Bromelain Review: Examining The Benefits and Side Effects
Bromelain is a mixture of proteolytic (protein-digesting) enzymes derived from the stems and juice of pineapples. It’s used commercially as a meat tenderizer, but also has a range of therapeutic uses, when taken in supplement form.
Many people feel that bromelain helps to relieve symptoms of indigestion, such as heartburn and upset stomach. In this capacity, it can be used as a standalone supplement, or part of a blend with other enzymes that help digest carbohydrates and fats. The latter may be particularly useful in cases where there is a deficiency in the production of the body’s own (pancreatic) enzymes.
Interestingly enough, bromelain is an effective, natural anti-inflammatory agent. Although used as a folk remedy for years, scientists were initially skeptical, as it was thought that enzymes and other proteins could not be absorbed intact from the digestive tract. Research has shown, however that some bromelain can be absorbed and retain its activity in plasma.
The data has been conflicting, however, as different doses and preparations have been used.
In addition, methodological issues have made it difficult to come to a firm conclusion.
Nonetheless, two studies on bromelain-based preparations demonstrated improvements comparable to a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, diclofenac.
Likewise, bromelain may have some promise for treating inflammatory bowel diseases, including ulcerative colits and Crohn’s disease. More work needs to be done, however, before it can be recommended for this purpose.
Bromelain may also help reduce inflammation associated with injuries and infections. In Germany, where bromelain is approved for use by the German Commission E, doctors have used it to treat blunt injuries. It has also been used as part of an adjunct therapy for treating sepsis in children and to reduce E. coli-induced diarrhea in piglets.
Human clinical trials on burn patients have found bromelain (in the form of medical products such as Debridase and Debrase) may be used topically to remove dead tissue from skin that has been badly burned. Bromelain may also reduce swelling and bruising and shorten healing time after surgery, particularly cosmetic surgery.
It is used in Europe as a cough suppressant and a treatment for sinusitis. One German study indicated it was safe and effective even for children under 11 years of age – although more controlled studies are needed before it can be recommended for use in children.
Animal and cell-culture experiments also suggest bromelain may have some immune-stimulating and chemotherapeutic effects, although human clinical trials are lacking.
Bromelain can break down blood clotting proteins called fibrins, thereby increasing circulation and allowing tissue to drain properly. It also blocks production of substances known as kinins that are produced when tissue becomes inflamed.
Pineapples are an excellent source of bromelain, and it is also available in supplement form. It can be taken in tablets, capsules and powders, as well as used topically (primarily for treating burns). The activity of bromelain is measured in GDUs (gelatin digesting units) or MCUs (milk clotting units). To ensure that a particular brand has a strong enough concentration of Bromelain, choose products that list GDUs or MCUs in addition to weight on the label.
The recommended dosage of bromelain tablets or capsules is 80 to 320 mg two to three times a day. Unless it is being used as a digestive aid, it should be taken on an empty stomach. As a digestive aid, Bromelain should be taken with meals in amounts that total 500 mg per day. To treat inflammation, amounts of up to 500 mg four times per day are recommended. Arthritis suffers can use between 500 mg and 2000 mg per day divided into two doses to treat joint pain.
What About Bromelain Side Effects?
Bromelain should not be used for more than two weeks. Though not common, side effects can include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. People who are allergic to pineapples should not use bromelain.
Bromelain can react with certain medications, including antibiotics and blood thinners. Some studies show that it may actually increase levels of antibiotics in the blood, suggesting that it can be used to promote absorption of these medications, but such studies remain inconclusive.
Bromelain can also cause bleeding, so people with bleeding disorders or taking blood-thinning medications cannot use it without risk of hemorrhaging. Finally, since it has not been determined whether pregnant women or young children can use bromelain safely, these groups should avoid using it.