The alarm clock goes off on the day after your leg workout, and you gingerly roll to the side of the bed. Very slowly you move your legs to the floor while anticipating pain with each movement. As you attempt to just stand, you wince and think to yourself, 'I'm going to be hurting all day long!' Isn't there anything that can help that stiff, sore, achy feeling after an extremely tough workout? A new enzyme supplement derived from pineapples may be just the answer. Research proves that not only can bromelain relieve muscle or joint pain, but it may also allow you to recover more quickly from a weight-training workout. Can you imagine feeling no soreness from any high-intensity session? Think of all of the extra time and effort you could put in at the gym if you didn't have to walk around like Lurch all day. Of course, the healing effects of the enzyme aren't limited to just the legs. Bromelain can also help reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and joint pain. Talk about a Hawaiian Punch!
What are enzymes? Millions of biochemical reactions take place in your body every day. Most of them would never take place without the help of functional proteins called enzymes, the catalysts that make chemical reactions work faster. Enzymes are involved in many functions, including digestion, vision, lifting weights, running'even sex. Low levels of a particular enzyme can lead to impaired performance or death. Fortunately, most of us have an adequate amount of enzymes naturally, and normal biological functions can take place continuously.
Since enzymes are involved in so many reactions, could enzyme supplementation be used to treat disorders or improve quality of life? Could it also enhance our quest for muscle size and strength? For years researchers have delved into enzyme therapy to determine its effect on various disorders. Of the many enzymes studied, those that showed the most promise decreased inflammation and the harmful effects associated with athletic injuries, surgeries and muscular trauma. Animal enzymes such as chymotrypsin and trypsin, as well as plant enzymes like bromelain and papain, are documented in numerous studies. Of all of those potentially helpful enzymes, bromelain is the most readily available.
Enzymes and digestion. According to traditional concepts of digestion, dietary enzyme supplementation does not work because the small intestine breaks down supplemented enzymes into amino acids, just like any other protein. New research shows that some enzymes, like bromelain, can make it into the blood as a whole protein. Back in 1962 researchers studied the absorption of bromelain from rats' small intestines using radioactive tagging, or dye labeling.1 The research showed that up to 40 percent of an oral dose could make it into the rats' blood intact. A more recent study done on men found that after multiple oral dosages of three grams per day, the enzyme could be absorbed into the blood.2
Bromelain is actually a composite of five very closely related structures, but it's usually discussed as a single enzyme. The optimum pH for bromelain to work is 7.0, and the pH of the blood is 7.4. That means bromelain functions well in the blood. Years ago the Iron Guru of bodybuilding, Vince Gironda, advised his clients to take enzymes with meals to aid digestion. Vince was certainly ahead of his time. While enzyme therapy receives very little attention in this country, in some European countries you have to have a prescription for bromelain.
Bromelain and muscle soreness. Lifting weights is an excellent stimulus for increasing muscle size and strength; however, it can also damage muscle fibers. When that happens, materials inside the cell leak to the outside of the muscle cell. Specialized white blood cells come to help the body heal itself by releasing factors that actually break down even more muscle. Also, extracellular materials get inside the muscle cell and cause it to swell. That process is painful'and the result is delayed-onset muscle soreness. During that period, which can last from two to seven days depending on the extent of damage, training the affected muscle will only cause further damage. With time the body adapts to the stress of lifting weights, and less damage occurs after you perform the same exercise. Nevertheless, you're always progressively overloading your muscles to stimulate growth, right? So there will always be some damage to the muscle fibers.
Can bromelain actually treat DOMS? Let's examine some research and see how our friend from the islands really delivers.
Hamsters were injured by electrical stimulation and then given five milligrams of bromelain per kilogram of bodyweight twice a day. The treatments began eight to 12 hours after the muscle damage was induced and lasted up to 14 days. Bromelain treatment decreased the damage caused by skeletal muscle contraction.3 The treatment did not affect healthy tissue, only injured tissue. Also, because the hamsters didn't get the bromelain until eight to 12 hours after the muscle was damaged, it actually enhanced the recovery process that takes place normally in skeletal muscle.
A study from Germany examined the effects of the enzyme on blunt-trauma injury to skeletal muscle.4 The researchers assessed swelling of the injured area, pain at rest and during movement and tenderness, and they evaluated the criteria on the day of the injury and on five subsequent dates. All four test criteria demonstrated a clear reduction after treatment with bromelain. Both swelling and pain had improved considerably compared to baseline (before treatment).
