Once considered a rare an exotic food, papaya is now available all through the year. This tropical fruit is known for its sweet taste, vibrant color, and a wide variety of health benefits. It is a powerful digestive aid, improves heart health, and reduces inflammation. Papaya is also low in calories, and high on nutrition, which makes it the best fruit if you are on a diet. No wonder it was given the name ‘The fruit of angels’ by Christopher Columbus. Let us learn more about this tropical fruit and its health benefits.
What is papaya?
Papaya is a tropical fruit that belongs to the Caricaceae family. Papayas are similar to pears in shape and can grow up to 20 inches long. They have green skin when they are unripe, and orange when ripe. Its flesh can be yellow, orange, or red. Papayas also have black seeds which though edible can be very bitter.
This tropical fruit is native to northern South America and Mexico. Today papaya is grown all around the world, including India, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, USA, and other Central American nations.
The papaya trees come in three sexes – male, female, and hermaphrodite. Only the hermaphrodite plant produces the papaya fruit. All commercial growers cultivate only the hermaphrodite papaya plants as they contain the necessary parts for germination.
History of papaya
Papaya is native to Southern Mexico and the Andes of South America. The Spanish took it to Europe and the Pacific islands. Papaya was given the name ‘fruit of the angels’ by Christopher Columbus. By the middle of the seventeenth century, papaya was distributed pantropically. Papaya was introduced to Hawaii in the eighteenth century, and Hawaii is the only state in the US to grow his fruit commercially.
Nutrition facts of papaya
One cup (140 grams) of chopped papayas contain (1) –
- Calories: 54.6
- Carbohydrates: 13.7 grams (5% DV)
- Dietary fiber: 2.5 grams (10% DV)
- Sugars: 8.3 grams
- Fat: .2 grams
- Protein: .9 grams (2% DV)
- Vitamin C: 86.5 mg (144% DV)
- Vitamin A: 1531 IU (31% DV)
- Folate: 53.2 mcg (13% DV)
- Vitamin E: 1 mg (5% DV)
- Vitamin K: 3.6 mcg (5% DV)
- Potassium: 360 mg (10% DV)
- Calcium: 33.6 mg (3% DV)
- Magnesium: 14 mg (3% DV)
Papayas contain papain, an enzyme which can break down tough protein chains found in muscle meat. Papaya is used to tenderize meat thanks to this property of papain. Papayas also contain carotenoids. Our body absorbs these beneficial antioxidants better from papayas than any other fruit or vegetable (2).
Benefits of papaya
1. Reduces oxidative stress
Our body produces free radicals, which are a byproduct of metabolism. These free radicals are linked to various diseases. Papayas contain antioxidants including carotenoids that can neutralize these free radicals.
Several studies have shown that fermented papaya can strengthen the antioxidant defense system of the body in people with prediabetes, liver disease, and hypothyroidism (3, 4, 5). People with Alzheimer’s can also benefit from papaya (6). The lycopene content of papaya and its ability to remove excess iron, which produces free radicals, helps in reducing oxidative stress.
2. Improves digestive health
Papaya has been used for years in traditional medicine to treat digestive issues like diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, and stomach ulcers. Papaya also contains papain, an enzyme that helps to break apart the bonds between amino acids. It allows people with low stomach acid to digest meat. Papain also helps people with digestive issues to absorb protein.
Papaya is also rich in fiber content, which helps to prevent constipation. A study found papaya puree to be highly effective in treating the elderly who suffered from recurrent constipation (7). During another study, volunteers with chronic digestive problems were given 20 ml of a papaya based formulation for 40 days. The result of this study showed a significant improvement in the symptoms of constipation and bloating (8).
Inflammation is the normal immune response against foreign invaders. However, chronic inflammation can lead to many diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. According to a 2011 study from Malaysia, papaya consumption increases regulatory T cells, which helps in alleviating inflammatory conditions (9). Papain also decreases inflammation in people with asthma and arthritis (10).
4. May treat people with blood disorders
Recent research has shown that papaya extract can also be used to treat thrombocytopenia. Thrombocytopenia is a dangerous condition in which you have low blood platelet count. Platelets stop bleeding by forming plugs in blood vessel injuries. According to a study by AIMST University, Kedah, Malaysia, when researchers gave mice papaya leaf suspension, they showed a significant improvement in blood platelet count (11). Another study from Sri Lanka showed that fresh papaya leaf extract significantly increased platelet and RBC count in the test group as compared to the control group (12).
