Trypsin is an enzyme that helps us digest protein. In the small intestine, trypsin breaks down proteins, continuing the process of digestion that began in the stomach. It may also be referred to as a proteolytic enzyme, or proteinase.
Trypsin is produced by the pancreas in an inactive form called trypsinogen. The trypsinogen enters the small intestine through the common bile duct and is converted to active trypsin.
This active trypsin acts with the other two principal digestive proteinases — pepsin and chymotrypsin — to break down dietary protein into peptides and amino acids. These amino acids are essential for muscle growth, hormone production and other important bodily functions.
If your pancreas doesn’t produce enough trypsin, you can experience a digestive issue called malabsorption — the decreased ability to digest or absorb nutrients from food. In time, malabsorption will cause deficiencies in essential nutrients, which can lead to malnutrition and anemia.
Doctors will check the level of trypsin in your blood as a test to diagnose pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that can cause:
Although mild cases have been known to go away in a few days without treatment, severe cases can cause serious complications, including infection and kidney failure, that can lead to death.
Doctors also check for the of amounts of trypsin and chymotrypsin that appear in the blood and stool. In babies, high amounts of these enzymes in the blood are an indicator of the recessive genetic disorder cystic fibrosis. In adults, low amounts of trypsin and chymotrypsin in the stool are an indicator of cystic fibrosis and pancreatic diseases, such as pancreatitis.
More research is being conducted on trypsin as it relates to cancer. While some research indicates trypsin may have a tumor-suppressive role in cancer progression, other research shows that trypsin promotes proliferation, invasion, and metastasis in various cancers.
These differing conclusions may be explained by where the enzyme originates.
Trypsin as a healing agent
There are people who advocate using trypsin for direct application to wounds — including mouth ulcers — suggesting that it removes dead tissue and promotes healthy tissue growth.
There are a variety of supplements available containing trypsin that don’t require a prescription from a doctor. Most of these supplements combine trypsin — typically extracted from the pancreas of meat-producing animals — in various dosages with other enzymes. Some of the uses of these supplements include:
- treating indigestion
- reducing pain and inflammation from osteoarthritis
- promoting recovery from sports injuries
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t approve dietary supplements. Before you make a decision about taking a supplement, consult with your doctor.
Trypsin is an enzyme that is essential for your body to digest protein, a critical component for building and repairing tissue including bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. When combined with chymotrypsin, trypsin can help in injury recovery.
Measuring the amount of trypsin in your body can help identify healthy problems such as pancreatitis and cystic fibrosis. There is ongoing study to determine the role of trypsin in regard to supporting or attacking cancerous tumors.