Pineapples are a fruit like no other. Neither pine nor apple (it’s technically a berry), pineapple plants are low-lying herbaceous perennials that produce a cluster of flowers from a central stem. These flowers – numbering up to 200 individual blooms – fuse together to create the fruit, maturing into a tough rind of interlocking hexagons. Topped with a spiky crown, these tropical specimens are aromatic with a fibrous, yet juicy, inner yellow flesh that is both sweet and tart.
Stranger still, pineapples are carnivorous plants with the ability to ingest small insects. It accomplishes this with the help of bromelain – a protein digesting enzyme that is found in the stem, fruit, leaves, and rind. Once the spiky top collects rainfall and an unwitting ant crawls within, bromelain is released into the water which slowly dissolves the trapped insect and is absorbed by the fruit.
Bromelain’s ability to digest proteins explains why your tongue might get sore after eating lots of fresh pineapple. And also why pineapple juice is a great meat tenderizer.
Numerous studies on bromelain over the past 50 years have revealed its promise as a natural medicine. Bromelain breaks down proteins into amino acids, which are the building blocks of nearly all biological processes in the human body. Amino acids are found in our cells, muscles, and tissue. They play a key role in transport and storage of nutrients, the function of organs, arteries, and glands, as well as the repair of bones, muscles, and skin.
Read on to discover 7 evidence-based ways that bromelain promotes good health:
1. Bromelain Is Cardioprotective
First recognized as a therapeutic compound in 1957, studies on bromelain have indicated that it exerts several actions that benefit heart health.
According to a systematic review on the use of bromelain in cardiovascular diseases, it possesses potent anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic properties. In animal and human studies, bromelain treatments resulted in increased blood flow, the breakdown of cholesterol plaques in arterial walls, and a reduced risk of blood clot formation. Use of bromelain also reduced infarct size and the degree of tissue death during cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke.
While bromelain is best used as a preventative and maintenance therapy alongside typical medications, it is an incredibly safe adjunct treatment that has no reported serious side effects, even when used over a period of ten years or more.
2. Bromelain For Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is a common joint disorder that is characterized by pain, swelling, stiffness, and limited range of motion in the knees, hands, or hips. While there is no cure, the symptoms of osteoarthritis are typically treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), hydrocortisone injections, or joint replacement surgery.
Since the first line of treatment for osteoarthritis is usually NSAIDs, researchers compared the safety and efficacy of the NSAID diclofenac with a combination of enzymes, including bromelain. Published in Clinical Rheumatology, the study involved 103 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee; half received diclofenac while the other half were treated with a mixture of the antioxidant rutin and the enzymes bromelain and trypsin for six weeks. Both treatments resulted in near equal improvements in pain, swelling, and function of knee joints, with the bromelain mixture being slightly superior to diclofenac.
3. Bromelain Helps Speed Up Recovery Time
Protein digesting enzymes – also known as proteolytic enzymes or proteases – have long been used in folk medicine to treat traumatic injuries.
While modern medicine tends to favor NSAIDs to treat injuries sustained in sports, studies on bromelain and other types of proteolytic enzymes have demonstrated the ability to quell inflammation and speed up healing time.
In a review on sport injury recovery time, over 1,500 athletes in eight studies supplemented with proteolytic enzymes to treat various traumas – including sprains, strains, hematomas, lacerations, lower back pain, and fractures. The results of each study were favorable with significant improvements in pain, swelling, redness, and period of disability. The amount of time required to recover was halved compared to those who did not take enzyme supplements.
Bromelain also works well as a treatment for post-operative pain. The 2016 study involved 40 patients who were to undergo oral surgery to remove impacted molars. After the procedure, patients were prescribed bromelain supplements for five days and were assessed for pain and swelling on day 1, day 3, and day 7 after surgery. Of the 40 participants, 70% had significant reductions in pain and swelling in the face and jaw after taking bromelain.
4. Bromelain For Debridement Burns
Debridement is the medical removal of dead, damaged, and infected tissue that occurs in second or third degree burns. Removing necrotic tissues improves the healing of the remaining healthy tissue and minimizes scarring.
When applied topically, bromelain enzymes quickly removed dead tissues and left the surrounding healthy tissues intact, according to an animal study published in the journal Burns. In another study, bromelain treatment accelerated healing by boosting blood flow while keeping inflammatory processes in check.
5. Bromelain Exhibits Anti-Cancer Properties
Because bromelain impacts inflammatory and circulatory systems in the human body, several studies have investigated how it might affect malignant cancer cells.
Preliminary findings in in vitro and in vivo models have shown that bromelain modifies key pathways in the development of cancer. For example, a 2007 animal study found that mice treated with bromelain preparations had reduced tumor formation and volume. Bromelain also activated apoptotic cell death of cancer cell lines and inhibited the expression of pro-inflammatory enzymes COX-2 and NF-kappa B – both of which play an important role in many types of cancers.
While human studies are needed, these results indicate that bromelain may be a potent cancer preventative.
6. Bromelain Is Antimicrobial
When it comes to helping the body fight off infections, perhaps we should be drinking pineapple juice in addition to slurping on chicken soup.
Strongly antimicrobial, bromelain has demonstrated the ability to counter internal pathogens and boost the effectiveness of antibiotics.
In a study performed in Germany, 116 children under the age of 11 and diagnosed with acute sinusitis – or nasal infection – were given either bromelain as a monotherapy, bromelain along with standard treatments like decongestants, or standard treatments alone. Interestingly, bromelain monotherapy was the most effective, with a mean duration of symptoms spanning 6.6 days, while standard therapy alone resulted in 7.95 days to recovery and the combination therapy prolonging the sinus infection for 9.06 days.
Even with potentially life-threatening infections like sepsis, bromelain appears to be a worthy adjunct therapy. The 2002 study involved 60 children diagnosed with sepsis, all of whom received standard treatments and antibiotics. Half were given placebo while the rest received “phlogenzym” – a combination of bromelain, trypsin, and rutin – for 21 days. Across the board, phlogenzym treatments sped up recovery time substantially; in this group, the average time it took for fever to break was faster, the use of medication to raise blood pressure was reduced, and oral feeds could start quicker. Although all patients in the phlogenzym group made a full recovery, unfortunately two patients in the placebo group succumbed to their illness.
7. Bromelain May Help With Weight Loss
Exerting its action on a molecular level, it appears that bromelain may be a promising aid for weight loss. The in vitro study published in 2012 found that bromelain enzymes interfere with adipogenesis, the process where cells change into adipose tissue, or fat cells.
Not only does bromelain modulate this process and inhibits cells from becoming fat cells, it also reduces adipose gene expression in general, induces fat cells to die off, and causes fats to break down into fatty acids.
While more research is needed, these findings indicate that bromelain has the potential to be an excellent nutritional herbal supplement that can help prevent fat from forming in the first place.
The Best Sources Of Bromelain
Because pineapples are the only natural source of bromelain, including more of this fruit into your diet will ensure you receive your bromelain fix. Avoid canned or cooked pineapple since heat destroys much of its bromelain content. You can get bromelain from the flesh as well as the inner core, which can be juiced or blended for easier consumption.
For a more standardized dose, bromelain dietary supplements – like this one by NOW Foods – contains 2,400 GDU/g. GDU stands for “gelatin digestion unit”, a measure of how much protein a gram of bromelain can digest.
Although bromelain is incredibly safe and well tolerated, it can interact (and increase the potency) of antibiotics and blood clotting medications, so it’s always a good idea to talk with your doctor before taking bromelain supplements.