5. Reduces cancer risk
Papaya contains several compounds that can help reduce the risk of cancer. Animal studies have shown that papain can block the growth of tumors (13). Papaya also contains lycopene, which is a carotenoid with potent antioxidant properties. It reduces the risk of cancers in many organs and retards the growth of tumors. Lycopene is also useful in diminishing the effects of cancer radiotherapy (14).
Papaya is also rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene, which are known to reduce the risk of many different types of cancers (15, 16). A 2009 study from Mexico studied the effects of extracts of 14 fruits and vegetables on breast cancer. Only papaya extract had an antiproliferative effect on breast cancer cell line (17).
6. Improves heart health
Papaya is an excellent source of vitamin C, which protects against the oxidation of cholesterol, and reduces the ability of cholesterol to form plaque along the artery walls. It also contains lycopene, which is known to prevent cardiovascular disease (18, 19).
Papaya also contains folate, which helps to convert homocysteine into other amino acids to reduce the risk of heart disease (20). According to a 2012 study, people who took fermented papaya extract for 14 weeks have less inflammation and a better HDH/LDL ration that those people who took the placebo (21).
7. Prevents macular degeneration
Papaya contains a rich dose of beta carotene, which preserves vision and protects eye health (22). It also contains lutein and zeaxanthin that help prevent age-related macular degeneration (23). Zeaxanthin is known to filter out the harmful blue light.
8. Fights viral infections
Studies have found that papaya leaf extracts are effective in treating dengue fever, a deadly viral infection (24). Poultices made from papaya skin were traditionally used in Hawaii and Tahiti to treat burns, rashes, bug bites and wounds. The skin of papaya is particularly high in papain, which is also useful in treating infections of the skin such as warts and ringworms. Papain destroys the protein layer that protects viruses and fungi and decreases their ability to reproduce and spread (25).
9. Reduces the risk of asthma
Papaya is rich in beta carotene, which is known to reduce the risk of asthma. Vitamin A and carotenoids are dietary antioxidants that play a vital role in preventing airway inflammation (26).
10. Keeps skin healthy and youthful
Papaya is rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, and other antioxidants that help keep the skin healthy. They prevent the free radical formation and oxidative damage to the skin, which helps prevent wrinkles and fine lines (27).
The enzymes in papaya keep the skin moisturized. This fruit also has natural bleaching properties that help remove dark spots and acne scars. Papaya also protects the skin from UV damage by the sun. Since it is rich in carotenoids and flavonoids, it may protect against life-long protection against harmful UV radiation (28).
11. Helps ease menstrual pain
Papaya contains papain, which helps in regulating and reducing flow during menstrual periods. Women who experience menstrual pain can benefit from eating papaya.
12. Good for diabetics
Papaya is low in sugar, which makes it an excellent option for people with diabetes. Papaya consumption can also slow down the development of type 2 diabetes. Studies also show that people with type 1 diabetes who consume high-fiber diets have low blood glucose levels. One small papaya provides 3 grams of fiber, which helps people with type 1 diabetes.
13. Improves hair health
Papaya has several properties that help improve hair health. It contains vitamin A, which is required for sebum production. Sebum keeps the hair moisturized and conditioned. Papaya also has antifungal properties that help in controlling and preventing dandruff (29). This fruit also contains folic acid, which helps in improving blood circulation to the hair follicles and helps in hair growth.
14. Bone health
Papayas are a good source of vitamin K, which helps improve bone health. Vitamin K improves calcium absorption and reduces urinary excretion of calcium. Papayas also contain an enzyme called chymopapain, also helps in improving bone density and strength.
15. Activates human growth hormone
Papaya is known to nourish the endocrine system and promote arginine production in the body. Arginine is an essential amino acid that activates the human growth hormone. The human growth hormone plays many crucial roles in the body, including rebuilding bones, muscles, skin, and liver cells.
Side effects of papaya
Papaya can cause severe allergic reactions in sensitive people. If you are allergic to latex, you may also be allergic to papaya. Taking papaya leaves in high doses can lead to stomach irritation. You should avoid papaya during pregnancy and lactation. There is some evidence that papain can poison the fetus or cause congenital disabilities. Fermented papaya can lower blood sugar. So, people who take medications to lower blood sugar should monitor their blood sugar when they take papaya.
Papaya is a tropical fruit that belongs to the Caricaceae family. It is native to Mexico and northern South America. This fruit is an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. The health benefits of papaya include reduced oxidative stress, improved digestive health, lower inflammation, reduced cancer risk, improved heart, and bone health, and improved skin and hair.
Papaya can cause an allergic reaction in people with latex allergy. Pregnant and breastfeeding women and people with diabetes should avoid taking papaya in high doses.