Serrapeptase, an enzyme found in intestines of silk worms is up for question: can it relieve pain and enhance cardiovascular health or is it another “natural” remedy for problems that, in reality, need pharmaceuticals for health and healing? Proponents of herbal and natural supplements are convinced that serrapeptase is a safe and effective way to treat a variety of ailments while the opposite point of view tells us that while the enzyme may be innocuous—in which case it would not help something as serious a heart disease—it might also create problems of its own. The answer lies somewhere between the two extremes.
What exactly is serrapeptase and why is it even considered to have health benefits? Serrapeptase is a proteolytic enzyme—meaning it has the ability to digest proteins—produced by bacteria in the gut of silk worms as has been noted. The worm uses the enzyme to dissolve its protective cocoon so it may emerge as an adult butterfly. It is, indeed, a powerful enzyme that led researchers to conclude that the same qualities at work on the cocoon may make it effective in dissolving unwanted tissue in the human body. The depletion of the worm population led to production of serrapeptase from the fermentation of enterobacteria (Serratia E15), now available in caplet form.
One of the main benefits of serrapeptase that has been cited is the breaking down or dissolving of protein by-products of blood coagulation called fibrin or, more commonly, plaque. In small studies, it appears serrapeptase might be able to accomplish this without causing harm to lining of arteries. This, of course has implications for preventing atherosclerosis or “hardening of the arteries,” one of the factors in causing heart attack and stroke.
In following this line of reasoning, it seems possible that serrapeptase would have the ability to dissolve other unwanted or dangerous non-living tissue like blood clots including conditions such as thrombosis (clots in the legs), scar tissue, mucous membrane and cysts. Another condition that might benefit from this characteristic is fibrosis, or the development of excess fibrous connective tissue in response to injury or damage. An example is pulmonary fibrosis or the scarring that occurs from various lung diseases which, of course affects air flow or breathing. It should be noted in all these cases, more controlled studies on larger subject groups need to be performed in order to arrive at conclusive results. So far much of the evidence supporting cardiovascular benefits, for example, is anecdotal. However, it should be noted that Health Canada has granted serrapeptase a Natural Product Number (or NPN—look for it on the bottle) which means it has been assessed and found it to be “safe, effective and of high quality.”
Another area serrapeptase has shown some promise is as an analgesic. It has been pegged as an anti-inflammatory substance which explains in part its ability to alleviate pain. In addition, serrapeptase may help reduce pain by inhibiting the release of pain-inducing amines called bradykinin. There have been suggestions that serrapeptase may be as effective as common pharmaceutical analgesics such as aspirin or opiates where side effects such as stomach ulcers, or liver and kidney impairment may result when ingested over a long period of time. If serrapeptase is effective as a pain reliever, it could be used in many medical conditions where pain is involved.
Inflammation an immune response
As an anti-inflammatory, serrapeptase might have the potential of mitigating effects of diseases linked to inflammation of joints and tissues such as sinusitis (clearing sinus cavities clogged with mucous), rheumatoid arthritis, some types of cancer, Alzheimer's, type 2 diabetes and certain allergies. It should be noted that inflammation is an immune response to fight off infection and help repair tissue damage. It is only when it becomes chronic that it is a problem. The first course of action to prevent chronic inflammation is exercise, hydration and a diet high in fruits and vegetables, fish (for omega-3 fatty acids), seeds and nuts.
Since the last word on the efficacy of serrapeptase is not in, is it safe to ingest when one is seeking a pain reliever, or help in preventing cardiovascular problems or chronic inflammation? One should recognize serrapeptase is safe for most people in correct dosages; in other words it is important to follow recommendations on the labels. The potency of the caplets is usually measured in units reflecting enzyme activity, ranging from 20,000 to 120,000 IU (international units).
As with most substances one ingests, there is potential for side effects. While they are rare, some that have been noted are minor aches and pains, allergic skin reactions and gastrointestinal irritation. If you have any doubts about ingesting serrapeptase, consult your physician.
This column is sponsored by Good 'N' Natural in Steinbach.