Bromelain is not actually a single substance, but rather a collection of protein-digesting enzymes (also called proteolytic enzymes) found in pineapple juice and in the stem of pineapple plants. It is primarily produced in Japan, Hawaii, and Taiwan, and much of the original research was performed in the first two of those locations. Subsequently, European researchers developed an interest, and, by 1995, bromelain had become the thirteenth most common individual herbal product sold in Germany.

Bromelain (often in combination with other proteolytic enzymes) is used in Europe to aid in recovery from surgery and athletic injuries, as well as to treat sinusitis and phlebitis.

Other proposed uses of bromelain include chronic venous insufficiency (closely related to varicose veins), hemorrhoids, other diseases of the veins, bruising, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, ulcerative colitis,1 and dysmenorrhea (menstrual pain). However, there is no real evidence that bromelain is effective for these conditions. One study failed to find bromelain effective for osteoarthritis.49

Bromelain is definitely useful as a digestive enzyme. Unlike most digestive enzymes, bromelain is active both in the acid environment of the stomach and the alkaline environment of the small intestine.2,3This may make it particularly effective as an oral digestive aid for those who do not digest food properly.4,5,6

Bromelain may also increase the absorption of various drugs, particularly antibiotics such as amoxicillin and tetracycline. This could offer both risks and benefits.7-10

Bromelain is widely available in groceries as a meat tenderizer.