The Health Benefits of Trypsin

A Proteolytic Enzyme for the Treatment of Inflammation and Wounds

In This Article

Trypsin is one of several proteolytic enzymes that are necessary for digestion. It’s precursor (trypsinogen) is produced by the pancreas and its primary function is to digest proteins. The breakdown of proteins by trypsin starts in the small intestine as trypsinogen (the inactive form of trypsin) travels from the pancreas to the small intestine and is then converted to trypsin.

Trypsin (also sometimes referred to as a proteinase) goes to work with two other proteinases called pepsin and chymotrypsin to break down protein (from food) into amino acids. Amino acids are building blocks of protein and they are used in the body for many functions, including:

  • Producing hormones
  • Potentiating muscle growth
  • Repairing tissue (including skin, muscles, bones, cartilage, and blood)
  • Building neurotransmitters in the brain

Also Known As

Other common names for trypsin include:

  • Enzyme proteolytique
  • Proteinase
  • Proteinase
  • Proteolytic enzyme
  • Tripsin
  • Tripsina
  • Trypsine

A Shortage of Trypsin

When the body doesn’t produce enough trypsin, it can lead to a condition called malabsorption. Malabsorption is the decreased ability of the body to digest and absorb an adequate supply of nutrients.

Malabsorption from the lack of trypsin can originate from several causes, including cystic fibrosis, pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) and other conditions that impact the pancreas.

When diagnosing pancreatitis, a lab test involving measuring the trypsin level may be conducted to assess the level of trypsin in the blood or stool. Low trypsin levels in the stool can be an indication of pancreatic insufficiency from pancreatitis or cystic fibrosis (in adults).

Note: high levels of immunoreactive trypsin (IRT) in babies may indicate the presence of genes for the recessive genetic disorder, cystic fibrosis.

Benefits

There is not enough evidence to back the claims that trypsin is effective for many conditions, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Colon and rectal cancer (and other types of cancer)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Infections
  • Allergies
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Symptoms of digestive disorders (such as acid reflux)

Although many people take digestive enzymes (such as trypsin) for symptoms of digestive disorders, the evidence (from research studies) does not support the use of supplemental enzymes to treat common gastrointestinal (GI) tract conditions.

Studies

Many of the studies involving natural supplements (including trypsin) lack evidence from humans and involve animal studies, and many are older studies. Much of the recent documentation on the effectiveness of digestive enzymes (and other supplements) is based on these older/animal studies.
Trypsin supplements may possibly be effective for:

Wounds/Burns

Over-the-counter trypsin supplements are often used topically (on the skin) to help aid in wound debridement. Debridement is a common procedure aimed at helping the body slough off dead tissue so new tissue can replace it. Breaking down proteins in dead tissue is thought to be the primary mechanism of trypsin, when it comes to its wound healing properties.

Some studies have shown that chymotrypsin (a proteolytic enzyme related to trypsin) may decrease the destruction of tissue that occurs as a result of burns. A Trypsin:chymotrypsin medication has been in clinical use since 1961.

Although proteases are known to break down foreign material and damaged proteins (from dead tissue) in wounds, so that new tissue can form, too much protease activity can interfere with the normal process of new tissue formation. This can lead to the break down new tissue, before it’s fully formed.

Inflammation and Edema

There have been many older studies using oral trypsin and chymotrypsin in traumatic injury and orthopedic surgery to reduce inflammation and edema. Edema is a medical term that simply means swelling. Edema occurs as a result of leakage of small blood vessels into nearby tissues. As the excess of fluid begins to accumulate, it causes the tissue of involved body parts to swell up. Swelling occurs as a result of inflammation.

One study discovered that oral (taken by mouth) chymotrypsin may be effective in lowering the inflammation and edema resulting from fractures (such as those of the hand).

Another study reported that the administration of trypsin along with bromelain worked better than single enzymes in reducing edema (swelling) and improving healing. These experiments were chiefly done in rabbits.

Cancer

Study results on the use of trypsin to treat cancer are mixed. While some research found that trypsin could have tumor-suppressive properties (slowing down the progression of cancer), other evidence points to the possibility that trypsin may promote the spread of certain types of cancer.

