Health Benefits of Bromelain
Pineapples are well loved for their vibrant colour and distinctive tropical taste, but many people may never have heard of bromelain before. This Hawaiian folk medicine is found in the stems of fresh pineapple and offers powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-swelling properties. Unfortunately, bromelain is needed in such high qualities that you are unlikely to experience these benefits simply by eating fruit salads or sipping on a pina colada, which is why bromelain supplements have become so popular. Here we look at all the ways bromelain benefits health.
What Is Bromelain?
The pineapple is native to South America and has a long history of use as a medicinal plant due to its rich vitamin C and B, potassium and manganese content. Bromelain was first identified in the late 1800’s by a Venezuelan chemist called Vicente Marcano and became commercially available as a therapeutic herbal supplement in 1957.
Bromelain is the name given to a group of enzymes found in stems and juice of pineapples. In the body, it helps to break down (hydrolyse) a variety of different proteins and reduces the levels of thromboxane A2 and prostaglandin E2 that trigger inflammation in the body. In Germany, bromelain has been approved for the treatment of swelling and inflammation after surgery.
- Arthritis: Bromelain’s anti-inflammatory benefits have long been used to treat chronic pain. Reducing inflammation in the joints helps to prevent further damage to cartilage and speeds up the healing process, meaning joints stay healthier for longer. Several studies have examined the benefits of bromelain for arthritis:
- One study involved 90 participants with osteoarthritis of the hip who were given bromelain or a prescription anti-inflammatory drug for 6 weeks. Findings showed that bromelain was as effective as the drug at reducing pain and stiffness, and improving physical function. It was also better tolerated.
- A separate study involved patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. They were given 90mg of bromelain three times per day, or a prescription anti-inflammatory. After several weeks, bromelain was shown to be even more effective than the drug at relieving pain - by 41% bromelain vs 23% drug - and also reduced joint tenderness and swelling, and improved range of motion.
- Sprains and swelling: Bromelain has long been used to treat swelling, bruising and other traumas, and is increasingly being used to manage sporting injuries. It is thought that the enzymes help to break down fibrins to prevent clotting around injured joints and improve circulation. In one study, 59 people with strained or torn ligaments took bromelain or an anti-inflammatory drug for a three week period. Findings showed bromelain was as effective as NSAID’s at reducing swelling, tenderness and pain, both at rest and when moving, and had no side effects.
- Use after surgery: Bromelain is often used to speed up recovery times after surgery. In one study a combination of bromelain, trypsin and rutoside was given to patients for 2 weeks after surgery on broken bones, while a control group received nothing. Findings showed that those taking bromelain had significantly less postoperative swelling and required less pain medication.
- Sinusitis: Bromelain is also used to reduce common symptoms of sinusitis, including nasal mucus, congestion and coughing. A study of 116 children with acute sinusitis found that recovery was significantly faster in children given bromelain compared to those without. The German Commission E has approved bromelain as a treatment for sinus and nasal swelling following ear, nose or throat surgery. Bromelain can also help to relieve allergy and hay fever symptoms including nasal drainage, swelling and breathing.
- Digestion: Bromelain enhances the effects of the digestive enzymes trypsin and pepin, which speeds up the breakdown of proteins in food and helps to avoid indigestion and stomach pains. It also reduces inflammation throughout the gut and may offer some relief from inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease and heartburn. One study using endoscopies to monitor patients with inflammatory bowel disease found that bromelain accelerated the healing of the gastrointestinal mucosa.
Sources of Bromelain
As far as natural sources of bromelain go, there is only one. The pineapple fruit. Eating fresh pineapple offers plenty of health benefits thanks to its rich vitamin and mineral content, but it won’t provide a medicinally effective dose of bromelain. To consume enough for its anti-inflammatory benefits, bromelain enzymes need to be extracted from the pineapple and converted into supplements. For those who don’t take supplements, pineapple juice provides an alternative source of bromelain, however, the concentration is significantly lower.
How Much Should I Take?
The recommended dosage for bromelain varies between 800mg to 2000mg depending on the reason you are taking it:
- Digestion - take between 1000mg to 2000mg per day with meals
- Inflammation - take between 800mg to 1500mg per day on an empty stomach
- Surgery recovery – 1000mg-3000mg divided across the day on an empty stomach
- Allergies – take 1000mg per day on an empty stomach
Bromelain is also measured in GDU (gelatin digesting units) which gives an indication of the potency of the tablet. Generally speaking, 1500mg of bromelain should supply around 6000 GDU so always check the GDU before you buy to ensure it’s a high-quality supplement.
The blood thinning properties of bromelain mean that it should be avoided by pregnant women, those about to undergo surgery, and those with liver or kidney disease.
Side Effects of Bromelain
Very few side effects of bromelain have been reported and it is bromelain in people with allergies to pineapple, celery, carrot or fennel. If you experience any side effects of bromelain discontinue use and consult with a healthcare provider.
Bromelain should not be taken in combination with bromelain because they may increase the risk of bleeding. They should also be used with caution when taking sedatives or antibiotics as bromelain may increase the body’s uptake of these medications, making them stronger.