Enzymes and Your Pancreas

One of the most frequent questions we receive is whether oral fungal-derived enzymes have an effect on our own pancreatic enzyme production. 

Our answer has generally been, "No, our enzyme supplements do not influence the production of our body’s own pancreatic enzymes".

Most studies show no effect on pancreatic enzyme production or enzyme release when volunteers take oral enzyme supplements.

One study, however, showed a slight decrease in certain pancreatic enzymes when a pancreatic enzyme was given, but the effect was only seen when taking large doses of pancreatic enzymes and was temporary. Normal pancreatic enzyme release returned within 3 days.

This study did not use fungal-derived enzyme supplements, so it may well be that the observed decrease occurs only with pancreatic enzyme supplements derived from pig or cow pancreas, not fungal-derived enzymes.

Here we want to go into some detail on the above answer.

The pancreas has two functions: 

  • Regulating blood sugar levels
  • Producing digestive enzymes

To help regulate blood sugar levels, the endocrine part of the pancreas produces the hormones insulin and glucagon. Insulin and glucagon, like most hormones, are highly regulated by feedback mechanisms. 

The exocrine part of the pancreas produces digestive enzymes. The mechanisms involved in enzyme regulation are a little more complex and seem to have several levels.  

Hormones do most of the work for activating pancreatic enzyme production. Cholecystokinin (CCK) and secretin are the two main hormones involved. 

Those enzymes are triggered by the acidic food mass emptying from the stomach. 

Cells in the first part of the small intestine detect the acid - which then triggers production of the CCK and secretin - which then stimulate secretion of the enzymes. 

Secretion of enzymes is different from production of enzymes, however. 

The digestive enzymes are continuously produced by the pancreas and stored in the pancreatic duct. The CCK and secretin hormones trigger the duct to convulse and push out the stored enzymes. 

However, there are some researchers who maintain that digestive enzymes, once released from the pancreas, can affect the pancreas’s production of enzymes. This is based on research showing that if you place an inhibitor of the pancreatic enzyme trypsin in the small intestine, you see an increase in pancreatic enzyme output. 

A Polish study in 2003 stated that high doses of animal-derived pancreatic enzyme supplements decreased production of the pancreatic enzyme elastase, but actually increased the enzyme chymotrypsin. 

The results were reversible: stopping the enzymes caused levels to return to normal. Only protease enzyme (for proteins) was affected, not carbohydrase (for carbs) or lipase (for fat) enzymes. 

This only occurred at the highest dosing level used. A Swiss study in 1998 stated no changes occurred.

So a bit of controversy remains, but there is evidence that the presence of certain animal-derived enzymes for proteins in the upper gastrointestinal tract can reduce certain enzymes produced by the human pancreas. 

Most researchers (as we) think the enzyme effect from animal-derived enzymes taken by mouth is indirect, possibly caused by production of gastric protein fragments that could stimulate CCK and secretin production.

However, no study has been performed using fungal-derived enzyme supplements to assess the effect on the human pancreatic enzyme output. 

Note that we emphasized the word “pancreatic” in the last paragraph. Pancreatic enzymes taken orally are from pig or cow and are very similar in structure to your body’s own pancreatic enzymes. 

The fungal-derived and plant-derived enzymes you find in supplements, however, are much different in structure than the enzymes derived from cow or pig pancreas. 

Because of this difference in structure, we don't believe the fungal-derived enzymes in supplements would work as regulators of our own pancreatic enzyme production. 

The enzymes used in a supplement would have to be similar in structure to a human’s own pancreatic enzyme known as trypsin. Fungal-derived enzymes are quite different from trypsin.

We want to assure our customers that the bulk of the research indicates that no effect on pancreatic enzyme output occurs with fungal-derived enzymes. 

While we never say "never" when it comes to research, we feel the data presented is applicable only to high doses of oral animal-derived pancreatic enzyme supplements, and not to microbial, fungal-derived or fruit-derived enzyme supplements.