Bromelain is a protein-digesting (proteolytic) enzyme complex found in the fruit and, in higher concentrations, in the stem of the pineapple (Ananas comosus). It is able to hydrolyze or break down a wide variety of protein types in a range of both acid and alkaline environments.
Originally isolated in the late 1800s, bromelain can play a key role in digestion, and perhaps more importantly, its properties have prompted many practitioners to use it as an agent in wound healing and the prevention of illness and irritation decades.
What Does Bromelain Do?
Put simply; Bromelain breaks down protein. This has fairly obvious benefits when you consider that many of the foods you eat contain high amounts of protein and they have been thoroughly cooked, destroying most of the naturally occurring enzymes. As a proteolytic enzyme, it assists the body’s own digestive mechanisms in reducing very large, complex protein molecules into smaller peptide units or individual amino acids.
These smaller components are crucial for your own production of muscle, neurotransmitters, and other protein-based molecules that your body produces. Many of bromelain’s benefits; however, are actually based on absorption of the intact enzyme in the small intestine; it is this absorption makes possible its systemic effects such as reducing redness.
The Health Benefits of Bromelain
Traditionally societies in South America have used pineapples to reduce digestive upset and reduce irritation. Here are some of the other amazing health benefits of this enzyme, as well as the studies that support the benefits of bromelain:
1. Swelling and Redness
Bromelain was approved in Europe as an effective remedy for swelling after surgery. Research shows that the bromelain enzyme may lower swelling, stop bruising, speed up healing time, and reduce discomfort in individuals following surgical procedures. One double-blind study of over 150 women who received episiotomies (surgical cuts in the perineum) during childbirth, found that women given large servings of oral bromelain over a period of 3 days, beginning 4 hours after delivery, showed a huge decrease in swelling, and discomfort. Ninety percent of women taking the supplement showed excellent recovery compared to 44% of women in the placebo group.
2. Sinus Discomfort
Bromelain is one of the most popular supplements in European countries such as Germany, where it is commonly used for sinus discomfort. Some research suggests that bromelain was effective at reducing discomfort and swelling.
3. Topical Applications for Burns
Due to its beneficial properties, bromelain is currently being studied for topical applications for burns. Recent lab studies on animals show that bromelain helps slough off dead tissue from third-degree burns. Other studies show its effective topical use in people with second- and third-degree burns.
4. Insect Bites and Stings
Bromelain may be applied topically to lower swelling and reduce discomfort associated with insect bites and stings.
5. Reduced Swelling After Sports Injuries
Studies show that bromelain may speed up healing time after a physical or sports injury. Taking it has been linked to reduced swelling related to sprains, strains, bruises, and other minor muscle injuries.
Bromelain may also help relieve mild discomfort related to osteoarthritis. In fact, it is a common ingredient in most natural supplements for sore joints and muscles.
7. Varicose Veins and Hemorrhoids
This enzyme has been used in alternative medicine to promote cardiovascular health and hemorrhoids and other conditions of the veins.
There are several studies that suggest bromelain may help reduce coughing and lessen mucus related to sinusitis, as well as reduce the swelling and redness that accompany hay fever. The German Commission E approved the bromelain enzyme for aiding imbalances of the ear, nose, and throat that occur after surgery. It is also approved for reducing general sinus infection swelling.
9. Indigestion and Heartburn
Because of its protease capacities, this enzyme may reduce indigestion and heartburn. Studies show that it is particularly effective when used in combination with other enzymes like amylase (which digests carbohydrates) and lipase (which digests fat). Other studies show its ability to reduce bloating, gas and other symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
10. Helps Balance the Acidity of the Stomach
Research shows that Bromelain can help balance the acidity of the stomach, as well as the alkalinity of the small intestine. A recent lab study confirms that this enzyme may help ease harmful organism related diarrhea. Another study suggests that it may be an up-and-coming natural remedy for IBD (inflammatory bowel disease)
11. May Boost Overall Immune Strength
Bromelain may boost overall immune strength in the human body. One German clinical study of 16 breast cancer patients found that oral supplementation of bromelain could help stimulate immune function in women. Other studies suggest that it may also boost the amount of certain immune system hormones, called cytokines (made in our white blood cells). Recent studies suggest that bromelain may help relieve some of the standard cancer side effects related to lowered immunity.
12. May Stop Blood Platelets From Clotting
Several laboratory and animal studies suggest that bromelain may stop blood platelets from clotting. This is exciting research in the direction of its effects on heart health.
13. Bronchitis, Pneumonia and Urinary Tract Infections
Animal studies suggest that bromelain possesses action against harmful organisms, and it may be effective for ailments resulting from their presence.
Understanding the Units of Measurement for Bromelain on a supplement label
Bromelain is a plant-source Protease whose activity is measured in PU (Papain Units). One FCC-PU (Plant Proteolytic Analytical Method) is defined in the assay as that quantity of enzyme that liberates the equivalent of 1 µg (microgram) of tyrosine per hour under the conditions of the assay. This procedure also determines the proteolytic activity of ficin and bromelain. It is based on a 60-minute proteolytic hydrolysis of a casein substrate at pH 6.0 and 40°C. Soluble casein is then measured spectrophotometrically at 280nm. The FCC notation stands for Foods Chemical Codex and is a division of USP (United States Pharmacopeia). It sets standards for ingredients. In the case of enzymes, FCC is a standard assay used to accurately determine the activity of enzymes. The current compendium is FCC VI.
Bromelain can be standardized on supplement labels as gelatin digesting units (GDU/gram), milk clotting units (MCU), Rorer units (RU), Bromelain Tyrosine Units (BTU/ gram), Casein Digestion Units (CDU/mg) or FIP units.
Example: Bromelain at 1000 GDU/g would be equal to a 15,000,000 FCC PU/g potency.