Q: I heard that eating pineapple is beneficial after sustaining an injury or having surgery. Is there any truth to this?~ J.C., Seattle, WA
A: Pineapples are refreshing tropical fruits and contain a natural enzyme called bromelain. For hundreds of years, pineapples had been used in folk medicine to treat digestive ailments and treat inflammation. Natives applied pineapple dressings to wounds and skin injuries to reduce inflammation and drank the juice of the fruit to ease stomachaches and indigestion. Recently, research scientists have investigated possible medical uses for this enzyme.
Proponents use bromelain to reduce swelling, bruising, inflammation, and pain after surgery and injury. Bromelain has been approved for these uses by the German Commission E since 1993. According to an article posted by the American Cancer Society, research studies have been conducted to prove that bromelain may:
- Relieve the symptoms of sinusitis (based on a 2006 review of three studies). The response to bromelain may vary if sinusitis is caused by allergies or different forms of infection.
- Relieve joint injuries and muscle pain by having an anti-inflammatory effect. More research is needed as some clinical trials showed mixed results. Some clinical studies found it less effective, while others reported it as a possible alternative.
- Stimulate immune function (based on a clinical study of 16 breast cancer patients in Germany that took a bromelain drug orally).
- Increase immune system hormones, called cytokines, that are produced by white blood cells.
- Reduce some side effects of cancer therapy and possibly some symptoms of the cancer itself. In order to understand bromelain’s role (if any) in cancer treatment, more well-controlled research is necessary.
- Treat diarrhea related to E. coli infections. The health benefits to humans have not been proven.
- Keep platelets in the blood from sticking together, which in turn may help prevent blood clots. Animal and laboratory studies look promising, but further studies are necessary to determine the efficacy in humans.
- Treat swelling or inflammation of the nose and sinuses caused by surgery. The German Commission E approved bromelain to be used with other treatments.
- Speed recovery time, although not all studies have found it helpful.
- Remove damaged tissue from burns without surgery. In cases where burns injured or killed layers of skin, bromelain has been used to clean dead or dying tissue. In these clinical studies, the results suggested that bromelain may speed healing and reduce the need for surgery to remove dead and injured tissues in some patients. More research is still needed.
- Help digestion in people who lack digestive enzymes to break down proteins. More research is still necessary to complete a full comparative study.
After a pineapple has been harvested, the stem is peeled, crushed, and pressed to extract the enzyme-containing juice. The juice then goes through further processing in order to concentrate and purify the enzyme to manufacture into supplement form.
Supplements should be taken only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider. Full studies on supplements as to their possible interactions with other medications, foods, or other herbs and supplements are not often available. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, supplementation may have possible ill effects. Also, supplements are not regulated and here’s why they can actually make you sick.
Some practitioners may advise caution if you are taking anticoagulants, antibiotics, or sedatives or have allergies to certain foods or protein deficiencies. Also, although bromelain is generally considered safe, it may speed up the heart rate (when dosage is increased from 460 mg to 1840 mg per day).
Fit Tip: Although bromelain is a common ingredient in supplements and ointments manufactured and promoted for different health purposes, be sure to enjoy fresh tropical pineapple. The enzyme is found in all parts of the fruit and can be obtained naturally by eating the real thing (although not in concentrations as from supplements).
Pineapples are rich in vitamin C as well as other vitamins, minerals and fiber. To receive the full benefits from the enzymes, avoid cooked or canned pineapple and commercial (pasteurized) pineapple juice because high heat will destroy the enzymes. Eat fresh and be well!