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Enzymes Broaden Reach Beyond Digestive Health

Digestive enzyme sales are on a firmly upward trajectory. According to Euromonitor, the retail value of the digestive enzymes category in the United States rose from $77.2 million in 2011 to $86.8 million in 2016; by 2021, the market could grow to $96.5 million. Chris Penet, vice president of enzymes supplier Bio-Cat (Troy, VA), says growth “is being driven by consumers looking for natural alternatives, and also by increasing awareness and education of the consumer” about these ingredients.

One point in enzyme supplements’ favor is that they enjoy a uniquely widespread appeal, says Melony Fuller, director of marketing at National Enzyme Co. (Forsyth, MO). Enzymes aren’t just popular among the 55-and-older set, who are generally receptive to supplement use; they also enjoy popularity among Millennials, who Fuller says are “the group to watch” when it comes to enzymes. Why? “This group is well informed,” she says, “and actively looking for ways to improve their health and feel their best.”

Undoubtedly, much of the category’s growth comes from enzymes’ popularity in the area of digestive health. Enzyme marketers, however, are smart. They are making a concerted effort to extend the reach of enzymes with innovative, condition-specific blends targeting everything from sports nutrition to pet health. By building on enzymes’ roots in digestion to reach a wider swath of consumers, the opportunities for enzymes are truly limitless. Here’s a look at the top applications driving growth.


Consumers are catching on to the fact that enzyme supplements can help them with their digestive woes, and digestive-health concerns remain the top reason consumers buy enzyme supplements.

Some come to the enzymes category having experienced a benefit from probiotics, a sector that’s benefitted from a large volume of positive press in recent years, says Maday Labrador, vice president of education at Enzymedica (Venice, FL). “Enzymes and probiotics are very different but complementary,” she says, and enzymes can take advantage of the fact that education-hungry probiotic devotees are looking for additional gut support. These customers are more likely to be receptive to enzymes, Fuller says. “Since consumers are always on the prowl for the next ‘magic bullet,’ creating awareness of the importance of digestive enzymes in the body will undoubtedly be the next ‘aha’ moment for digestive health,” she says.

Another point in enzymes’ favor is that consumers can actually feel the relief they get from digestive enzyme supplementation fairly quickly, which sets this ingredient category apart from others, says Mike Smith, vice president at Specialty Enzymes & Biotechnologies (Chino, CA). Once this happens, he says, word-of-mouth becomes a powerful tool. “When something works, people talk,” he says.

At Sabinsa (East Windsor, NJ), vice president of scientific affairs Anurag Pande, PhD, believes there are many catalysts working together to propel digestive enzymes to the forefront: increased awareness of the fact that digestion naturally becomes less efficient with age; increased intake of processed foods across the board; and digestive disturbances caused by food consumption patterns, travel, weather changes, lack of sleep, or stress. “These facts affect young adults, middle-aged working people, and elderly people,” he says, so it should come as no surprise that digestion is still the top reason consumers seek out enzymes.

However, it’s no longer the only reason.

Sports Nutrition

With the sports nutrition market proliferating among practically every consumer demographic—from aging consumers looking to fuel casual workouts to seasoned athletes looking for an edge—more people are consuming whey protein than ever before, says Scott Ravech, CEO, Deerland Enzymes (Kennesaw, GA). Fortunately, enzymes make a perfect pairing with whey protein formulas.

“Enzymes for protein hydrolysis are an ideal complement to these types of protein supplements,” Ravech says. Deerland Enzymes’ ProHydrolase blend, for instance, has been shown to “break down protein into smaller peptides in order for it to be used by the body for muscle recovery as intended,” while also reducing the potential for digestive discomfort stemming from protein intake, he says. Not only that, but ProHydrolase is also effective for the trending subset of sports nutrition consumers using plant proteins like pea or hemp, he adds.

National Enzyme’s BioCore AminoTap blend, an exclusive blend of proteolytic enzymes combined with zinc targeting the sports market, has also been shown to hydrolyze a wide range of protein types. According to the company, in in vitro studies, the blend was shown to break down the proteins in whey isolate and concentrate, casein, pea, soy, rice, whole egg, and a vegan protein blend. The firm further explains that “the addition of zinc enhances enzyme activity, accelerating their release and improving the body’s ability to hydrolyze proteins commonly used in muscle-building protein supplements.” As a result, it says, “when BioCore AminoTap was added to all these protein supplements, the release of cumulative BCAAs and glutamine nearly doubled.”

