Pineapples are one of the most well-loved tropical fruits around the world. But if you're a constant surfer of the web, you've probably come across an article or two saying that pineapples "eat you right back."1 And the culprit? It's none other than enzyme bromelain.
Aside from its popularity because of this viral information, bromelain has managed to penetrate the medical world because of the impressive health benefits it offers. If you're interested or curious on why bromelain is now getting unvaried attention, continue reading and know more about this pineapple product.
What Is Bromelain?
Bromelain, or pineapple extract, is a compound made up of proteases normally found in pineapples. Although it is widely known for its ability to aid in digestion and protein breakdown, its use far transcends these functions and can actually offer a lot more. The good news is that it's available in the market as a supplement and as an aid for disease treatments.
The history of bromelain is heavily linked to pineapple because it is the only known major source for this group of enzymes. First discovered in 1891 by chemist Vicente Marcano and then subsequently elaborated by Russell Henry Chittenden, another chemist, bromelain was first called "bromelin," and described as the "proteolytic ferment of pineapple juice." Its first primary source was the pineapple fruit, before it was discovered that the mature pineapple stem had much more concentrated bromelain content.2
Through the years after its discovery, the production of bromelain has broadened. Its commercialization has led manufacturers into developing faster extraction techniques for large-scale production and purification. Today, bromelain supplements are used for numerous health approaches.
These uses have been observed to be dependent on the time when it is taken. For example, if taken after a meal, bromelain may help promote better digestion and absorption, but when taken on an empty stomach, it can help alleviate inflammation.3
Where Does Bromelain Come From?
The only major source of bromelain is the pineapple plant. This enzyme is usually extracted from either pineapple stems or young pineapple fruits, but other parts have also been observed to have low levels of bromelain content. There are no other fruits that contain high amounts of this compound. There are currently two types of bromelain concoctions, depending on where the enzyme was extracted. These are:4
- Stem bromelain (SBM) — This type of bromelain is widely available in the market because its extraction is cheaper and the stem is essentially a waste product of the plant. This extraction is done through centrifugation, ultrafiltration or lyophilization. When bromelain is mentioned or used in mainstream products, it is most probably this type of bromelain.
- Fruit bromelain (FBM) — Studies suggest that fruit bromelain offers a weaker digestive activity compared to stem bromelain, but has better proteolytic activity. Unlike stem bromelain, this type is not widely utilized because of its limited availability.
Health Benefits You Can Get From Bromelain
As a protease enzyme, the primary benefit bromelain has is improving protein absorption. However, bromelain has been widely used to promote healing and assist in the treatment of numerous diseases. For example, if you're suffering from chronic inflammation or from sports injuries, consider taking bromelain supplements to help your body recover. Other bromelain benefits that you'll get from this supplement include:
- Reduces inflammation and swelling — Bromelain may help alleviate symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatism. It's also used to help in sprain and strain recovery by reducing swelling and promote tissue healing. For people who are currently on arthritis medications, consider switching to bromelain for a more natural alternative.5
- Improves immune function — Studies show that bromelain promotes a healthy immune system by regulating numerous inflammatory proteins during periods of cellular stress.6
- Speeds up wound healing — The use of bromelain post-surgery has been observed to promote soft-tissue healing and reduce bruising. Patients who took bromelain also had shorter wound healing time compared to patients who did not.7
- Relieves sinusitis symptoms — Sinusitis refers to the inflammation of the inner lining of the sinuses, which is usually caused by infections, nasal problems or allergies. Bromelain is a known supplement for relieving sinusitis symptoms.8 Together with quercetin, bromelain can help alleviate sinus inflammation, with quercetin functioning as an antihistamine.9
- Promotes blood flow — Bromelain helps in promoting healthy blood flow by reducing platelet aggregation in the arteries and lowering the chances of clots forming. This may lower your risk of developing atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases.10
There are also claims that bromelain can help induce menstruation by softening the uterine lining. The increased blood flow also supposedly helps in the prevention of menstrual cramps.11
What Is Bromelain Good For?
Because of the impressive components of bromelain, it's not surprising that it's been utilized in treating or reducing the severity of disease symptoms. While it is usually prescribed or recommended for patients who have undergone surgery or people suffering from chronic sinusitis, bromelain can also be used in other ways. These include:12
- Topical application for burns — Studies suggest that bromelain can help remove dead skin cells from third degree burns and assist in burn healing in first and second degree burns. For severe burns, do not apply any bromelain ointment without a physician's supervision.
- Indigestion and heartburn — Taking bromelain has been known to assist in easing indigestion and bloating, especially when taken with other supplemental enzymes.
- Soothing balm for insect bites and stings — Applying bromelain directly to insect bites and stings may lessen inflammation and discomfort.
