The Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 12 No. 1 • Feb. 2009

Elastase Inhibitors Could Be a Useful Therapy for COPD

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a common and generally slowly progressive disease that results in chronic morbidity (such as breathlessness during exercise or even, in advanced cases, at rest) and shortened lifespan. It is characterized by excessive elastase activity in the lung (secreted by neutrophils that infiltrate the lungs, generally as part of an immune response to the chronic lung infections that are a problem for COPD patients). Elastase is responsible for the loss of elasticity that occurs in the COPD lung. Unfortunately, current treatments for COPD (such as bronchodilators) treat symptoms but do not prevent the loss of elasticity and other aspects of the progression of the disease.

The report (see last paragraph of article above) that indole-3-carbinol is a natural inhibitor of elastase suggests that it might be useful in the treatment of COPD, possibly slowing the progression of the disease. Since indole-3-carbinol is a safe dietary substance that is readily available as a constituent of cruciferous vegetables or as an indole-3-carbinol supplement, it could be worthwhile trying it if you have COPD. Whether decreased elastase expression in the lungs would allow for improvement (repairing) of elasticity or just slow the progressive loss of elasticity remains to be seen. Beneficial effects would probably not be immediately noticeable but might, in the long run, provide significant protection. Restoration of the natural anti-elastase compound alpha1-antitrypsin in COPD patients does slow progression. Indole-3-carbinol has not been clinically tested for this purpose.

“The concentration of I3C [indole-3-carbinol] required to inhibit elastase activity in vitro has relevance to the dietary intake of the indole. In a typical western diet (European or American) an individual ingests ~10 mg of I3C per day where in a typical Asian diet intake is ~10-fold higher. Clinical studies have established that ingestion of 400 mg of I3C twice daily is the maximum tolerated dose of this indole that alters estrogen metabolism and other cellular pathways. Importantly, under these conditions, the concentration of indole metabolites in the plasma was reduced to 15 ng/ml after 12 h (the lower limit of detection), strongly suggesting that because I3C is rapidly cleared from the system it is likely to be active at target sites at much lower concentrations that are closer to the observed concentrations needed to inhibit elastase activity.”1

“Furthermore, elastase acts on a variety of other intracellular and extracellular substrates, such as elastin [found in, for example, the lungs, arteries, and skin] . . . and the direct I3C inhibition of elastase activity implicates this natural phytochemical as a potential therapeutic not only for certain cancers but also for other physiological disorders associated with alterations in the levels of elastase activity.”1


  1. Nguyen et al. The dietary phytochemical indole-3-carbinol is a natural elastase enzymatic inhibitor that disrupts cyclin E protein processing. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 105(50):19750-5 (2008).

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