Bromelain: Uses, Health Benefits & Side Effects

Instructor: Patricia Jankowski

Patricia has a BSChE. She's an experienced registered nurse who has worked in various acute care areas as well as in legal nurse consulting.

Bromelain is an enzyme that is produced from the stems and juice of pineapples. It prevents amino acids from forming proteins. This lesson is about bromelain, its uses, health benefits, and side effects.

There's Not Always Room For Jello!

''Hey, Mom!''

''What, Suzy?''

''You know that jello mold I was going to make for the bridal shower? Something's gone wrong! I planned on having it ready by noon, but it's still just a liquid mess, and won't solidify! I added some pineapple to it to make it prettier and tastier, but now it's just sitting there, and won't turn into jello! What the heck is wrong? Isn't our refrigerator working?''

What is Bromelain?

Bromelain is an enzyme that is naturally found in pineapple, mostly in the stems and in the juice. It is a proteolytic enzyme , which means that it can break down, or digest, proteins. It does this by compromising the peptide bonds, or chemical links, that join amino acids to form proteins. Amino acids are the organic compounds in the body that come together to form the proteins that are components of various tissues.

Bromelain is naturally found in pineapple
Image of pineapple

Uses and Health Benefits of Bromelain

In the introductory example, Suzy's jello dish did not turn out right because she added pineapple, along with its juice, to the jello while it was still cooling and trying to solidify. Because the bromelain in the pineapple breaks down bonds that form proteins-- like gelatins--the dish remained liquid and was not ready in time for the bridal shower. Because of the same proteolytic property, bromelain is also used in meat tenderizers. If put on the meat prior to cooking, it makes the texture of the meat softer.

Bromelain has also been shown to help ease the pain and inflammation of some conditions such as arthritis. A study published in Clinical Drug Investigation in the year 2000 showed that an oral enzyme combination containing bromelain, trypsin and rutin was just as effective as the NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) diclofenac for relieving the pain and inflammation of osteoarthritis of the knee. This is a good thing, because NSAIDs often have many side effects, such as stomach ulcers and impaired blood clotting. The side effects of the oral enzyme combination containing bromelain were much less troublesome.

Bromelain, again due to its proteolytic behavior, is known to inhibit platelet aggregation. It is the aggregation or clumping of platelets, (the cells circulating in the blood that bind to form clots when blood vessels are injured) that can cause strokes and heart attacks. For this reason, bromelain can play a role in preventing cardiovascular disease.

When burns or certain types of wounds are healing, there is sometimes dead (necrotic) tissue in the surrounding area that must be removed. This is called debridement. Topical creams containing bromelain can be used to aid in this debridement process, as the enzyme activity breaks down the dead tissue and aids in its removal.

Since bromelain inhibits the formation of protein molecules, and since cancerous tumors are collections of abnormal, rapid cell growth, it makes some intuitive sense that bromelain would play a role in the treatment of cancer. Many studies have shown that it slows the progression of growth in different types of tumors. An animal study whose results are published in GreenMedInfo (October 2007) says that bromelain is superior to a widely used chemotherapy drug, 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), for its antitumor effect. The great thing about this is that bromelain only affects the cancer cells, while 5-FU is actually a poison that kills all cells, both healthy and cancerous, thus making recovery far more difficult.

Bromelain can also be given before surgery to make the post-operative recovery period less painful. Many studies involving various types of surgery from knee replacements to oral and dental surgery have been done with similar findings. The results showed a reduction in pain, inflammation, and swelling.

Side Effects of Bromelain and Contraindications

Bromelain's side effects are generally gastrointestinal in nature. They may include diarrhea and nausea and/or vomiting. Due to its ability to inhibit blood clotting, menstrual bleeding may also be increased. For the same reason, bromelain should be stopped at least two weeks before any surgery is done.

Of course, those who are allergic to pineapple should not use bromelain.

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