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claims to boost the immune system and ease arthritis pain
The catch: It doesn't, a
Woolston, Special to The Times
Vitalzym has an enzyme found in pineapple.
Can the pill ease pain or boost immunity? Doctors doubt it. (LAT)
The product: A
body without enzymes would be like a computer without silicon. You just
can't run without them. These, after all, are the special proteins that
help drive just about every chemical reaction in the body. They let us
breathe, think, fight infections, digest food — things you want to do
on a daily basis.
Through most of human history, we had to
rely on our own bodies to make our enzymes. But now there's another
option: Vitalzym, a supplement produced by World Nutrition Inc.
According to the company's website, Vitalzym "provides the enzymes
needed for each of the millions of biochemical reactions that make life
are many enzyme products on the market, but Vitalzym, the company
explains, offers a "proprietary" blend found nowhere else. One of the
main ingredients is serrapeptase, a protein-digesting or "proteolytic"
enzyme that was originally found in the digestive tract of silkworms.
Other ingredients include lipase, a common enzyme that helps digest
fat, and bromelain, a proteolytic enzyme found in pineapples.
of Vitalzym costs nearly $160. Taken as directed, it will last about
The claims: Tom Miano, World Nutrition's
vice president of sales and marketing, declined to comment on Vitalzym,
but there's no shortage of claims on the company's website. We are told
that the supplement cleans the blood, boosts the immune system and
eases the pain and inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis. Some
alternative health websites also claim that enzymes in Vitalzym and
similar products help fight cancer.
Bottom line: Some doctors are skeptical.
"The stuff doesn't work," says Dr. Steven Bratman, coauthor of the
"Natural Health Bible" and senior editor of the online Natural and
Alternative Treatments Database. Bratman says enzyme pills can help
some people digest food, but it's unlikely that Vitalzym or similar
products ease pain, boost the immune system or live up to other
couldn't find any published medical trials on the enzyme formula in
Vitalzym, scientists have studied some of the ingredients — with less
than impressive results.
A few studies in the 1960s suggested that
bromelain could ease pain, but more recent studies have generally
failed to find any benefit. A 2001 report from scientists at Oxford
University concluded that "there is no published evidence to support
the use" of serrapeptase, the silkworm enzyme. According to the
American Cancer Society, "there's no reliable evidence that enzyme
supplements are effective in treating cancer."
surprise that enzyme treatments have such a lackluster record, Bratman
says. Although some diseases such as pancreatitis can reduce the supply
of certain digestive enzymes, most people have more than enough enzymes
to stay healthy.
There's no known shortage of enzymes in
people with rheumatoid arthritis, adds Dr. Richard Brasington, a
rheumatologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis
— nor any evidence to suggest supplying more of them would help.
tablets are coated to keep the enzymes from dissolving in the stomach,
but only a few of the enzymes would be absorbed by the body because
most are too large to pass through the walls of the intestines, Bratman
says. "The idea that you could get more enzymes just by putting them in
your mouth doesn't make any sense."
doesn't make much sense to expect enzymes from silkworms or pineapples
to cure a wide range of human ills, Brasington says. Every human enzyme
has a very specific job, and throwing different enzymes at the task
isn't likely to help.
Brasington adds that prescription drugs
have to be proved safe and effective before reaching the market. "The
standards for nutritional supplements are completely different," he
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