I’m sure you’ve heard of those delicious orange-colored fruits called papayas! We all love them! I absolutely adore them more than mangoes and peaches which have the same mushy texture and drip all over your chin.
Papayas themselves have all kinds of proven health benefits. For one, they are extremely fiber-rich.
Also, the antioxidant content is extraordinarily high and combined with Vitamin C, these are fantastic to help with the maintenance of healthy cholesterol levels and atherosclerosis (the build-up of plaque in the arteries).
But today, I’d like to focus on a special, and highly beneficial compound found in the leaves and fruit of the papaya called papain. Papain is an enzyme which means it helps drive reactions in your body. For example, if you eat a hamburger, one enzyme in your body, that you produce, called “protease” helps break down the meat and turn it into smaller protein molecules called amino acids.
Enzymes that break down proteins are termed “proteolytic” enzymes. In the case of papain, it’s not made by you. It’s made of a fruit. When you eat it, it still drives (catalyzes) metabolic reactions in your body that help you break down food, especially proteins. So papain is also a proteolytic enzyme. I’ve mentioned this enzyme before, for its ability to help with joint pain, in my article, Freak Out and Go Bed Dancing.
Papain is not only wonderful for your digestion but has many other benefits and, as we are learning through emerging research, may one day be beneficial in treating some forms of cancer! How crazy is that to think, of papayas for cancer? But this is the case with many pigments enzymes, and antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables. Let food be thy medicine, right?!
I’ll also share some other impressive benefits we’ve discovered with this enzyme. Then I’ll tell you what I’ve discovered about some of the amazing research going on today with papain and different forms of cancer, chiefly breast and prostate cancer. Breast followed by prostate cancer is the first and second leading type of diagnosed tumours worldwide.
Additionally, I have warnings below as well as recipes. When you’re reading this article, you can CLICK HERE to learn about papaya SEEDS, and how consuming them might help with all sorts of issues like biofilm, cirrhosis, food poisoning, Candida and more. But first about papapa fruit and its enzyme papain.
Papain: What is It Exactly?
Papain, from papaya, bromelain from pineapple, and pepsin, an enzyme naturally occurring in the gut, are all similar proteolytic enzymes, which again, break down proteins. So these all help you ‘eat’ proteins.
All 3 of these stimulate healthy digestion, especially the breakdown of fats and proteins into smaller molecules that your body can absorb. This reduces the putrefaction of foods stuck in your colon, and the resulting smelly gas.
In doing so, this could lead to a reduction in inflammation in your gut. This proteolytic action could also serve as a very mild diuretic and “gut soother” of sorts by reducing the risk of heartburn, bloating, and indigestion.
In Ayurvedic medicine, papain is seen as a diuretic and anti-bloating tonic which suppresses inflammation. In fact, so many cultures revere the beautiful papaya tree which is known as “The Tree of Good Health.”
Papain, like bromelain from pineapples, has been studied for its remarkable impact on people suffering from various GI disorders including reflux, ulcers, and even Celiac disease.
Because papain is an enzyme that breaks down proteins (aka proteolytic) you can understand why it’s found in some brands of meat tenderizer. When sprinkled directly on meat, it helps break down tough tendons and tissue present in the meat.
Some Latin cultures add unripe papaya to recipes and various dishes containing tougher meats, or they add papaya leaves to meat marinades. Many cultures wrap meat in papaya leaves as it cooks, and now that you understand the leaves contain this tenderizing compound, this makes a lot of sense.
Just as papain helps break down tough meats, however, scientists have found that papain is also helpful for helping people to digest and break down foods that are often tough to digest, like tougher cuts of meat, and fibrous vegetables. That’s the job of enzymes, so it makes a lot of sense.
What are Enzymes, Anyway?
Enzymes like pepsin in your intestinal tract, and many others (as well as papain found in fruit) are instigators and catalysts of positive change.
For example, when you need to digest a big meal you just ate at a fancy steak restaurant, enzymes in your food and gut are what make that happen. If you stub your toe and injure that tender skin under your toenail (ouch! I hate that!), enzymes will tell your body to go to work and begin healing that skin.
