Bromelain and papain are two natural enzymes that break down proteins and are found in pineapple and papaya, respectively. When you consume either of these fruits, you also ingest the enzyme, which then acts in your body. These compounds may benefit your health in several ways and might also be helpful when used topically.
The fruit of the pineapple plant, or Ananas comosus, contains bromelain, which is actually a mixture of several natural compounds that are proteolytic enzymes. These enzymes digest protein, breaking it down into amino acids, its basic building blocks. Pineapple has been part of traditional medicine in Central and South America for hundreds of years, where practitioners recommend it to improve digestion and lessen inflammation. In Germany, the agency that regulates herbal remedies, called Commission E, lists bromelain from pineapple as useful for treating inflammation and swelling after surgery.
Papaya, which is the fruit of the Carica papaya plant, contains the enzyme papain, as do the leaves, roots and latex sap. The richest source of active papain is the immature fruit of the female plant. Papaya, also called paw paw and tree melon, is traditionally recommended for digestive upset or to speed digestion, since it's enzymatic activity can accelerate break down of protein nutrients. Today, papain extracted from papaya fruit is often combined with bromelain and other natural enzymes in commercial supplements or topical creams and ointments.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, when taken by mouth pineapple-derived bromelain can be an effective treatment for certain inflammatory conditions, including muscle sprains, tendinitis and other muscular injuries. Papain may also confer a similar benefit for minor injuries. Bromelain could also help shorten recovery time after surgery by reducing bruising, swelling and pain, possibly helping you heal more quickly. Bromelain and papain may also lessen inflammatory symptoms of arthritis and autoimmune diseases, according to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, which also says that these enzymes might be helpful in treating cancer symptoms, although research with humans is needed to confirm this. Finally, when applied topically, creams containing bromelain or papain might quicken healing after a burn or skin wound by helping remove injured tissue.
How To Use
Bromelain supplements are available from health food stores. However, according to the Dole Nutrition Lab, fresh or frozen pineapple is also rich in bromelain and an equally good source. Papain is also available as a supplement, or you might consume immature, green papaya to ingest the enzyme. Various products are also available that provide both bromelain and papain, alone or in combination with other enzymes, for consumption by mouth or as creams for topical use. Do not self-treat with these preparations. Discuss use of bromelain and papain in any of these forms with your doctor to decide what might be helpful for you.
Joanne Marie began writing professionally in 1981. Her work has appeared in health, medical and scientific publications such as Endocrinology and Journal of Cell Biology. She has also published in hobbyist offerings such as The Hobstarand The Bagpiper. Marie is a certified master gardener and has a Ph.D. in anatomy from Temple University School of Medicine.