Bromelain: the digestive enzyme with anti-inflammatory properties for joint pain

26 February 2016  |  Editor

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Bromelain can help reduce knee pain and inflammation

You may have come across bromelain as an aid to digestion, but did you know that studies have shown this enzyme to help reduce knee pain and inflammation, and improve general wellbeing?

Bromelain is a digestive enzyme from pineapples that is often used to help the digestive system break down proteins. This not only helps us to digest and absorb those proteins, but also helps prevent irritation caused by undigested proteins, which is important for general gut health. The resulting inflammation may contribute to an imbalance in gut bacteria and therefore impact negatively on our general immune function. The gut is our first line of defence and our bacterial balance plays a pivotal role in protecting us from disease.

But its anti-inflammatory properties do not stop there. Research has demonstrated benefits for people with osteoarthritis of the knee as well as mild acute knee pain.

A randomised double blind study of over 100 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee compared the effects of digestive enzymes bromelain and trypsin plus the bioflavonoid rutin, with the effects of commonly prescribed anti-inflammatory painkiller diclofenac. The severity of their osteoarthritis was assessed via the Lequesne Index, a set of 10 questions asking about pain, activities of daily living and maximum distance walked. Participants were also asked about degrees of pain when at rest and when in motion as well as how restricted their knee function was.. After 6 weeks, both groups had markedly improved scores. In fact, 51.4% of those taking the enzymes and rutin were judged to have “at least good” ratings, compared to 37.2% of those on diclofenac. The researchers concluded that the enzyme combination “can be considered as an effective and safe alternative to NSAIDs such as diclofenac in the treatment of painful episodes of OA of the knee”, with further placebo trials needed to confirm these results.

A separate study compared the effects after 1 month of 200mg bromelain daily with those of 400mg daily on 77 otherwise healthy adults with mild acute knee pain. This time, the WOMAC index was used, a set of 24 questions asking about pain levels, physical function and stiffness, alongside the Psychological Well-Being Index, which asks questions about general, emotional and mental health and well-being.. Improvements were reported all round. WOMAC scores improved by 59% in those taking 400mg bromelain and 41% in those taking 200mg, with stiffness and physical function showing the most impressive benefits for those on the higher dose..Overall psychologically health was also better for both groups, but especially for those on 400mg bromelain daily.

Bromelain has also demonstrated an ability to protect against edema, inflammation, thrombosis and blood clotting, and is showing promise as an anti-cancer agent: bromelain is thought to act as an immunomodulator by supporting the action of monocytes against tumour cells and also by inducing the production of certain cytokines which have specific anti-cancer immune functions. This has been partially confirmed in a clinical study with breast cancer patients, and animal experiments have also suggested a role in reducing the growth, invasiveness and spread of cancer.

So your digestive enzyme may be doing so much more than helping you to digest your food. With inflammation considered by many to be at the root of all chronic disease, its anti-inflammatory effects alone may prove valuable in ensuring your health and well-being – whether you suffer from knee problems, digestive complaints or general poor health.

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