Enzymes are produced in the pancreas and are found in raw food, not cooked. Interestingly, one reason why researchers and doctors believe many of us suffer from compromised immune systems today is that we exhaust all of our enzyme production by eating so much cooked food, exhausting enzymes we need to bolster our immune systems. White blood cells contain enzymes too which help you fight off bacteria, viruses and fungi.
6 Impressive Benefits of Papaya and Papain
1. Heal Your Skin and Wounds
Like the aloe plant, throughout history, the skins and leaves of papayas can be applied to minor burns and wounds to speed up the healing process. We use a lot of triple antibiotic ointment in our country, however, where drugs are not promoted, you see natural remedies.
As an example, in Latin America, Hawaii, and Tahiti, papain leaves are used commonly for burns. It’s not folk medicine, it’s true. Research has clearly proven that papain stimulates the healing process, and helps sooth burns and injuries to the skin, all without harming the healthy skin around it. In studies, papain has been proven to stimulate wound healing through several fascinating mechanisms.2
First, papain stimulates the formation of cytokines that promote cellular reproduction and healing. Second, papain creates an environment that discourages the formation of harmful microorganisms.3 In this way, papain creates an environment which accelerates wound healing and skin repair in every way.
Papain is at the forefront of all kinds of skin research right now, not only for skin rejuvenation and beauty but also for healing severe burns. It is exciting to see all this come to fruition.
2. Address Sinus & Breathing Problems
In studies, we have learned that papain helps to digest—or thin mucus, specifically by diluting sinus mucin, a glycoprotein in mucus. In this way, papain could be great for helping people with sinus issues of all kinds.4 Besides being wonderful at helping to thin sinus mucus, though, today we’re learning about the ability of papain to penetrate the mucosal membrane in the gut for various medicinal benefits, such as repairing damaged endothelial cells in the gut lining.5
3. Reduce Bloating and Diarrhea
As I mentioned earlier, both papain and bromelain, from pineapples, are enzymes which have been found to ease inflammation and improve digestion, as well as easing bloating and constipation. In a recent 2013 STUDY, a papain preparation significantly improved all these aspects of digestion in people with GI dysfunction.
In another recent STUDY, a male patient with gluten intolerance added 18,000 mg. of papain once a day, every day, for one month (while eating a gluten-free diet) and experienced fewer loose stools as well as improved stools, less diarrhea, and a great decrease in bloat.
4. Fight Colds and Flu Faster
Papain improves the immune system chiefly by modulating inflammation. Inflammatory conditions, from IBS to Crohn’s to virtually any autoimmune disorder all signal the immune system to go to work, deflecting much-needed soldiers (immune cells, cytokines, and T cells) away from fighting off disease and toward fighting against their own system.
Both papain and PAPAYA SEEDS have demonstrated remarkable abilities to promote wound healing, a good sign of any compound’s ability to activate the immune system. Also, papaya seed extracts were shown in this STUDY to be able to help fight diseases like malaria and dengue fever.
Researchers believe that it is the phytochemicals in papaya such as phenolics and carotenoids that are so beneficial in modulating immune system agents such as cytokines, transcription factors, and antioxidant enzymes.
Right now, research is promising, and we are seeing immuno-modulatory and anti-inflammatory benefits, but as researchers say, more double-blind studies are needed before we know exactly what kind of extract we need and how to extract it completely safely and reliably from the seeds and papaya itself.
5. Improve Antioxidant System
Papain contains compounds that make it a potent antioxidant, helping to protect the body from cellular damage caused by free radicals. They have a good supply of natural folate which supports your methylation processes, as well as plenty of vitamin C.
Being orange, you might expect some beta carotene as well, and you’d be correct! Papain, in fact, is a very strong antioxidant, on par with other antioxidants you think of such as Vitamin C and E.
6. Fight Cancer as Hard as You Can
We are learning some fascinating things about using enzymes like papain to fight cancer, specifically by attacking the cancer cell. The specific action papain has on cancer cells is by dissolving the protein coating around the cancer cell. Briefly, the thick protein coating on these cancer cells is called “fibrin.” It not only prevents chemotherapy from doing a complete job of eradicating the cancer, this coating also keeps the immune system from identifying and destroying these cancer cells. Also, it so impedes chemotherapy from acting on cancer cells that “industrial strength” doses must then be used which destroy the human system in an effort to destroy the cancer cell.
