Papaya is definitely one of my favorite fruits in the world because it doesn’t require any preparation to enjoy it and its versatility.
This is a blog about the papaya fruit and its benefits. Below is a little bit of research I have done. This is a work in progress.
Origins and Historical use
Papaya is native to the tropics of the Americas and was cultivated in Mexico several centuries before the emergence of the Mesoamerican classic cultures. It also is native to Central America and northern South America. In the ancient Mayan civilization, the people honored the papaya tree as their sacred “Tree of Life.”
In historical literature, papayas were first mentioned in 1526 by the Spanish explorer Oviedo, who observed it growing along the Caribbean coasts of Panama and Colombia. Shortly thereafter, papayas were taken to other warm-weather countries by the Spaniards and Portuguese. Today, papaya is cultivated in most countries with a tropical or warm semi-tropical climates like Brazil, India, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines.
Ripe papaya was the most popular form and was used as a fruit, while the fruit and rest of the plant were used in various folk medicines. It was known as a common man’s fruit.
Papaya skin was used as face wash, and this can be corroborated by the use of papaya in the modern-day cosmetic industry. Many of the field workers on papaya and pineapple plantations were believed to have smoother hands from working with these fruits; including a myth that their fingerprints “magically disappeared.”
Anecdotally, this may have been attributed to the enzymes “papain” or “bromelain” which are known for their exfoliating properties, or perhaps simply (over time) the mechanical destruction of the top layer of the worker’s skin from handling the fruit. The fibrous bark of this tree was used to produce ropes.
In Puerto Rico, papaya is also known as “lechosa,” which translates to “milky.”
Papayas have several medical properties, and native inhabitants of South America have used them for centuries in ethnomedicine to treat several diseases and symptoms. Mature, ripe fruits have been used for centuries as an effective remedy against ringworm, due to its anthelmintic properties. Unripe Papaya’s gummy milk sap has been known to kill Parasites by digesting them and has been used in herbal medicine to kill and expel worms. The fruit has even been used for termite control.
Papaya’s latex also works as a de-wormer by its purgative actions, increasing the movement of intestinal contents. It was given to children as a de-worming medicine. The unripe green fruit, on the other hand, has been used to lower blood pressure, and as an aphrodisiac.
Papaya as contraseptive?
Women in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and other countries have long used green papaya as a folk remedy for contraception and abortion. Enslaved women in the West Indies were noted for consuming papaya to prevent pregnancies and thus preventing their children from being born into slavery. This effect has been confirmed by modern research: as such it is now advised that pregnant women and couples refrain from consuming large amounts of green papayas before and during the first stages of pregnancy. Like unripe green fruits, the seeds were believed to possess strong spermicidal effects and temporarily reduce fertility or as a contraceptive.
In folk medicine, papaya seeds were used to reduce inflammation and pain due to their analgesic properties. Other uses include the treatment of stomach-ache and fungal infections, as well as worm parasitic infections (the seeds have anthelmintic properties).
Raw papaya fruit was used for all ailments of the digestive system. The green leaves of papaya were used in several regions of Asia to make tea believed to have protective properties against malaria. Leaves were also steamed and eaten like a vegetable and used as a heart tonic, analgesic and to treat stomach-ache. Even the roots appear to have analgesic effects and were sometimes eaten raw or in teas to reduce inflammatory pain. The orange-colored fruit was applied topically for the treatment of cuts, rashes, stings, and burns.
Papaya is a very popular fruit that is used widely in cooking. The ripe fruit is usually eaten raw, without the skin or seeds. It is a widely eaten fruit in breakfast and many papaya dishes are served as side dishes such as chili papaya with venison and papaya with pineapple salsa. The pink or golden flesh of papaya is used as the main component in various salads and desserts. Due to its long pear shape, it is a good fruit to be stuffed.
Green papaya is a good meat tenderizer; hence it is grated and used in the marinade as a tenderizer. It is also a familiar ingredient in numerous stews and soup dishes. Green or unripe, papayas may be cooked like winter squash. Papaya is pureed to make chutneys and sauces. Baked papaya recipes are also very popular in various cuisines. Its seeds are usually scooped out and discarded but they have a spicy flavor and can be dried and used as a peppery seasoning.
Papaya is also widely used in making Indian sweets and side dishes. Fruits salads also include papaya as one of the main components. Various Indian lentil and stew dishes contain papaya cubes. Additionally, the papain from fruit stems and leaves is used in chewing gums, and as a stabilizing agent to clarify beer.
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Health benefits of papaya
Papaya is extremely nutritious. It is a good source of beta-carotene that helps in preventing free radicals that may cause certain types of cancers. The fruit is loaded with enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial elements and is rich in antioxidants like vitamins A and C. Antioxidants in the papaya prevent a number of health conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, aging, and cancer. Papayas may be very helpful for the prevention of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease. Moreover, Vitamin A can prevent blindness and other eye problems and ensures healthy skin. It is an effective remedy for dry skin, pimples, and acne.
