Rochester, Minn. — Enzyme supplements available without a prescription are becoming increasingly popular, but should everyone add them to their shopping list? Brent Bauer, M.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program, is co-author of a new paper in the medical journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings on the pros and cons of over-the-counter enzymes. Here, Dr. Bauer answers some common questions about these dietary supplements:
What’s the issue?
Dr. Bauer: “They’ve become so popular. Like so many dietary supplements, patients are looking for something to help their health, so they’re reading about over-the-counter enzymes as one of those many dietary supplements, and all of a sudden we’re seeing sales go through the roof. A huge challenge with dietary supplements is that most haven’t been tested as most drugs are. We have a lot of information, but we don’t have definitive information. So our patients hear a lot of positive things, but they do not always hear the negatives or the side effects. So we’re trying to be very evidence-based. We don’t want to say no, there’s no reason to ever take an over-the-counter enzyme. By the same token, we don’t want to just rush out and buy it because we heard somebody say something positive on TV.”
What are some of the reasons people take enzyme supplements?
Dr. Bauer: “We have a lot of natural enzymes in our bodies. They help us digest food. There are clearly medical reasons to use enzymes. If a patient’s pancreas isn’t working, for example, that patient may need to take a medically prescribed enzyme supplement. That’s a little different story from a healthy person who wants to use over-the-counter bromelain, or papain — the enzymes that come from the pineapple and the papaya — or trypsin, or chymotrypsin.