- Meat tenderizer — Pineapple has been used in cooking to soften meats. Today, bromelain is sold in powder form as a meat tenderizer and is usually combined with papain, an enzyme found in the papaya plant.13 In fact, bromelain is such a strong meat tenderizer that chefs and cooks claim it can turn meat into mush if left marinated for longer periods of time.14
Scientific Studies on Bromelain's Possible Benefits and Uses
Bromelain has been the focus of numerous animal studies. These usually aim to find out the mechanism and the effects of this supplement on the different systems of the body. These studies revolve around its function in wound healing, immune function and anti-inflammation abilities.
In a study done in Manipal College of Dental Sciences, bromelain, papain, miswak and neem were observed to help in the prevention of plaque and gingivitis in patients undergoing fixed orthodontic therapy. The findings suggest that bromelain, together with these natural components, may be administered as a dentifrice to effectively reduce the risk of poor dental health in people who have braces or dental appliances.15
It is also suggested that the administration of bromelain may have a positive effect on cancer treatments by slowing down or arresting metastasis. In a 2013 study, bromelain was observed to have a direct effect on the growth and spread of cancer cells in gastrointestinal cancer. Its primary mechanism involves the promotion of apoptosis in cancer cells and activating certain pathways for cancer cell death.16 Cancer patients also showed improved appetite and reduced fatigue and other problems connected to cancer treatment.17
Bromelain has also been studied based on its ability to inhibit the lipogenesis, which is important in the prevention of obesity. A 2012 study done at the Institute of Microbial Technology shows that stem bromelain had the ability to reduce fat formation by suppressing adipogenesis and promoting apoptosis in mature adipocytes.18
Possible Side Effects and Contraindications for Bromelain
Bromelain is relatively safe and does not normally cause severe effects when taken in large amounts. However, there is a possibility that some people may suffer from allergic reactions after taking bromelain, especially those who have pineapple allergies.
People with latex, pollen, wheat, celery, carrot and fennel allergies should also veer away from this supplement, unless otherwise stated by a health professional. It should also be noted that pregnant women should avoid taking bromelain because there are insufficient studies done to ensure that it is safe for you and your unborn child.
Drug Interactions: When to Limit or Stop Bromelain Intake
Note that bromelain may have specific drug interactions to medications that you are currently taking because of its effect on absorption and digestion. If you are taking any of these drugs, consider stopping or limiting your bromelain intake until after the medications stop:
- Antibiotics — Studies suggest that ingesting bromelain supplements with antibiotics may increase the absorption and the drug levels in the body.19
- Anticoagulants and antiplatelet drugs (warfarin, aspirin and NSAIDs) — Taking bromelain with blood thinners can heighten the risk for excessive bleeding.20
- Sedatives — It is suggested by some studies that bromelain may cause drowsiness in some cases, which may dramatically increase the effects of sedatives and anti-depressants.21
If you are on any of these medications, seek the help of a health professional to ensure that you're not unknowingly causing yourself harm instead of improving your health.
Consider Taking Bromelain for a More Natural Inflammation Aid
Pharmaceutical companies now have a wide selection of anti-inflammatory medications. These, on the other hand, also give patients a variety of negative health effects. If you're looking for a safe and natural alternative for synthetic pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs, a bromelain supplement may be one of the best alternatives you can turn to. Not only does it help relieve inflammation, it can also help in boosting your immune system and lower your risk for cardiovascular diseases.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Bromelain
Q: What does bromelain do?
A: Bromelain is used to help alleviate different types of inflammation, from inflammation of the sinuses during the onset of sinusitis to inflammation caused by osteoarthritis. It can also speed up wound healing and improvement of some skin conditions. Some studies also link bromelain to cancer prevention and treatment.22,23,24
Q: Is bromelain safe?
A: Bromelain supplements are relatively safe for human consumption. Studies suggest that taking bromelain for acute sinusitis does not cause any adverse effects.25 However, it is best that you seek the opinion of a health practitioner to make sure that you're not allergic to any of the components in the supplement.
Q: What are the benefits of turmeric and bromelain?
A: Curcumin, a substance derived from turmeric, and bromelain both contain anti-inflammatory components that may help in relieving joint and muscle pain. The combination of these two botanicals can be a natural and safe alternative for easing inflammatory conditions.26
Q: How long does bromelain take to work?
A: The period in which bromelain's effect is observed is currently undetermined, although it is usually taken for short-term medication for inflammatory pain.27
Q: How much bromelain is in a pineapple?
A: Bromelain is normally processed from pineapple stems. This means that there are only small amounts of bromelain in a mature fruit, amounts that are barely significant in disease prevention and treatment. It is also found in other parts of the pineapple plant, but in lower levels than the stem.
Q: What does bromelain break down?
A: Bromelain is responsible for breaking down protein, which can help in better absorption. It also has the ability to break down fibrins, a blood-clotting protein, which can help with the prevention of both angina and thrombophlebitis.28