Papaya helps to maintain the levels of blood glucose, thus ensuring a steady supply of glucose and high levels of energy all day.
Papayas have substantial industrial potential due to the rich content of an enzyme called papain. Papain has been widely used in latex and exudates. Papaya is an excellent treatment for digestive disorders and extremely useful for any disturbances of the gastrointestinal tract. It helps to dissolve and digest protein, thus easing stomach ailments and indigestion. Papain also helps thin the blood and discourage clotting.
Papaya has been effective in easing heartburn and is given to treat dyspepsia. It also stimulates the appetite. Papain, not only digests protein, but it extends its activity to digesting carbohydrates. Papain also breaks down wheat gluten, which may be helpful for those suffering from Celiac disease. As a result, those who have difficulty digesting starchy foods, such as bread, cereals, and potatoes, might find great relief in including the papaya in their diets.
Papaya helps to settle a nervous and upset stomach and the queasy feelings often associated with travel and motion sickness. It has also been helpful in relieving morning sickness. The papain in Papaya is thought to relieve acute prostate inflammation and may be very helpful in cases of benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH). Clinical studies in Russia found that papain treatment reversed rectal lesions induced by extreme prostate enlargement in over 97 percent of the men treated.
Wow, that’s promising…
Papaya is said to stimulate the bowels in times of constipation and is also believed to be useful in treating inflammatory bowel disorders. The papain in unripe Papaya’s gummy milk sap has been known to kill parasites by digesting them and has been used in herbal medicine to kill and expel worms.
The papain in Papaya is currently undergoing studies to investigate its efficacy in treating the Herpes simplex virus and Herpes zoster. Another papaya enzyme, chymopapain, has been used in the treatment of slipped spinal disc and pinched nerves. Since many stomach problems are the direct result of indigestion, the use of Papaya appears to help prevent many ailments. It stimulates digestive acids and the production of bile, which may also lead to a healthier liver and pancreas.
Many biologically active phytochemicals have been isolated from papaya and studied for their action.
The meat, seed, and pulp of Carica papaya Linn, a popular traditional medicinal herb grown in the tropics, was shown by the agar-cup method to be bacteriostatic against several enteropathogens such as Bacillus subtilis, Enterobacter cloacae, Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhi, Staphylococcus aureus, Proteus Vulgaris, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Klebsiella pneumoniae. Vitamin C, malic acid, citric acid, and glucose are some of the possible antioxidative components in papaya. The study correlated the bacteriostatic activity of papaya with its scavenging action on superoxide and hydroxyl radicals which could be part of the cellular metabolism of such enteropathogens. This is indicative of the pathophysiological role of these reactive oxygen species in gastrointestinal diseases and papaya’s ability to counteract the oxidative stress.
Papaya contains several unique protein-digesting enzymes including papain and chymopapain. These enzymes have been shown to help lower inflammation and to improve healing from burns. In addition, the antioxidant nutrients found in papaya, including vitamin C, vitamins E, and beta-carotene, are also very good at reducing inflammation.
The anti-inflammatory activity of an ethanolic extract of Carica papaya leaves was investigated in rats using carrageenan-induced paw edema, cotton pellet granuloma, and formaldehyde induced arthritis models. Experimental animals received 25–200 mg/Kg (orally) of the extracts or saline (control group) and the reference group received 5 mg/ Kg of indomethacin. The ulcerogenic activity of the extract was also investigated. The results show that the extracts significantly (p <0.05) reduced paw edema in the carrageenan test. Likewise, the extract produced a significant reduction in the amount of granuloma formed from 0.58 ±0.07 to 0.22 ±0.03 g.
In the formaldehyde arthritis model, the extracts significantly reduced persistent oedema from the 4th day to the 10th day of the investigation. The extracts also produced slight mucosal irritation at high doses. The study establishes the anti-inflammatory activity of Carica papaya leaves.
University of Florida researcher Nam Dang, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues in Japan have documented papaya’s dramatic anticancer effect against a broad range of lab-grown tumors, including cancers of the cervix, breast, liver, lung, and pancreas. The researchers used an extract made from dried papaya leaves, and the anticancer effects were stronger when cells received larger doses of the tea.
Research showed that papaya leaf extract boosts the production of key signaling molecules called Th1-type cytokines. This regulation of the immune system, in addition to papaya’s direct antitumor effect on various cancers, suggests possible therapeutic strategies that use the immune system to fight cancers. The papaya extract did not have any toxic effects on normal cells, avoiding a common and devastating consequence of many cancer therapy regimens. The success of the papaya extract in acting on cancer without toxicity is consistent with reports from indigenous populations in Australia and his native Vietnam, said Dang, a professor of medicine and medical director of the UF Shands Cancer Center Clinical Trials Office.