In an older animal study (from 1998) involving long-term rectal administration of trypsin mixed with other enzymes (papain and chymotrypsin), antitumor effects were discovered in mice that had been administered cancer cells. The study authors concluded that “30% of the animals in the test group were reported to be cancer free [after treatment with the enzymes].

According to the study authors of a 2006 study published by the Journal of Pathology, "Trypsin is involved in colorectal carcinogenesis [cancer development in the colon and rectum] and promotes proliferation, invasion, and metastasis. Although a well-known pancreatic digestive enzyme, trypsin has also been found in other tissues and various cancers, most importantly of the colorectum. Moreover, colorectal cancers with trypsin expression have a poor prognosis and shorter disease-free survival.”

In a 2003 study published by the journal Cancer Research, 72 study subjects with stomach cancer and 49 with esophageal cancer were observed. The study authors wrote, “’Our results support the notion that trypsin plays a tumor-suppressive role in human carcinoma [cancer arising from the lining of internal organs].”

Recovery from Sports Injuries

The data from studies that investigated the effects of over-the-counter enzymes (such as trypsin) for improving muscle recovery after exercise were mixed.

One study found that in a group of 20 healthy men from age 18 to 29 protease supplements hastened the recovery time (including the length that the study subjects experienced pain and the ability of muscles to contract) after running downhill.

A double-blind randomized, placebo trial (the gold standard of studies), however, found that study participants who took either a digestive enzyme supplement or a placebo for delayed onset muscle soreness, there was no difference in the length of recovery time for the placebo group vs the proteolytic enzyme group.

Possible Side Effects

Trypsin is considered relatively safe when applied to the skin for cleaning and wound healing. But, there is not enough research data to indicate whether the enzyme is safe for use when taken orally. Although some studies have shown that trypsin in combination with other digestive enzymes did not induce any side effects, there have not been sufficient reports of trypsin (taken alone by mouth) and its safety level.

Mild side effects, such as local pain and temporary burning sensation have been noted when trypsin was applied to the skin for wound treatment.

Discomfort of the GI tract has been commonly reported from over-the-counter enzymes, taken by mouth, particularly at high doses.

There are rare reports of a severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis that were linked with oral chymotrypsin. Symptoms of anaphylaxis are considered a medical emergency, they may include:

  • Difficulty breathing or noisy breath sounds
  • Swelling of the tongue or throat
  • Constricted throat
  • Difficulty talking (hoarse voice)
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Dizziness
  • Collapse

These signs of anaphylactic shock are considered a medical emergency. If a person experiences these symptoms after taking trypsin (or any other medication or natural supplement) they should seek immediate emergency medical care.

Contraindications

A contraindication is a specific medication, treatment or other situation in which a drug, supplement or treatment should not be given because of its potential to cause harm. Often two drugs or supplements should not be taken together and/or a drug or supplement should not be used when a person has a specific condition because it could worsen it.

Contraindications (those who should not take a drug or supplement because of its potential to cause harm) for trypsin include:

  • Pregnancy (there is not enough clinical research data available to prove trypsin’s safety for pregnant women and their unborn babies).
  • Nursing mothers (there is not enough clinical research data available to prove trypsin’s safety for lactating mothers and their infants).
    Pregnant women and lactating mothers should consult with a healthcare provider before taking trypsin.
  • Children with cystic fibrosis: A rare condition called fibrosing colonopathy is thought to be linked with taking high doses of digestive enzymes. A person with cystic fibrosis should always consult with their health care provider before taking trypsin.

Dosage and Preparation

Preparation

Trypsin can be made from bacterial or fungal sources but it is most often extracted from the pancreas of pigs (called porcine trypsine).  It can also be made from other meat-producing animal sources. Most commercially sold trypsin supplements are combined with other enzymes.

Dosage

The average oral dose of trypsin is up to 50 milligrams (mg) and is most often combined with bromelain (another proteolytic enzyme).

What to Look For

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 deemed over-the-counter enzymes as dietary supplements. This means that they are exempt from being mandated to prove the safety or efficacy of their products (as opposed to prescription or over-the-counter medications). This provision is in place, provided the manufacturer does not make any claims that the product can treat, prevent or cure a disease. 

In addition, dietary supplements are not regulated by a government agency such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). What this means is that the burden of establishing safety, purity, and efficacy of a natural supplement lies with the consumer, and not the manufacturer. Because these supplements are not strictly regulated, they could have contaminants. The dose of dietary supplements may vary, depending on the manufacturer/brand. 