Proteolytic enzymes are well studied and have even been shown to allow for lower doses of chemotherapy (in a few instances, obviously not all), but this means that it’s possible to reduce side effects of chemotherapy by limiting the dose and augmenting with certain proteolytic enzymes.
Studies have also shown that papaya juice has anti-proliferative effects (keeping cancer from spreading) and abilities to induce apoptosis (cancer cell death) in prostate cancer cells and breast cancer cells. I’m citing two exciting studies here on this! This STUDY and also THIS one, if you’d like to read more.
Papain is one of the most important natural proteolytic enzymes that has much to offer. It works at a pH of 5 to 7, so if you take acid blocking medications, this would be the single most important fruit to eat, and for that matter, dietary supplement to take.
The reason is that the acid blocking drugs (used for heartburn and reflux) change the acid levels in your gut raising them from a pH of approximately 1 or 2 to 5 or 6, so the papain enzyme will still work and help you break down food in your stomach, which is very important to those of you with autoimmune conditions. This is my opinion of course. I write an opinion column, so please ask your doctor if this enzyme is right for you. There are many ways to get more papain into your system, just by eating it.
First a word of caution
- Papaya is obviously loaded with medicinal benefits. I recommend it so long as you’re not allergic to it, to its skin or to the pineapple enzyme called bromelain (there’s a cross-sensitivity). If you can’t eat mangoes due to allergy, then avoid papaya too, as well as cashews. If you are allergic or sensitive to latex, avoid papayas due to a cross sensitivity reaction that is moderate in nature.
- Though the outbreak is over, last year in 2017, there was a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella that stemmed from contamination from Maradol papayas that were sourced from four different farms in Mexico. The outbreak is obviously over, but I like to be thorough, so I found this note-worthy.
- If you’re scheduled for surgery, you should discontinue all papaya-containing digestive enzymes and supplements. Do so approximately one to two weeks beforehand due to its mild blood-thinning properties. This might also mean it could enhance anti-coagulant drug therapy (ie warfarin, Plavix, aspirin, etc).
- Pregnant women should not consume papaya seeds.
- There’s a lot of controversy about papaya seeds or extracts being a male contraceptive. This is based upon two studies done on lab rats, and then on monkeys. The papaya extract was injected, at a very high dose. I don’t think it applies to human males personally, but that said, if you’re concerned about male fertility, then just avoid them.
- FYI, there are cultures where papaya seeds/fruit are consumed as herbal contraception, but again, I don’t think it applies here. In those lab studies I mentioned, the papaya effect of ‘sterility’ was completely reversible upon discontinuation. Testosterone was not affected. If you’d like to read about 3 Interesting Reasons to Eat Papaya Seeds, then take 5 minutes to CLICK HERE.
- Green papayas are not ripe, and should not be eaten. When the skin is predominately yellow, it’s okay to wash it well, then cut into it and eat. Uncut papayas don’t have any special scent. But after cutting it open, smell the inside. The inside fruit of a ripe, good papaya smells sweet and perhaps a little musky. A bad papaya smells bad, a lot more like sulfur, or rotten. It will be more mushy instead of having a normal texture.
How to Get Papayas Into Your Life?
If you are not allergic, papayas are a fantastic fruit to just peel and eat. Again, be careful with the skin. Just like mangoes, there can be allergies to it. Again, as I stated earlier, if you are allergic to mangoes, stay away from papaya as well as cashews. Also if you have a latex rubber allergy, there is a moderate cross-sensitivity with papayas, so avoid them.
- Slice papaya, or chop it onto your salad.
- Add papapa slices to yogurt.
- Mash a little papaya into your oatmeal.
- Papaya Leaf Tea – sold at health food stores, and on Amazon.
- Buy dried organic papaya leaf and steep your own tea, it’s sold on Amazon and apothecaries.
- Papaya leaf herbal extract is also available.
- Supplements of papaya are sold widely
- Papaya Enzyme supplements are also available, which contain high concentrations of papain.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.