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Extracted from the stems of pineapples, bromelain is a multi-tasking supplement. It’s classified as a proteolytic enzyme, which means it helps to break down proteins. But bromelain does much more than simply aid in digesting a steak dinner. It can also help relieve your aches and pains.
How Bromelain Relieves Pain
When taken with meals, bromelain eases symptoms of poor digestion such as incomplete absorption, bloating and abdominal discomfort. Taken on an empty stomach, however, it works to alleviate inflammation and ease pain.
Inflammation is the body’s initial healing response to acute injuries or illness. Problems arise when the body cannot shut off the inflammatory process, resulting in diminished blood flow, increased pain and escalating inflammation. Recognized as the culprit behind many chronic and degenerative diseases, inflammation is implicated in the initiation and progression of arthritis, atherosclerosis, periodontal disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and cancer.
In numerous studies, bromelain and other digestive enzymes have been shown to calm inflammation in joints, soft tissues, muscles and organs throughout the body. Proteolytic enzymes work by digesting and deactivating inflammatory compounds.
In a 2004 study reported in Clinical Rheumatology, researchers compared an enzyme formula containing bromelain to the prescription drug diclofenac in treating patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. In a six-week study of 103 patients, scientists found that 51 percent of subjects receiving enzyme therapy reported improvement in pain and restoration of function, compared with 37 percent of people being given the drug. This is good news for arthritis sufferers, because nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as diclofenac) are notorious for causing stomach irritation, ulcers and internal bleeding.
Laboratory studies have also shown that bromelain holds promise for treating ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory disease that causes ulcers in the lining of the colon. Symptoms include abdominal pain, weight loss, intestinal bleeding, joint pain, anemia and severe fatigue. At least 500,000 people suffer from this condition, and up to one-third of patients aren’t helped by drug treatments. As a last resort some people undergo surgery to remove the colon. In a 2005 study at Duke University Medical Center, researchers found that bromelain significantly decreased both the incidence and severity of ulcerative colitis in mice.
Bromelain and other proteolytic enzymes appear promising as supportive treatments for cancer. In a 2005 study in the European Journal of Medical Research, scientists found that bromelain activated macrophages (large white blood cells known as “big eaters” that consume cellular debris and cancer cells) as well as several other immune factors that directly fight or control cancerous cells.
Cautions and Dosage
Side effects from bromelain are rare, but if you have an allergy to pineapple, avoid bromelain supplements. Because of bromelain’s blood-thinning effect, consult your doctor if you are taking blood-thinning drugs. You should also discontinue bromelain use for a couple of days before and after dental or surgical procedures.
When taking bromelain for pain relief, dosages range from 80–400 mg, two to three times daily, depending on the form. Follow label instructions for best results.