The Flesh-Eating Pineapple
It’s Historical Popularity… and the Next Cancer Treatment?
Firstly… some interesting pineapple history that I bet (most) of you didn’t know (unless you have read a pineapple history or listened to series one, episode two of the podcast ‘The museum of curiosity’ *).
The pineapple was originally from Brazil (though there are different varieties from elsewhere). The pineapple was spread by natives around South America and eventually to the Caribbean and the Indies – which is where the famous Christopher Columbus discovered it in 1493 and brought it home to Europe.
The pineapple did not make it to England until the 1600s, and it became a HIT in the 1700s. Everything was made in pineapple shapes and painted with pineapples. It was THE status symbol! – If you had a pineapple under your arm in the 1700s… WELL, you were just the richest, coolest kid on the block. I am speaking literally though. People quite seriously took a pineapple to parties to show off, carrying it around for weeks until the pineapple started rot. You could even rent a pineapple for an evening.
Pineapples were expensive too. They cost about 5000 pounds each (around $8000AUD) by today’s standards – OR the cost of a new coach. You can just picture an 18th century gentleman weighing it up:
“new coach… or pineapple… hmm”.
Initially you had to grow them yourself, but this was a very difficult and expensive endeavour in an English climate. The pineapples would be grown in hot pits and boys would be payed to sit and sleep in them – just in case the pit caught on fire.
When eating fresh and delicious pineapple… I have often wondered why it leaves my tongue feeling like I just took to it with sandpaper… Allergic? No.
This is a common phenomenon. You can find complaints in forums all over the internet of sore and even bleeding tongues, gums and lips after eating pineapple.
Pineapple is the only known source in nature of the enzyme Bromelain. Bromelain actually digest proteins… so when you eat pineapple. It’s essentially eating you back! But don’t worry, once you swallow the pineapple the acids in your stomach destroy the enzymes.
It is also often suggested that workers in pineapple fields have no fingerprints because the bromelain in the pineapple wears them away. I’m not certain that this is true, but theoretically it could occur over time. What I do know is that it’s used as a meat tenderiser, and that if you leave it on the meat too long it will just turn to mush.
Despite eating your mouth, bromelain has become recognised for its health benefits and is useful in medical treatments for a number of ailments and diseases. For starters it is part of an approved treatment for inflammation and swelling, particularly after surgery and it has been proposed for treating a number of other inflammation based disorders including osteoarthritis, autoimmune diseases and viral infections. It is also useful for removing damaged and infected tissues from burn wounds.
More recent research has pointed at its potential use in cancer treatments. A few preclinical studies (that is; early research not yet tested in humans) have indicated that it has antitumor properties and, for instance has been found to stimulate death of breast and ovarian cancer cells. One study tested the effects of bromelain on breast cancer and found evidence that women who were given bromelain (just swallowed) started producing cells that targeted and killed breast cancer cells.
However, more study in humans and on how to apply treatments will need to be conducted before bromelain can be applied to cancer treatments.
Moral of the story: Eat pineapple!
My question is however… why does the pineapple have bromelain? What is it’s purpose to a pineapple plant? Sadly I have not found the answer. If you know what/where it is please comment.
Great medical reference: Chobotova, K; Vernallis, AB; Majid, FAA (2010). Bromelain’s activity and potential as an anti-cancer agent: Current evidence and perspectives. Cancer Letters. 290/2 P148-156
* I highly recommend these podcasts. They’re full of comedians, scientists and other interesting people, providing thoughts, stories, histories, random facts and some nonsense. They can be downloaded from iTunes.