Were you aware that papaya is good for you? Papaya has been shown to improve a range of health conditions. This article will present the current scientific evidence around the health benefits of papaya.
But first, let’s look at what papaya is and its nutrition profile.
What is Papaya?
Papaya is a large elongated fruit with a texture similar to a melon. When ripe, the flesh and the skin are the same orange to red color. The flesh contains black seeds which are bitter tasting. It is affectionately called the “fruit of the angels”.
The fruit measures about 15 to 45 cm (5.9 to 17.7 in) long and 10 to30 cm (3.9 to 11.8 in) in diameter. Papaya is native to southern Mexico and Central America. It is however found worldwide in tropical locations. The fruit is grown all year-round.
Nutrition Facts of Papaya
Papaya is a rich source of antioxidant nutrients such as carotenes (lycopene), vitamin C (103% Daily Values), vitamin A (22% DV), vitamin E (4% DV) and vitamin K (3% DV) (1).
It also contains high levels of folate (10% DV), fiber (7% DV), potassium (3% DV), calcium (2% DV) and magnesium (2% DV). The percent daily values are calculated on 100g of papaya (1). It contains the digestive enzyme, papain, as its main active compound.
The following are the top 8 health benefits of the delicious tasting papaya.
1. Anti-inflammatory Properties
Inflammation is a biological response to infection or injury. Prolonged inflammation can cause chronic health conditions.
2. Antioxidant Properties
Plant based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, oils, and nuts contain antioxidants essential for health. Antioxidants reduce the risk of developing conditions such as heart disease and cancer. Bioactive ingredients or additional food ingredients also provide benefits to health (4).
A test tube study found that a daily intake of papaya can strengthen the free radical scavenging potential and decrease oxidative stress (5).
Another study found that when Papaya was used in a fermented preparation for 2 weeks, it had a significant improvement in general health status of several organs targeted by oxidative stress in people with diabetes. This was revealed through C-reactive protein, LDL/HDL ratio and uric acid levels (6).
3. Wound Healing Properties
Wounds can get infected if not cared for properly. Papaya has traditionally been used to treat various skin disorders, including wounds. Papaya fruit was used in rats with diabetes and wounds. The study showed that wound healing increased when compared to the control group.
4. Delaying the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s Disease is a degenerative disease where brain matter is destroyed and causes memory and thinking issues. It is well-known that tissue is sensitive to oxidative stress. Increased production of reactive oxygen species, reduced antioxidant systems, and decreased efficiency in repairing mechanisms have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
A study found that papaya may be helpful at counteracting reactive oxygen species in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease (10). This study shows promising signs in delaying the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease.
5. Decreasing the Risk of Heart Disease
High levels of triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels are indicators of increased risk for cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke (11,12). A study showed that papaya taken over 14 weeks improved inflammation and LDL/HDL cholesterol ratio (13).
These results show that papaya can reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
6. Anti-cancer Properties
Cancer is the spread of abnormal cells throughout the body causing illness and death. