What Is Trypsin?

A Proteolytic Enzyme for the Treatment of Inflammation and Wounds

Trypsin is one of several proteolytic enzymes that helps with digestion. Trypsin begins as an inactive form called trypsinogen, which is made in the pancreas. It is then secreted into the small intestine where it is converted to trypsin.

Trypsin, which is also 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, or chemical messengers, in the brain

Also Known As

Other common names for trypsin include:

  • Proteinase
  • Proteolytic enzyme
  • Tripsin
  • Tripsina
  • Trypsine
trypsin
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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, or an inherited and life threatening condition that impacts the lungs and digestive tract
  • Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas
  • Other conditions that impact the pancreas

Diagnosis

A lab test may be conducted to assess the level of trypsin in the blood or stool. 

  • In adults, low trypsin levels in the stool can be an indication of pancreatic insufficiency from pancreatitis or cystic fibrosis.
  • High levels of immunoreactive trypsin (IRT) in babies may indicate the presence of genes for cystic fibrosis.

What Is Trypsin Used For?

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, research does not support the use of supplemental enzymes to treat common gastrointestinal (GI) tract conditions.

Trypsin Studies

Many of the studies involving trypsin are older, lack evidence from humans, and involve animal studies. Much of the recent documentation on the effectiveness of digestive enzymes is based on these older animal studies.

Wounds/Burns

Over-the-counter trypsin supplements are often used topically, or on the skin, to help aid in wound debridement. This 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.

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, too much protease activity can interfere with the normal process of new tissue formation. This can lead to the break down of 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, or swelling. 

  • One study discovered that chymotrypsin taken by mouth 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 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 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, with 30% being cancer free. 
  • According to a 2006 study trypsin may be involved in cancer development in the colon and rectum. Colorectal cancers with trypsin expression tend to lead to a poor prognosis and a shorter period of 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 suggested that trypsin may slow down the progression of carcinoma, or cancer that starts in the lining of 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 assigned males 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, however, found that study participants who took either a digestive enzyme supplement or a placebo for delayed onset muscle soreness, had no difference in the length of recovery time.

Possible Side Effects of Trypsin

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. 

  • 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. Anaphylactic shock is considered a medical emergency.

Signs of Anaphylactic Shock

Seek emergency medical care if you experience the following symptoms after taking trypsin:

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

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 for trypsin include:

  • Pregnancy, as there is not enough clinical research data available to prove trypsin’s safety for pregnant individuals
  • Nursing individuals, as there is not enough clinical research data available to prove trypsin’s safety for lactating individuals and their infants
  • Children with cystic fibrosis, as a rare condition called fibrosing colonopathy is thought to be linked with taking high doses of digestive enzymes

Always consult with your healthcare provider before taking trypsin.

Dosage and 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.

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

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 healthcare provider should always be consulted regarding the indication, dosage, and duration before they are taken. 
  • 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.
  • 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.

A Word From Verywell

Despite the fact that the data from clinical research studies is lacking when it comes to the safety and efficacy of trypsin, many people choose to take these supplements. 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 healthcare provider, especially if you have a health condition or are taking other supplements or medications. Also, follow the instructions on the label. Your healthcare provider should advise you to be aware of adverse effects and instruct you to discontinue use if you don’t see any results.

Frequently Asked 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.

  • What does a trypsin inhibitor do?

    A trypsin inhibitor blocks or reduces the action of trypsin.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Association for Clinical Chemistry. Cystic fibrosis.

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  4. Therapeutic Research Faculty. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Trypsin.

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  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

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  10. 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

  11. 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

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

  13. Cristina Oliveira de Lima V, Piuvezam G, Leal Lima Maciel B, Heloneida de Araújo Morais A. Trypsin inhibitors: promising candidate satietogenic proteins as complementary treatment for obesity and metabolic disorders?J Enzyme Inhib Med Chem. 2019;34(1):405-419. doi:10.1080/14756366.2018.1542387

Additional Reading

By Sherry Christiansen
Sherry Christiansen is a medical writer with a healthcare background. She has worked in the hospital setting and collaborated on Alzheimer's research.