Other effects of bromelain. Bromelain therapy has been researched in several areas. It appears to have promise in limiting tumor growth, decreasing blood coagulation, decreasing inflammation and enhancing recovery from third-degree burns. Many of the positive effects of this enzyme can be attributed to its impact on prostaglandins.5
Prostaglandins (PGs) are chemical derivatives of fatty acids that have hormonelike functions. They are involved in a tremendous number of biological actions. For example, some PGs can stimulate inflammation. Others inhibit inflammation and are referred to as anti-inflammatory PGs.
Bromelain inhibits pro-inflammatory PGs while not affecting anti-inflammatory PGs. That results in more chemical messengers fighting inflammation than initiating it. By the same process bromelain prevents tumor growth and speeds recovery from third-degree burns. Certainly, bodybuilders can benefit from a decreased inflammatory response in a muscle or joint that was due to overtraining or improper training. Imagine taking a supplement that not only decreases inflammation but actually assists the body's own healing process and doesn't delay it, the way nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (like Aleve and Nuprin) do.
ALLBromelain sources: natural vs. supplement. Bromelain occurs naturally in pineapples, with the highest concentration in the stem. Canning destroys the enzyme, so you have to eat fresh pineapple in order to get any amount at all. In an ideal world we would just eat lots of pineapple stems and get all the bromelain we need; however, that's impractical, so supplementation is the way to go.
In order to know what you're getting, you should look for several things. Fractionated ultrafiltration and lyphophization from pineapple juice should be used to obtain the enzyme. The pineapple juice should be pressed from the stem of ripe pineapple. The label should list that information and the supplement actually contain it. Recently, I've noticed that some preparations have started listing the enzyme activity. They can do that in a variety of ways, which makes it difficult to compare products from different manufacturers. Since the method of assessing enzyme activity can vary (each method has the enzyme cleave to portions of a different amino acid), it's unlikely you'll be able to compare brands.
How about a Hawaiian punch. Most studies use one to three grams of bromelain in divided dosages throughout the day. An enteric-coated version will survive the stomach and make it into the small intestine, where it can be absorbed into the blood. The enzyme is active in the pH range of 3.0 to 8.0, so it may be best to take it with some food rather than on an empty stomach. I've seen preparations containing from 20 up to about 1,000 milligrams per tablet. Start with one gram per day for one week before increasing the dosage. The body's tolerance for the enzyme is very high; however, some people may experience stomach upset. If that occurs, decrease the dose and take it with foods that you enjoy eating, like pineapple (just kidding).
You should notice that you feel fewer muscle aches and experience less inflammation. Just what we've always wanted'to lift like crazy but have no price to pay! You don't have to go to the Big Island, either, to feel better (although it wouldn't hurt). Bromelain may be the answer to the bodybuilder's day-after hangover. No more 'Night of the Living Dead' walking after leg day for us.
1 Smyth, R.D.; Brennan, R.; and Martin, G.J. (1962). Systemic biochemical changes following the oral administration of a proteolytic enzyme, bromelain. Arch Int de Pharm et de Ther. 136:230-236.
2 Castell, J.V.; Friedrich, G.; Kuhn, C.S.; and Poppe, G.E. (1997). Intestinal absorption of undegraded proteins in men: presence of bromelain in plasma after oral intake. Amer J Phys. 273(1 Pt 1):G139-46.
3 Walker, J.A.; Cerny, F.J.; Cotter, J.R.; and Burton, H.W. (1992). Attenuation of contraction-induced skeletal muscle injury by bromelain. Med Sci in Sports and Exer. 24(1):20-25.
4 Masson, M. (1995). Bromelain in blunt injuries of the locomotor system. A study of observed applications in general practice. [German] Fortschritte der Medizin. 113(19):303-6.
5 Taussig, S.J., and Batkin, S. (1988). Bromelain, the enzyme complex of pineapple (Ananas comosus) and its clinical application. An update. J Ethnopharm. 22(2):191-203.
Editor's note: Tom Incledon, Ph.D., is a scientist, nutritionist, writer and athlete. He's currently the Director of Performance Research and Nutrition at Athletes' Performance, a world-class training facility for athletes. Contact him at www.athletesperformance.com or www .thomasincledon.com. IM