What is Papaya?
Papaya is the fruit of a tree-like plant (Carica papaya) native to Central America, where it was already a well-known food when Christopher Columbus first tasted it. Impressed with the sweet, buttery-textured fruit, Columbus called it the “Fruit of the Angels.” Many people think of papaya (also called paw paw in Europe and Australia, and mamao in Brazil) as an excellent digestive aid. But that is only the beginning of the health benefits of the papaya plant’s fruit, seeds, and leaves.
Papaya and Cancer
While anecdotal evidence about treating cancer with papaya leaf tea has circulated for some time, Dr. Nam Dang (University of Florida) and colleagues in Japan were able to document the anticancer effects of papaya extract in a laboratory setting. They used papaya leaf on ten different types of cancer cells (including breast, liver, cervix, lung, and pancreas) for 24 hours. Tumor growth was slowed, and larger doses had stronger effects.
Scientists from the University of Illinois believe that papaya’s high lycopene levels may be one reason for its effectiveness against cancer. Epidemiological studies have shown that the higher a person’s lycopene levels, the lower his prostate cancer risk. Studies have also shown lycopene to help fight cancers of the breast, cervix, colon, rectum, pancreas, lung and stomach.
Papaya and Digestion
Papaya contains an enzyme called papain, which helps to digest proteins. Papain is extracted for use in making digestive enzyme supplements.
Papaya leaves contain an organic compound called karpain, which has been recommended for eliminating bacteria that upset the stomach. Researchers also note that papaya leaves kill H. pylori bacteria, thereby reducing stomach lining inflammation and helping to heal gastric ulcers.
Dr. Paul Haider cites papaya leaves’ ability to break down wheat gluten for easy digestion, and recommends papaya leaf tea for stimulating the appetite, and as a laxative.
Other Disorders Treated With Papaya
The papaya plant is a virtual storehouse of nutrients, so it is no surprise that it has been cited as helpful in a wide range of disorders. A few of the diseases researchers and health practitioners mention as being helped by papaya’s leaves and fruit include:
- Skin problems: used in cosmetics, and also as a paste and facial mask
- Inflammation: helps to reduce systemic inflammation
- Arthritis: proteolytic enzyme for rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis
- Intestinal parasites: both seeds and fruit are used
- Stroke: lycopene may lower stroke risk in men
- Dengue fever: may normalize liver and blood functions in patients
- Immune deficiency: papaya leaves create Th1 cytokines, which boost immunity.
- Cardiovascular support: excellent source of antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin A