If you’re looking for pain relief you might find it at your local grocery store. Not in the pharmacy or over-the-counter medicine aisle, but discreetly tucked into the produce section.
The people of Guadeloupe introduced Christopher Columbus to this tasty tropical healer in 1493, but native South and Central American tribes had discovered its amazing attributes long before he sailed in. Today we call it the pineapple.
What makes the pineapple special are enzymes found throughout the plant called bromelain. Bromelain is a protease, or proteolytic enzyme, which means it breaks down protein. That’s why you’ll find it commonly used as a meat tenderizer.
You may be thinking tenderizing your already sore muscles is the last thing you want. But there’s another type of protein bromelain eats up too. It’s a protein called Circulating Immune Complex (CIC). Let me explain.
Our cells talk to each other through receptors. When we’re injured they tell our immune system to produce CIC proteins. The CICs are rushed to the scene of injury or irritation. Pain signals are generated to alert your body to trouble while inflammatory substances are called to build a protective wall around the injured area. These continue until our body sends proteolytic enzymes to counteract the CIC-induced inflammation.
The problem is our body may not produce enough proteolytic enzymes to tell the CICs to stop producing pain and inflammation when they should. That’s because by our mid-20s production of proteolytic enzymes drops off dramatically leaving us vulnerable to runaway inflammation. Left unchecked, inflammation increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, arthritis and dementia related disorders like Alzheimer’s. It causes hidden damage to tissues and organs throughout your body. And it just plain makes it harder for our bodies to heal and stop hurting.
Fortunately there’s a simple answer. Since the cause of runaway inflammation is a lack of proteolytic enzymes, the natural response is to get more of those into our system. That’s why pineapple with its natural proteolytic enzymes in the form of bromelain is such a great find. Eating pineapple increases the supply of proteolytic enzymes present in your body. You do have to eat the pineapple raw though. Cooking or heating destroys the enzymes’ effectiveness. This means canned pineapple won’t work either.
The highest concentration of bromelain is found in the stem of the plant. I’ll admit you would have to really love pigging out on tough raw pineapple stems every day to get the most benefit. Or you can just take a proteolytic enzyme supplement with bromelain harvested from pineapple by peeling and crushing the stem then purified and dried into a powder form to be taken orally without getting the sore mouth.
By the way, pineapple isn’t the only source of proteolytic enzymes. You can also find them in papaya (papain), figs (ficin) and kiwi fruit (actinidin). Good supplements will usually combine various forms of the enzymes for maximum effect. Restoring your body’s proteolytic enzyme levels will go a long ways towards reducing inflammation and ending chronic pain.
Murachi, T and Neurtil, H.; Dept. of Biochemistry, University of Washington; Fractionation and Specificity on Stem Bromelain
Blumenthal, M., Goldberg, A., Brinkman, J.; ed. Herbal Medicine, Expanded Commission E monographs; Boston, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000:33-35
Kapes, B.; Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine; Bromelain, April 6, 2001
Vukovic, L.; Better Nutrition: Pineapple Power; July 2007