Can bananas reduce inflammation? A study from Appalachian State University suggests they can

Eating a banana might be as effective as taking ibuprofen, says a study from Appalachian State University

Study Finds Bananas Could Reduce Inflammation
April 6, 2018

Adding Bananas to Exercise Regimen

Getting a serious workout in? Running a distance race? How about a strenuous home repair project?   Instead of reaching for a bottle of ibuprofen to ease those aches and pains, a new study suggests eating a banana might be just as effective.  It’s been common knowledge for years that bananas are a great way to restore energy. Now a study from the Appalachian State University Human Performance Laboratory suggests that bananas can be as useful as ibuprofen in easing inflammation.

In a randomized trial, the research team brought in 20 cyclists and tested their blood before and after a workout. The cyclists drank plain water, water with sugar or water with carbohydrates from two types of bananas. Researchers found that not only did both types of bananas reduce inflammation, they also had an antioxidant effect, which helped keep immune cells functioning optimally.

Targeting specific enzymes

The study focuses on the effects of bananas on an enzyme known as COX-2 mRNA. Banana metabolites, or the products of metabolism, seem to limit the expression of COX-2 mRNA, the same enzyme targeted by ibuprofen. This helps limit inflammation.

“Ibuprofen is the number one drug taken by athletes to combat inflammation,” says study leader Dr. David C. Nieman in a press release. “However, research shows that it can cause intestinal cell damage and, in some studies, was found to increase inflammation in athletes. Now, athletes know there is a natural alternative—bananas and water."

The study, was co-authored by scientists from the Dole Nutrition Institute, NC State Plants for Human Health Institute and the UNC Charlotte Bioinformatics services division.

Dr. Mary Lila with the Food Bioprocessing & Nutrition Sciences Department at North Carolina State University said the study’s data is compelling, but the next step would be to compare the effect of bananas and ibuprofen directly. "Using ibuprofen directly as a positive control will be a direct way to see the comparative effects and provide the gold standard for demonstrating that the claims suggested by the original work hold firm," she said.

What Else Can Bananas Do?

Bananas may have a similar effect to aspirin or ibuprofen, but there are so many other benefits.

“Consuming bananas with water during exercise has several advantages for athletes and fitness enthusiasts above those linked to regular sports drinks,” said Dr. Neiman. “That includes a stronger anti- inflammatory effect, better nutrition, and improved metabolic recovery. This makes bananas close to the perfect food.”

Bananas are grown in 107 countries and are ranked fourth among the world’s food crops in monetary value. Americans already consumer more bananas than apples and oranges combined. That number will most likely grow.

—Nathan Katzin 

Nathan Katzin is a writer on the UNC-TV Science Team