How pineapple helps with digestion
Pineapple, as it turns out, is not only a pizza topping or star of the pineapple upside-down cake, it’s also used as a treatment for digestive problems and joint pain. The reason pineapple helps with digestion is because of an enzyme it carries called bromelain. The active compound is best known for its ability to break down proteins — making this enzyme a popular digestive aid.
In a 2001 study at Chicago’s Northwestern University Medical School, bromelain supplements even improved digestion in people who needed feeding tubes. And in a 2006 rat study at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, bromelain also improved gastrointestinal mobility.
Bromelain also counters inflammation and pain
According to a 1988 study at Japan’s Tohoku University, the pineapple enzyme also demonstrated anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects by reducing levels of bradkykinin, a peptide that makes blood vessels swell. As a result, bromelain is a widely used alternative remedy for people with osteoarthritis and soft-tissue injuries.
In a 2000 study sponsored by Germany’s Mucos Pharma — a manufacturer of a supplement containing bromelain combined with enzymes trypsin and rutin — people with knee osteoarthritis who took the supplement daily for four weeks reported a reduction in pain on par with study participants who received the pain reliever diclofenac. When researchers from the University of Reading in the United Kingdom reviewed published and unpublished studies of bromelain’s effects on osteoarthritis in 2004, they identified evidence of benefits for knee and hip pain.
What you should know about this protein-fighting enzyme
The recommended dosage of bromelain extract ranges from 160 to 1000 milligrams per day (divided into 4 doses). However, a cup of fresh or frozen pineapple may be even better than a pill. In a recent study, ingesting that much pineapple contained 13 times more active bromelain than a supplement. For osteoarthritis, however, combination supplements containing bromelain, trypsin and rutin have shown to be an effective treatment.
If you are allergic to kiwi, papaya or natural rubber latex be careful; and if you’re allergic to pineapple do not take bromelain at all. (Not allergic? Try our tropical smoothie recipe.)
Bromelain may raise the risk of bleeding if you’re taking aspirin or a blood-thinning drug. Skip it if you’re using an antibiotic in the tetracycline family, as bromelain can increase blood levels of these medications.
Bromelain does not cure cancer
Despite claims made from some alternative-medicine experts, bromelain is not a cancer cure. However, there’s evidence that taking it (under a doctor’s guidance) may help ease the painful side effects of standard cancer treatments, especially radiotherapy. In a 2001 study conducted by India’s SGPT Cancer Hospital, those with head and neck cancers who were treated with radiation and took proteolytic enzymes such as bromelain reported less difficulty swallowing and less inflammation and ulceration of the mouth and digestive system.
What the future holds for bromelain
Bromelain’s ability to ease inflammation is now leading researchers to test its abilities against other health conditions, with promising results. In a 2012 University of Connecticut mouse study, bromelain eased inflammation caused by allergy-induced asthma attacks; researcher Eric R Secor Jr says that in the future, bromelain may be an effective add-on therapy.
Meanwhile, Duke University gastroenterology researcher Jane E Onken has recently investigated bromelain’s anti-inflammatory action as a potential therapy for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, 2 types of inflammatory bowel disease. This test tube study suggested that bromelain discourages the release of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines and chemokines from diseased tissue.