Bromelain: A Natural Alternative to Aspirin and NSAIDs
Most everyone has experienced inflammation, whether because of an injury, surgery, or a chronic problem like arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome.
And most of us reach for an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory – or a more potent prescription pain reliever – to treat it.
Well, taking high amounts of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium can have a number of side effects. They may temporarily ease your pain, but they can also cause ulcers and other gastrointestinal woes.
So, what if I told you that there’s a powerful alternative to such drugs?
And it doesn’t come from the laboratory or a pharmaceutical factory.
Instead, this natural anti-inflammatory is found in the tropical paradise of Hawaii – but these days, it’s as close as your local health-food store.
A Hawaiian Punch…
Found mainly in the stem of the pineapple, bromelain is a mixture of enzymes that are believed to aid with the digestion of protein. Bromelain has been used in indigenous America for centuries as a remedy for indigestion, inflammation, and related problems. Its enzymatic properties also make it popular in culinary circles as a meat tenderizer.
Early research identified the enzymes in bromelain, and by 1957, the compound was introduced as a therapeutic supplement.
These days, bromelain is used to treat a whole spectrum of health concerns, from osteoarthritis and sinusitis, to inflammatory bowel disease and surgical wounds. In fact, bromelain shows such promise as a natural remedy that it rates as the 13th most popular supplement in Germany, where it is approved by the Commission E for the treatment of inflammation and swelling of the nose and sinuses due to surgery or injury.
So what makes bromelain so powerful?
Well, bromelain appears to affect health in several different ways. Lab research shows that this enzyme has anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, and anticoagulant (“blood-thinning”) properties. Taken together, these actions may very well help improve human health – and we’ve got the studies to back it up.
Turning Down the Heat…
Bromelain has been best studied – and is most promising – for its anti-inflammatory effects. See, there’s good evidence that the enzyme can help quell the fire of inflammation, probably by influencing the body’s prostaglandins, naturally occurring fatty acids that help regulate inflammation. Bromelain appears to inhibit the production of an inflammatory prostaglandin called PGE2 and promote the production of an anti-inflammatory prostaglandin called PGE1.
That helps explain why bromelain is such an impressive treatment for a variety of diseases with inflammatory components.
Many studies have found that bromelain helps ease chronic inflammation and swelling in people with arthritis. Research also suggests that the supplement may relieve pain and improve mobility in people with carpal tunnel syndrome. There’s also preliminary evidence that bromelain might reduce swelling, bruising, pain, and healing time after surgery or injury.1
For example, a recent study of 90 patients with a large tear in their rotator cuff found that those who supplemented with a combination of natural products including bromelain for 6 months had less shoulder pain and better healing than those who took a placebo.2
There’s also good evidence to show that Phlogenzym, a supplement that combines bromelain with rutin (a substance found in buckwheat) may reduce pain and improve knee function in people with osteoarthritis.3
Indeed, several studies show that bromelain is as effective at reducing swelling as anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac, and piroxicam.
In one such study, researchers gave 103 people with osteoarthritis of the knee either a bromelain supplement (90 mg, three times a day) or the prescription anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac (50 mg, twice a day).
After 6 weeks, they found that patients in both groups reported comparable reductions in joint tenderness, pain, and swelling and improved range of motion. The researchers determined that bromelain was just as effective as diclofenac on a standard pain assessment scale.
What’s more, bromelain was better than diclofenac at reducing pain at rest. Both patients and doctors rated the supplement higher than the drug as an anti-inflammatory remedy for osteoarthritis.4
A Bevy of Benefits…
Although bromelain is best studied for its general anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving actions, the supplement may be helpful in treating a range of conditions.
See, research in mice suggests that supplemental bromelain appears to decrease the incidence and severity of colitis. Laboratory studies show that the enzyme may reduce the inflammation associated with inflammatory bowel disease, while a few case reports have found that, when added to conventional therapy, bromelain supplements result in rapid improvement of symptoms in patients with ulceratitis colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease.5
Likewise, bromelain might aid men with prostatitis, a painful inflammation of the prostate gland. One study of 17 men with chronic prostatitis found that just one month of treatment with a combination of bromelain, papain, and quercetin resulted in an at least 25 percent symptom improvement.5
Bromelain certainly seems impressive. So what’s the catch?
In this case, there doesn’t appear to be one. The science clearly shows that bromelain could be a useful addition to your supplement regimen – if you suffer from an inflammatory problem, that is.
Because bromelain is primarily present in the pineapple’s stem, you won’t get the enzyme’s benefits simply by adding more of this tropical fruit to your diet.
Instead, look for tablets of bromelain in your local health-food store, drugstore, or supermarket. It’s also widely available from online retailers. Make sure to choose enteric-coated tablets, which keep bromelain intact until it reaches your small intestine – otherwise, it will break down in your stomach and act as an enzyme before it can enter your bloodstream and act as an anti-inflammatory.
The typical dose for bromelain is 80 to 320 mg, two or three times a day. Take it between meals if you want the best anti-inflammatory effects.
Of course, bromelain may not be right for everyone. You should avoid taking it if you are allergic to pineapple or related substances including kiwi, papaya, and natural rubber latex. People with allergies to honeybee stings, birch, cypress, or grass pollen, ragweed, carrots, celery, fennel, wheat or rye flour, marigolds, daisies, or echinacea are also more likely to have an allergic reaction to bromelain.
Because bromelain can reduce blood clotting and acts as a blood thinner, so you should talk to your doctor before taking it if you also take anticoagulant drugs such as warfarin (Coumadin). Bromelain may also interact with certain antibiotics and sedatives.
Otherwise, bromelain is definitely worth a try for easing inflammation.
Plus, its possible side effects – nausea and diarrhea – are typically mild.
So give this tropical supplement superstar a shot, and see what happens.
And remember, keep an open mind to new ideas, but ALWAYS do your own homework…and combine that with common sense to figure out what’s best for YOU.
1Inchingolo F, Tatullo M, Marrelli M, et al. Clinical trial with bromelain in third molar exodontia. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2010 Sep;14(9):771-4.
2Gumina S, Passaretti D, Gurzì MD, et al. Arginine L-alpha-ketoglutarate, methylsulfonylmethane, hydrolyzed type I collagen and bromelain in rotator cuff tear repair: a prospective randomized study. Curr Med Res Opin. 2012 Nov;28(11):1767-74.
3Tilwe GH, Beria S, Turakhia NH, et al. Efficacy and tolerability of oral enzyme therapy as compared to diclofenac in active osteoarthrosis of knee joint: an open randomized controlled clinical trial. J Assoc Physicians India. 2001 Jun;49:617-21.
4Akhtar NM, Naseer R, Farooqi AZ, et al. Oral enzyme combination versus diclofenac in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee–a double-blind prospective randomized study. Clin Rheumatol. 2004 Oct;23(5):410-5.
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