Enjoyed the world over as something of an icon of the tropical experience, the pineapple was used in indigenous medicine for a wide range of ailments; uses that are only now being confirmed by modern scientific methods.
While most know pineapple as an exceptionally delicious tropical fruit, indigenous peoples used it to treat a variety of ailments. Unfortunately, much of this intimate plant knowledge was considered by early anthropologists to be based on mere "superstition" and subsequently disregarded, so few in the modern world have been made aware of its formidable healing powers.
Thankfully, research on the medicinal properties of pineapple has steadily accumulated over the past few decades, to the point where the conventional medical system has been compelled to take notice.
Bromelain, for instance, is a protein-digesting enzyme extract from the pineapple plant, and has even been found to be superior to the highly toxic chemotherapy agent 5-fluorouracil as an anti-tumor agent in preclinical research.[i] [For more details, see our article on the topic: Research: Pineapple Enzyme Kills Cancer Without Killing You]
This remarkable compound, concentrated primarily within the stem (i.e. fibrous core), which is often wastefully discarded, has been researched for the following potential medicinal applications:
- Allergic Airway Disease[ii]
- Breast Cancer[iv]
- Breastfeeding Problems: Poor Milk Production/Quality[v]
- Colitis[vi] [vii]
- Colon Cancer[viii]
- Constipation: Post-operative[ix]
- Debriding Agent[x]
- Glioma (Brain Cancer)[xiii]
- Immune Disorders: Low Function[xiv]
- Inflammation[xv] [xvi] [xvii] [xviii]
- Irritable Bowel Disease[xix]
- Liver Damage[xxi]
- Lung Cancer[xxii] [xxiii]
- Myocardial Infarction (Heart Attack)[xxv]
- Osteoarthritis of the Knee[xxvi]
- Skin Cancer[xxviii] [xxix] [xxx]
- Tendon Injury[xxxi] [xxxii]
- Thrombosis (pathological clot)[xxxiv] [xxxv]
How To Eat Pineapple To Get The Benefits of Bromelain
Bromelain extracts are actually composed of a variety of substances, including peroxidase, acid phosphatase, calcium, and protease inhibitors. But the main active ingredients are two enzymes known as fruit and stem bromelain, respectively. Keep in mind that bromelain's potential therapeutic activity, depends entirely on how you take it. When consumed on an empty stomach, the plant's enzyme will enter the blood and exert systemic action. When consumed with food, its activity will mostly be expended on helping the body to break down dietary proteins, easing the body's digestive burden.
Bromelain is an example of something we eat that actually eats us back. Commonly used as a meat tenderizer, when used appropriately it can tenderize our overly inflammed and fibrin-congested muscles and connective tissues with its enzymes.
Word of Caution: Bromelain's fibrinolytic properties can contribute to thinning the blood, so those on blood-thinning medications must be careful, especially when consuming part of the bromelain-rich core. Also, bromelain has the ability to enhance the absorption of other nutrients and drugs due to its ability to modulate intestinal permeability. This can be a good thing, for instance, if one is trying to absorb more of a therapeutic herb or nutrient, but a bad thing if one does not wish to disrupt the delicate pharmacokinetics of the bodily absorption and distribution of potent drugs.
The Part Is Not Superior To The Whole
Keep in mind that the benefits of whole pineapple cannot be reduced down to a singular constituent such as bromelain, no matter how impressive. The pharmaceutical model only goes so far when applied to natural substances. As with most things in the realm of whole food nutrition, the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Pineapple juice and leaves, for example, have additional benefits not found in bromelain alone:
- A Rich Source of Dietary Melatonin: Pineapple has been identified to be one of the richest sources of dietary melatonin tested (beating out orange and banana), capable of causing significant blood level elevations, peaking two hours after ingestion.[xxxvi]
- Pineapple Leaf Has Anti-Diabetic Properties: All parts of the pineapple plant have potential value. The leaf has been studied to have insulin-sensitizing and/or anti-diabetic properties.[xxxvii] [xxxviii]
- Pineapple Leaves May Beat Cholesterol-Drugs: Preclinical research indicates that pineapple leaves may modulate cholesterol synthesis and activity in a manner similar to statins, but likely without the over 300 known adverse health effects of the statin drug chemical class.[xxxix]
- Pineapple Juice Deactivates Rotavirus Transmission: Pineapple juice, due to its low pH and other constituents in the juice, has been found to be effective at inactivating rotavirus, while honeydew and papaya juice failed. [xl]
Whether you are fascinated by the research, simply enjoy the amazing taste and feel of pineapple, or its juice, we can be certain of one thing: food and medicine are inseparably bound within this amazing plant.
- [i] Roxana Báez, Miriam T Lopes, Carlos E Salas, Martha Hernández. In vivo antitumoral activity of stem pineapple (Ananas comosus) bromelain. Planta Med. 2007 Oct;73(13):1377-83. Epub 2007 Sep 24.
- [ii] Eric R Secor, William F Carson, Michelle M Cloutier, Linda A Guernsey, Craig M Schramm, Carol A Wu, Roger S Thrall. Bromelain exerts anti-inflammatory effects in an ovalbumin-induced murine model of allergic airway disease. Cell Immunol. 2005 Sep;237(1):68-75. Epub 2005 Dec 6.
- [iii] Eric R Secor, William F Carson, Anurag Singh, Mellisa Pensa, Linda A Guernsey, Craig M Schramm, Roger S Thrall. Oral Bromelain Attenuates Inflammation in an Ovalbumin-induced Murine Model of Asthma. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2008 Mar;5(1):61-9.
- [iv] Kulpreet Bhui, Shilpa Tyagi, Bharti Prakash, Yogeshwer Shukla. Pineapple bromelain induces autophagy, facilitating apoptotic response in mammary carcinoma cells. Biofactors. 2010 Sep 16. Epub 2010 Sep 16.
- [v][v] A Contreras, M J Paape, R H Miller, J C Corrales, C Luengo, A Sánchez. Effect of bromelain on milk yield, milk composition and mammary health in dairy goats. Trop Anim Health Prod. 2009 Apr;41(4):493-8. Epub 2008 Jul 27.
- [vi] Laura P Hale, Maciej Chichlowski, Chau T Trinh, Paula K Greer. Dietary supplementation with fresh pineapple juice decreases inflammation and colonic neoplasia in IL-10-deficient mice with colitis. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2010 Dec;16(12):2012-21.
- [vii] Laura P Hale, Paula K Greer, Chau T Trinh, Marcia R Gottfried. Treatment with oral bromelain decreases colonic inflammation in the IL-10-deficient murine model of inflammatory bowel disease. Clin Immunol. 2005 Aug;116(2):135-42.
- [viii] Ibid vi
- [ix] Suping Wen, Tom H W Huang, George Q Li, Johji Yamahara, Basil D Roufogalis, Yuhao Li. Bromelain improves decrease in defecation in postoperative rats: modulation of colonic gene expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase. Pharmacol Res. 2007 Sep;56(3):254-60. Epub 2007 Jul 14.