To help ensure that products, such as trypsin, are safe, your health care provider should always be consulted (regarding the indication, dosage, and duration) before they are taken. It’s also important to select organic products that have been certified by third-party organizations such as the U.S. Pharmacopeia, NSF International, or ConsumerLab.com. These organizations evaluate and report on a product’s level of safety, purity, and potency.

In addition, when purchasing proteolytic enzymes, such as trypsin, be sure to select a product that is enteric-coated. An enteric coating protects the supplement from being broken down and rendered inactive by the stomach acid before it reaches the small intestine where it will go to work.

Other Questions

What is the difference between trypsin and chymotrypsin?

A primary difference between the two enzymes is that they break down different amino acids. Chymotrypsin breaks down tryptophan, phenylalanine, and tyrosine. Trypsin breaks down lysine and arginine.

A Word from Verywell

Keep in mind that just because the clinical research data is lacking, this does not indicate that products do not work; it simply means that consumers should use them with caution. As more studies become available in the future, the purported benefits may become more appealing. However, it takes time, as well as many human studies to ensure the safety and efficacy of supplements across all populations (including kids, the elderly, those with medical conditions and more).

Despite the fact that the data from clinical research studies is lacking when it comes to the safety and efficacy of proteolytic enzymes (such as trypsin), many people choose to take them. Trypsin and other digestive enzymes are commonly taken to treat conditions such as digestive disorders. If you intend to try trypsin (or other enzymes) be sure to inform your health care provider (particularly if you have a health condition or are taking other supplements or medications). Also, follow the instructions on the label. Your health care provider should advise you to be aware of adverse effects and instruct you to discontinue use if you don’t see any results.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Patricia JJ, Dhamoon AS. Physiology, digestion. [Updated 2019 Jul 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan.

  2. American Association for Clinical Chemistry. Malabsorption. Updated November 11, 2019.

  3. American Association for Clinical Chemistry. Cystic fibrosis. Updated October 28, 2019.

  4. Varayil JE, Bauer BA, Hurt RT. Over the counter enzyme supplementation: What a clinician needs to know. Mayo Clin Proc. 2014;89(9):1307-1312. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2014.05.015

  5. Therapeutic Research Faculty. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Trypsin. Updated January 22, 2014.

  6. Shah D, Mital K. The role of trypsin:chymotrypsin in tissue repair. Advances in Therapy. 2018;35(1):31-42. doi:10.1007/s12325-017-0648-y

  7. Shaw PC. The use of a trypsin-chymotrypsin formulation in fractures of the hand. Br J Clin Pract. 1969 Jan 1;23(1):25-6.

  8. Ito C, Yamaguchi K, Shibutani Y, et al. Anti-inflammatory actions of proteases, bromelain, trypsin and their mixed preparation. Nihon Yakurigaku Zasshi. 1979;75(3):227-237.

  9. Yamashita K, Mimori K, Inoue H, Mori M, Sidransky D. A tumor-suppressive role for trypsin in human cancer progression. Cancer Res. 2003;63(20):6575-8.

  10. Wald M, Zavadova E, Pouckova P, Zadinova M, Boubelik M. Polyenzyme preparation Wobe-Mugos inhibits growth of solid tumors and development of experimental metastases in mice. Life Sci. 1998;62(3):PL43-PL48.

  11. Soreide K, Janssen EA, Körner H, Baak JP. Trypsin in colorectal cancer: molecular biological mechanisms of proliferation, invasion, and metastasis. The Journal of Pathology. 2006;209(2):147-56. doi:10.1002/path.1999

  12. Miller PC, Bailey SP, Barnes ME, Derr SJ, Hall EE. The effects of protease supplementation on skeletal muscle function and DOMS following downhill running. J Sports Sci. 2004;22(4):365-72. doi:10.1080/02640410310001641584

  13. Nemours Chidren's Health System. A Long-Term Prospective Observational Study of the Incidence of Fibrosing Colonopathy.

  14. Ma W, Tang C, Lai L. Specificity of trypsin and chymotrypsin: loop-motion-controlled dynamic correlation as a determinant. Biophys J. 2005;89(2):1183-93. doi:10.1529/biophysj.104.057158

Additional Reading