LIVING WELL: Pineapple may help joint pain

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As long ago as the 1800s, a constituent of the pineapple plant has been used to treat inflammation and pain. As a bonus, this substance may benefit digestion.

The component is an enzyme known as bromelain. It is found in the stems and to a lesser degree in the juice of the pineapple.

Bromelain has been used for more than a century to treat injuries, inflammation and arthritis.

It has been used for some cases of indigestion since it helps break down protein.

For the past eight to 10 years, I have used bromelain for a wide range of joint problems. Its effectiveness has varied by individual, but it is generally very well tolerated and often very effective.

Although it reduces the inflammatory response, it works in a way that is considerably different from the anti-inflammatory medications with which you are likely familiar.

In 1993, the German Commission E, a governmental project to determine the safety and efficacy of herbal products, approved bromelain for use by doctors for inflammation and especially for use in recovery from surgery.

According to the United States National Institutes of Health’s website, “Bromelain is used for reducing swelling (inflammation), especially of the nose and sinuses, after surgery or injury. It is also used for hay fever, treating a bowel condition that includes swelling and ulcers (ulcerative colitis), removing dead and damaged tissue after a burn (debridement), preventing the collection of water in the lung (pulmonary edema), relaxing muscles, stimulating muscle contractions, slowing clotting, improving the absorption of antibiotics, preventing cancer, shortening labor, and helping the body get rid of fat.”

However, the NIH remarks only the effectiveness of reducing inflammation and reducing the pain of osteoarthritis has been shown through research.  The NIH refers to the other uses as unproven.

Bromelain has been around for a long time and has gained popularity among many herbalists as well as alternative health care providers.

In our clinic, we have used bromelain successfully with patients that have chronic joint pain for a number of years.

I only keep products that I have found to be effective and safe.

I have about a dozen products that we use on a regular basis and bromelain has found its way into our regular use list.

I use a specific brand of bromelain produced by a company here in Tennessee. It has been helpful in reducing chronic pain from joint arthritis.

Bromelain has been recommended for use with people with digestive problems and conditions such as IBS as well. I have not made a specific effort to recommend it to patients for these types of conditions, but there are indications that it may be effective.

Like every other product, the effectiveness varies from one individual to another.  

It doesn’t work in the same way that an over the counter anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen might work.

It is not likely to bring pain relief a half-hour after administration.

However, I have found that many patients with chronic pain see some clinically significant benefit if they take the supplement daily for several days.

One study found that a combination of supplements bromelain, rutin and trypsin was as effective as prescription pain killers in fighting arthritis pain.

This is not an indication that every patient with arthritic pain should head out to the herb shop to try this product. Just as with any other product, even “natural” ones, there can be side effects.  

In the case of bromelain, side effects are typically limited to problems such as diarrhea if too much is ingested at one time.  Rarely, an individual may be allergic to bromelain.

Some patients might find the risk of this type of side effect to be preferable to the risk of stomach, kidney and liver damage they face from taking common over the counter pain medications.

It is best to seek the help of a licensed health professional knowledgeable in this type of product before deciding to treat your own condition.

Natural or herbal products have been shown to be very effective for a wide range of problems, but there are concerns about proper use and potential side effects of interactions with any product.
Tagged under  Health, Health Care, Living Well, Voices

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