Prostate cancer was the subject of a study in Australia that looked at 130 prostate cancer patients and 274 hospitalized controls. The scientists found that men who consumed the most lycopene-rich fruits and vegetables such as papaya were 82% less likely to have prostate cancer. In this study, green tea also exerted a powerful anti-cancer effect. When lycopene-rich foods were consumed with green tea, the combination was even more effective, an outcome the researchers credited to their synergy. (Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007)
The effects of Carica papaya leaf (CPL) aqueous extract on alcohol induced acute gastric damage and the immediate blood oxidative stress level were studied in rats. The results showed that the gastric ulcer index was significantly reduced in rats pre-treated with CPL extract as compared with alcohol-treated controls. The in vitro studies using 2,2-Diphenyl-1-Picryl-Hydrazyl (DPPH) assay showed strong antioxidant nature of CPL extract. Biochemical analysis indicated that the acute alcohol-induced damage is reflected in the alterations of blood oxidative indices and CPL extract offered some protection with a reduction in plasma lipid peroxidation level and increased erythrocyte glutathione peroxidase activity. Carica papaya leaf may potentially serve as a good therapeutic agent for protection against gastric ulcer and oxidative stress.
Papaya juice contains antioxidants that scavenge free radicals, waste products produced during the metabolism of food and in reaction to environmental toxins like tobacco smoke. Free radicals cause cell damage that can lead to cancer and other health problems.
Fermented papaya preparation (FPP) (a product of yeast fermentation of Carica papaya Linn) is a food supplement. Studies in chronic and degenerative disease conditions (such as thalassemia, cirrhosis, diabetes, and aging) and performance sports show that FPP favorably modulates immunological, hematological, inflammatory, vascular and oxidative stress damage parameters. Neuroprotective potential evaluated in an Alzheimer’s disease cell model showed that the toxicity of the ?-amyloid can be significantly modulated by FPP. Oxidative stress-induced cell damage and inflammation are implicated in a variety of cancers, diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular dysfunctions, neurodegenerative disorders (such as stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease), exercise physiology (including performance sports) and aging. These conditions could potentially benefit from FPP exhibiting anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immunostimulatory and induction of antioxidant enzymes.
Negative effects / allergies
Papaya releases a latex fluid when not quite ripe, which can cause irritation and provoke allergic reactions in some people. The papaya fruit, seeds, latex, and leaves also contains carpaine, an anthelmintic alkaloid (a drug that removes parasitic worms from the body), which can be dangerous in high doses. Excessive consumption of papaya can cause carotenemia, the yellowing of soles and palms, which is otherwise harmless.
Special precautions and warnings:
People who take blood-thinning medication (Coumadin, aspirin, etc.) should consult with their physicians before taking this herb, as it may have anticoagulant properties.
Pregnant women should avoid Papaya, as it can be a uterine stimulant (papain apparently dissolves a protein(s) responsible for adhering the newly fertilized egg to the wall of the Uterus). Papaya in all its forms should never be taken by people with a latex allergy (causing anaphylactic shock). Inhaling papaya powder (high in the enzymes, papain, and chymopapain, can induce allergies.
Finally, If you have any recommendations or requests for information about living and eating in Puerto Rico or traveling to the island, I would love to know.
Please leave a comment or share a papaya recipe in the comments section below.
This article is published presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country.
- Osato JA, Santiago LA, Remo GM, Cuadra MS, Mori A. Antimicrobial and antioxidant activities of unripe papaya.
- Owoyele BV, Adebukola OM, Funmilayo AA, Soladoye AO. Anti-inflammatory activities of ethanolic extract of Carica papaya leaves. Inflammopharmacology. 2008 Aug; 16(4):168-73.
- Otsuki N, Dang NH, Kumagai E, Kondo A, Iwata S, Morimoto C. Aqueous extract of Carica papaya leaves exhibits anti-tumor activity and immunomodulatory effects. J Ethnopharmacol. 2010 Feb 17; 127(3):760-7
- Amer J, Goldfarb A, Rachmilewitz EA, Fibach E. Fermented papaya preparation as redox regulator in blood cells of beta-thalassemia mice and patients. Phytother Res. 2008 Jun; 22(6):820-8.
- Indran M, Mahmood AA, Kuppusamy UR. Protective effect of Carica papaya L leaf extract against alcohol-induced acute gastric damage and blood oxidative stress in rats. West Indian Med J. 2008 Sep; 57(4):323-6.
- Oliveira MB, Motta ES, de Almeida GS, de Pádula M, Leitão AC. Genotoxic and Cytotoxic Safety Evaluation of Papain (Carica papaya L.) Using In Vitro Assays. J Biomed Biotechnol. 2010; 2010:197898.
- Amer J, Goldfarb A, Rachmilewitz EA, Fibach E. Fermented papaya preparation as redox regulator in blood cells of beta-thalassemic mice and patients. Phytother Res. 2008 Jun; 22(6):820-8.
- Doughari, J. H., Elmahmood, A. M. and Manzara, S. Studies on the antibacterial activity of root extracts of Carica papaya L. African Journal of Microbiology Research pp. 037-041, August 2007