Proteolytic enzymes (proteases) help you digest the proteins in food. Although your body produces these enzymes in the pancreas, certain foods also contain proteolytic enzymes.

Papaya and pineapple are two of the richest plant sources, as attested by their traditional use as natural "tenderizers" for meat. Papain and bromelain are the respective names for the proteolytic enzymes found in these fruits. The enzymes made in your body are called trypsin and chymotrypsin.

The primary use of proteolytic enzymes is as a digestive aid for people who have trouble digesting proteins. However, proteolytic enzymes may also be absorbed internally to some extent and may reduce pain and inflammation. 

You don't need to get proteolytic enzymes from food, because the body manufactures them (primarily trypsin and chymotrypsin). However, deficiencies in proteolytic enzymes do occur, usually resulting from diseases of the pancreas (pancreatic insufficiency). Symptoms include abdominal discomfort, gas, indigestion, poor absorption of nutrients, and passing undigested food in the stool.

For use as a supplement, trypsin and chymotrypsin are extracted from the pancreas of various animals. You can also purchase bromelain extracted from pineapple stems and papain made from papayas.