Biology 101 will remember that enzymes are proteins that make chemical reactions happen faster than they would on their own.
Why are proteolytic enzymes helpful in wound healing and in repairing other types of tissue damage? Well blood is protein, and in order to get all the blood broken down and cleaned up by macrophages in the tissues you need enzymes to break down the hemoglobin and other blood proteins.
Those familiar with Chip and Joanna Gaines on the show “Fixer Upper” will remember Chip’s joy on Demo Day. The first part of a major remodel is breaking up and taking out the cabinets, appliances, drywall and other bits and pieces that need to be gotten rid of. The first step in healing a soft tissue injury is a similar process to Demo Day. Damaged proteins like collagen and hemoglobin must be cleaned up in order to make way for new healthy proteins to be put in place.
So what’s the evidence that proteolytic enzymes are helpful for soft tissue healing? I found articles published in the 1960s that showed supplementing with proteolytic enzymes produced remarkable healing of athletic injuries from a wide variety of sports. There is more recent evidence too.
- In 2009 researchers showed that a protease preparation containing fungal enzymes, papain and bromelain made a significant difference in muscle strength recovery after running downhill for 45 minutes.
- It was also shown that protease supplementation (containing bromelain, papain, trypsin, chymotrypsin and several other enzymes) improved recovery of leg muscle strength and soreness after running downhill.
- A small study showed statistically significant improvement in fatigue and markers of muscle damage and inflammation with supplementation of bromelain in competitive bicycle racers.
- A list of surgically relevant herbal preparations listed bromelain as helpful in accelerating wound healing.
- A very extensive discussion of the effect of supplements on surgical wound healing mentions bromelain as effective at reducing swelling, pain and healing time.
To summarize, if you have a sports injury or a surgical wound, it would be reasonable and safe to add a proteolytic enzyme supplement to reduce swelling, bruising and time to heal the injury. Make sure anything you choose contains bromelain because it seems to have the best research data to support its use. As always, be sure to tell your surgeon what supplements you take or are planning to take that may affect your surgery.
Before you ask, yes, I started taking a supplement containing bromelain (among other enzymes) a few days ago. And I’m taking some research articles to my follow up appointment with my surgeon for him to review! I wish I had known about bromelain before my surgery, I might have had less pain and swelling to deal with.
QUESTION: Are you surprised that taking enzymes orally helps healing injuries and surgical wounds? Would you take them yourself?