What is Bromelain?
We all know that pineapples are a delicious and healthy fruit; they are a rich source of vitamins and other important nutrients but did you know they also provided a natural anti-inflammatory enzyme called bromelain?
Pineapples have been valued by Central and South American cultures for many centuries and typically used to ease inflammation and improve digestion. In the late 19th century, a Venezuelan scientist isolated bromelain which is an enzyme that digests protein from the fruit.
However, it took until 1957 before researchers discovered that the highest concentrations of the enzyme were in the pineapple’s stem. From that point onwards, bromelain supplements were commercially available for therapeutic purposes. In Germany, it was quickly approved to treat post-surgical inflammation and swelling.
Bromelain is used to treat a variety of conditions but is especially effective in combating inflammation following injury and infection. Indeed, several recent studies have demonstrated that bromelain supplements are just as effective as many popular prescription medications in relieving inflammation and pain.
Benefits of Bromelain
Pain Relief from Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis affects a growing number of people and is one of the leading causes of disability around the world especially among the elderly. Serious joint pain is often treated with pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory medication.
However, there are many associated risks and some of these medications have already been pulled from the market. Fortunately, a number of studies suggest that bromelain is an effective, safe and low cost alternative to commercially available pharmaceutical drugs.
One study published in 2004 demonstrated that bromelain was just as effective as several popular prescription drugs when it came to treating inflammation. (1)
Another conducted in Germany in 2006 divided 90 osteoarthritis patients into 2 groups and treated them either with a bromelain preparation or a popular anti-inflammatory drug called diclofenac. After 6 weeks, researchers concluded that bromelain was equally effective as well as being better tolerated by the subjects. (2)
Other studies have actually backed up these findings proving that bromelain was a potentially effective and safe alternative to treat arthritis and other forms of chronic joint pain. (3) (4)
Bromelain also has the potential to speed up healing following surgical procedures. In a Czech study published in 2001, researchers found that a preparation containing bromelain combined with rutin and trypsin significantly reduced swelling following surgery for long bone fractures. In addition, those who received the bromelain treatment suffered less pain and required less pain relief medication than those who didn’t receive any bromelain. (5)
Because of its powerful anti-inflammatory properties, bromelain has great potential with regard to healing a variety of minor injuries like sprains and strains and muscle damage. It is becoming increasingly popular with athletes who need to speed up the recovery process following a sport’s injury.
One study examined the efficacy of bromelain in treating 59 individuals who had experienced a blunt trauma injury. Following 3 weeks of treatment with bromelain and conventional medication, the researchers found that bromelain had a significant effect on swelling, pain levels and tenderness in the affected area. As with other studies, the researchers also found bromelain to be well tolerated with no adverse side effects. (6)
Sinusitis can be a painful condition characterized by an inflammation in the sinus cavity usually caused by some form of infection. Symptoms following a bout of sinusitis include congestion, coughing, headaches and a sore throat. Researchers have demonstrated in several studies that bromelain has great potential to treat this condition.
In a study published in 2005, bromelain was compared with standard medications in treating 116 children suffering acute sinusitis aged 11 or under. Those who were treated with only bromelain experienced significantly faster recovery rates than any of the other patients. (7)
An earlier study had already demonstrated that bromelain was effective in reducing nasal mucosa inflammation compared to those treated with a placebo. (8)
In Germany, bromelain has been approved for treating nasal or sinus inflammation following surgery of the ear, nose or throat.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
While research is in its early stages, the findings so far are encouraging and bromelain may have the potential to treat ulcerative colitis which is an inflammatory bowel disease. Ulcerative colitis is a painful condition which can cause abdominal pain and cramping as well as weight loss and diarrhea.
Anecdotal reports of 2 ulcerative colitis patients benefitting from bromelain supplements led to researchers examining its efficacy on mice. Research conducted by Duke University in North Carolina discovered that mice treated with bromelain experienced a reduced incidence of colitis.
Bromelain also reduced the severity of IBD in mice with pre-existing conditions. Researchers concluded that the results justified further future studies on the efficacy of bromelain to treat IBD. (9)
Researchers have demonstrated that bromelain could effectively treat a skin condition known as pityriasis lichenoides chronica. This skin disease causes sufferers to experience long-lasting skin lesions and has an unknown cause. Treatment has proven to be difficult and unpredictable. A study published in 2007 found that all 8 subjects treated with bromelain recovered completely after 3 months of treatment. (10)
Animal studies have demonstrated that bromelain applied topically may be able to remove dead tissue caused by 3rd degree burns. It is important to note that serious burns require medical attention and bromelain should never be applied directly to broken skin.
Preliminary research results have proven very exciting regarding the use of bromelain as a potential cancer therapy.
An animal experiment published in 2007 was conducted to examine the ability of bromelain to treat several forms of cancer. Mice were induced with breast, bone, lung, skin and blood cancer before being treated with bromelain. When compared to mice not given bromelain, those that were treated with the supplement experienced significantly increased survival rates apart from mice with skin cancer. (11)
Another study published in 2007 also demonstrates the potential anticancer ability of bromelain. Mice were treated with bromelain before being induced with skin cancer. Researchers found that bromelain slowed down the development of tumors as well as reducing the volume and number of tumors in the mice. The researchers believe bromelain protects against cancer because it induces cell death or apoptosis. (12)
A recent in study published in 2013 found that bromelain could inhibit the proliferation as well as the survival of gastric cancer cells though it should be noted this experiment was carried out in vitro. (13)
How to take Bromelain
- Supplementary bromelain is available in capsule and tablet form as well as in a topical preparation.
- Experts including the German Commission E recommends taking between 80 and 320 mg twice or 3 times each day. Depending on the condition being treated, higher doses can be taken.
As a digestive aid: 500 mgs a day should be taken in equal divided doses at meal times.
For arthritis: Between 500 and 2000 mgs a day divided into 2 equal doses.
For injuries: Take 500 mgs 4 times each day.
- There is not sufficient evidence regarding the safety of bromelain for children.
- Bromelain should only be taken under your medical provider’s supervision.
- Experts recommend not taking bromelain for more than 10 days consecutively.
- Side effects are regarded as mild but may include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and excess menstrual bleeding.
- People with allergies to pineapples may also suffer bromelain allergies.
- Pregnant women should not take bromelain.
- People with kidney or liver diseases and those with high blood pressure should avoid taking bromelain.
- It is possible that bromelain increases bleeding risk during surgery. Avoid taking bromelain in the 2 weeks prior to surgery.