While it is generally believed that pineapples originated in Central and South America, where they were used by the indigenous peoples as both food and medicine, they were not discovered by Europeans until 1493.
That was the year that Christopher Columbus, during his second voyage to the Caribbean, found them on the island that is now known as Guadalupe.
Columbus, and other explorers who followed him, brought pineapples back to Europe where people attempted to grow them . Not surprisingly, since it is 9-ow known that pineapples require a tropical environment , the Europeans had little success.
Still, it is known that by the 18th century, pineapples were growing in Hawaii. Today, Hawaii is the only state in which they are grown. However, pineapples are also grown in Mexico, China, Brazil, Thailand, and the Philip pines.
Pineapples contain huge amount of the trace element manganese and very high amounts of vitamin C. Still, the nutritional benefits of pineapples are probably best known for being linked to the bromelain found in the core and stem.
Bromelain, which is actually a family of enzymes, is believed to be effective for treating a wide variety of medical problems such as the inflammation and pain associated with arthritis, ulcerative colitis, sinusitis, and allergic airway disease or asthma.
But are those claims supported by research?
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PINEAPPLES IN ARTHRITIS TREATMENT
In a six week Pakistani study published in 2004 in Clinical Rheumatology, researchers treated 103 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee with either an oral enzyme combination (ERC) containing Rutin, bromelain, and trypsin, or diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug available by prescription.
Researchers found that 54.1 percent of the people taking ERC and 37.2 percent of the people taking diclofenac reported at least at least “good” improvement. So, in this study, people taking ERC had better results than those on prescription medication.
A Mumbai, India, study published in 2001 in the Journal of Association of Physicians of India also investigated how the combination of the same three enzymes compared with diclofenac. The researchers randomly placed 50 patients between the ages of 40 and 75 with osteoarthritis of the knee.
The patients were given three tablets of the enzymes twice each day, or diclofenac, 50 mg, twice each day. The treatment continued for three weeks. The researchers noted that at the end of the treatment and at a follow-up appointment at seven weeks, both groups had a reduction in pain and joint tenderness.
The study group had a slight improvement in the range of motion.
PINEAPPLES, BROMELAIN, AND PAIN RELIEF
In a British study published in 2002 in Phytomedicine, researchers reviewed the effect bromelain may have on healthy adults who experience mild acute knee pain for less than three months.
At the beginning of the study, the volunteers completed two questionnaires. Then, they were placed on either 200 mg or 400 mg bromelain for one month. Seventy-seven people completed the study.
People in both groups reported reductions in their symptoms, such as stiffness. But, the volunteers taking the higher dose had greater improvement.
The researchers concluded that, “bromelain may be effective in ameliorating physical symptoms and improving general well being in otherwise healthy adults suffering from mild knee pain in dose dependent manner.”
In another British study published in 2006 in QJM, 47 subjects with moderate to severe osteoarthritis of the knee were placed on 12 weeks of bromelain 800 mg/day or a placebo, with a four-week follow-up. Fourteen bromelain and 17 placebo patients completed the study. The researchers found no statistical differences in outcomes between the two groups.
They concluded that, “this study suggests that bromelain is not efficacious as an adjunctive treatment of moderate to severe OA [osteoarthritis].”
One cannot help but wonder if bromelain tends to be more useful when the condition is relatively mild. The benefits might be less beneficial when the condition is more advanced.
Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease that primarily affects the colon that may seriously impair an individual’s normal activity.
Symptoms include diarrhea, joint pain, anemia, profound fatigue, abdominal pain, weight loss, and intestinal bleeding. Additionally, ulcerative colitis has also been associated with higher rates of colorectal cancer.
Laura P. Hale, MD, PhD, at Duke University has been studying the use of bromelain to control bowel inflammation in mice.
She reported in a 2005 study, “Daily treatment with oral bromelain beginning at age five weeks decreased the incidence and severity of spontaneous colitis in mice.
Bromelain also significantly decreased the clinical histologic severity of colonic inflammation when administered to mice with established colitis”.
SINUSITIS AND THE NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS OF PINEAPPLES
In a 2005 German study published in In Vivo, researchers analyzed using bromelain for 116 children under the age of 11 who suffered from sinusitis. Sixty-two of the children were treated with bromelain; 34 were treated with bromelain and standard therapies; and 20 were treated with standard therapies.
The standard therapies included antibiotics, pain relievers, and cortisone sprays.
The researchers found that the children who were treated only with bromelain had the fastest improvement- 6.66 days.
Those treated with the standard therapy improved in 7.95 days. The children who received bromelain and standard therapies required the longest time to see improvement in their symptoms-9.06 days.
The researchers wrote that ‘the children who received only bromelain “showed a statistically significant faster recovery from symptoms (p = 0.005) compared to other treatment groups.” So, it is not surprising that, in Germany, bromelain is commonly used for childhood sinusitis.
ALLERGIC AIRWAY DISEASE OR ASTHMA
In a study published in 2005 in Cellular Immunology, three groups of mice were induced with acute asthma. For four days, one group was treated with 2 mg of bromelain per kg twice daily.
The second group was treated with 6 mg of bromelain per kg twice daily. The third group, the control, was treated with saline. The researchers determined that the bromelain reduced the levels of white blood cells, which increases with asthma. Furthermore, bromelain lowered the inflammatory cells that occur with asthma, known as Eosinophils, more than 50 percent. No such improvement was seen in the mice in the control group.
The researchers noted that, “bromelain may have similar effects in the treatment of human asthma and hypersensitivity disorders.”
Should pineapples be included in the diet? For the vast majority of people, absolutely.