Papaya contains a natural digestive enzyme called papain. Digestive enzymes help break down the food you eat so that you can properly digest and absorb the nutrients from that food. They also help relieve symptoms such as bloating, constipation, and gas.
Papaya Enzyme Benefits
One of the key areas in which papain serves the body is in the realm of its protein-digestive properties. One case study found that when a male patient with gluten intolerance ate a gluten-free diet, he still experienced diarrhea, but when he additionally took 1800 mg of papain for one month, he had fewer loose stools and less malabsorption. This is just one study, and more research needs to be conducted.
Aids Skin and Wound Healing
Due to papain’s beneficial capacities, people have used it for many years as a topical application to burns, ulcers, irritations, bedsores, and other wounds, and to assist recovery from sports injuries. Some practitioners have used dental cavities. Papain’s enzymatic action is very specific, and it does not harm healthy skin. Traditional cultures in Hawaii and Tahiti made poultices out of the skins of papaya, as this part of the fruit has a particularly high concentration of papain. Traditional healers applied this substance to the skin to heal wounds, burns, rashes, and insect stings.
Studies have found that papain digests sinus mucin, a glycoprotein found in mucus, and hence may have beneficial effects for people having sinus issues. Papain makes mucus less viscous, or runnier, and hence better able to be eliminated. Because of this feature, some researchers are studying how papain can help deliver nanoparticle medicines to the body so that they can get through the body’s natural mucosal barrier in the gut. Using papain with nanoparticles may not be the best for your health.
Supports Immune System Function
Studies have found that papain may have anti-cell proliferation properties. Some studies have shown papain delivers a strong effect while others found no difference between papain and controls. A review article found strong evidence for the overall immune function properties of papaya.
Resists Redness and Irritation
Studies confirm that the papain enzyme offers powerful resistance to redness and irritation. Papain helps aid the absorption of another beneficial substance, quercetin. One study found that when papain and bromelain were given along with quercetin, it helped swelling symptoms associated with prostate health.
Acts as an Antioxidant
Papain holds compounds that may aid in protecting the body from cellular damage caused by free radicals, which makes it an antioxidant. The compounds in papaya juice effectively scavenge, or counteract, highly reactive hydroxyl (OH-) free radicals, as well as super-oxides. Papain has an antioxidant level on par with Vitamins E and C. In one study, the Sunrise Solo cultivar (a type of papaya) was more effective as an antioxidant than two other cultivars.
Prevents Food Spoilage
Since research has shown papain has antifungal and antibacterial properties, and it is sometimes used to preserve foods naturally. It is a powerful agent commonly used in food preservation, reducing bacterial infestations and spoilage due to oxidation.
Papain can break down parts of gliadin, a component of gluten. As such, it has the potential to help people with celiac disease. In 3 people with celiac disease, papain supplements improved nutrient absorption and reduce loose stools.
Digestive enzymes may improve the symptoms of some children with autism. Papain and pepsin improved emotional response, general behavior, and gut symptoms in a clinical study of over 100 children with autism.
A single clinical trial cannot be considered sufficient evidence to attest to the effectiveness of papain at improving the emotional symptoms of autism. Larger, more robust clinical trials are needed to validate this preliminary result.
In a clinical study on 192 people with shingles, digestive enzymes including papaya enzymes relieved pain and skin lesions as effectively as the antiviral drug acyclovir. However, it’s difficult to say how much papain (and not the other digestive enzymes used in the therapy) contributed to the benefits.
In a clinical study on 100 people with a sore throat and/or tonsils inflammation, multi-ingredient lozenges with papaya enzyme reduced swelling, mucus, coughing, redness, and pain better than the placebo. But these lozenges also contained lysozyme and bacitracin, both of which can kill bacteria, so the specific contribution of papain to the effects observed is difficult to estimate.
In a clinical study on 120 people with advanced cervical cancer, papaya enzyme together with trypsin and chymotrypsin reduced radiotherapy side effects (vaginal, genital, urinary, and gut problems).
In animal and cell studies, papaya enzyme blocked the growth, spread, and survival of various cancer cells (liver, colon, gut, lung, skin). Larger clinical studies have yet to determine the effects of papaya enzyme in cancer prevention and fight.
Limitations and Caveats
The evidence about the benefits and risks of the papaya enzyme is largely based on animal and cell-based studies. The few published clinical trials had a limited number of participants. Furthermore, several studies used multi-enzyme supplements, making the contribution of papain unclear.
When to Take Papaya Enzyme
For adults, chew three (3) tablets following a meal, one to three times daily, or dissolve one (1) or two (2) tablets in mouth when needed.