Sabinsa’s Pande also categorizes sports nutrition as a key area for enzymes, not just because enzymes can facilitate efficacious protein digestion and absorption, but also because they can be helpful to those suffering from lactose intolerance, for whom dairy- and milk-based sports nutrition products can be an issue. “Enzyme blends like Sabinsa’s DigeZyme, which contain enzymes such as lactase, can be very helpful in changing that scenario,” he explains. DigeZyme can even be included within a protein blend to improve digestibility.

Food Allergens and Sensitivities

Just as enzymes can help lactose-intolerant sports nutrition consumers, there is an opportunity for growth in the wider food allergens and sensitivities market. “General digestion is still the largest category, though enzymes directed at food sensitivities have become a significant factor in enzyme demand,” says Smith of Specialty Enzymes & Biotechnologies.

Given the rise in awareness surrounding gluten-free eating, gluten intolerance is one area where enzymes can shine. Smith points specifically to his company’s DPP IV enzyme blends (dipeptidyl peptidase IV) for gluten-free consumers, which can help protect sensitive individuals against the negative effects of “hidden gluten” in some food products.

“Extensive research shows that the fastest way to break down gluten is to cleave its peptide bonds internally and externally,” says Deerland Enzyme’s Ravech. Deerland offers Glutalytic, an enzyme supplement ingredient that’s formulated to degrade gliadin (a major protein fraction in gluten that helps elicit the immune response) from gram to milligram quantities by the time it reaches the small intestine. “Glutalytic also has the unique ability to break down competing proteins that may also be present in a gluten-containing meal, such as milk, nuts, fish, and soy,” adds Ravech, which means the blend will appeal to an even wider swath of food-sensitive consumers. Like other enzymes formulated for the gluten-free consumer, this ingredient is intended to safeguard against accidental gluten consumption, not to be used as a replacement for a gluten-free diet.

Pet Health

Enzymes play a dual role in pet foods and supplements, says Sabinsa’s Pande. “They can be added to food to improve the palatability of the food, as well as supplemented in the diet to improve digestion, since digestive issues in pets is a growing concern as they age.”

Dogs in particular can have the same sorts of digestive issues that humans do and can benefit from the same enzyme supplementation that helps their owners, says Amanda Brown, sales representative at American Laboratories (Omaha, NE). Her company offers Pancreatin for pets, a naturally occurring enzyme that breaks down proteins, starches, and fats.

But if you ask Ravech, enzyme supplementation isn’t necessarily limited to canines with sensitive stomachs or “senior” pets; enzymes also have a role to play when transitioning a dog’s food, which happens at least twice in every dog’s life, he says.

And, mirroring the ways in which enzymes are used in humans, modern enzyme offerings for pets are increasingly focusing on other areas beyond digestion, such as joint health. “Beyond digestion, proteolytic enzyme serrapeptidase breaks down the proteins associated with inflammation, making it an ideal choice for a joint-health formula,” he says.

Systemic Enzymes

Part of the way forward for enzymes will be addressing broader body benefits, companies say. Though lesser known, systemic enzymes are “the cutting edge in enzyme therapy,” according to Smith. “Systemic enzyme products concentrate on cardiovascular health, joint health, and inflammation,” he explains. These include proteases of varying kinds, mostly nattokinase (such as Specialty Enzymes & Biotechnologies’ NattoSEB ingredient) and serratiopeptidase (like the firm’s Peptizyme SP), he says. “They are often combined with other proteases and a few other enzymes to form a very effective systemic enzyme blend.”

According to Ravech, protease enzymes have been studied for their systemic benefits “due to their ability to degrade certain proteins associated with blood clot formation, such as fibrin.” At Deerland, the solution takes the shape of enzyme blends that incorporate proteolytic enzymes like bromelain, nattokinase, serratiopeptidase, and papain, he says.

What’s Next?

American Laboratories’ Brown believes that there is room for additional growth in the enzyme category, thanks to consumer education efforts as well as the nature of enzymes themselves, which boast “a broad range of applications and sources” that appeal to just about anyone, from vegetarians and athletes to pet owners, gluten-free eaters, and more.

And while blends are already commonplace for enzyme supplement formulators, Naeem Shaikh, PhD, vice president of research and innovation, formulations, at National Enzyme Co., believes the future will include second-generation blends, in the form of pairing enzymes with probiotics, prebiotics, and herbals.

And so the opportunities for enzymes continues. “The gut microbiome is one of the most exciting areas of science today, and the relevance of the microbiome to our health beyond digestion is a hot area for research,” says Deerland’s Ravech. “Research over the past two decades has revealed that gut health is critical to overall wellness and immunity, and that an unhealthy gut contributes to a wide range of health challenges.”

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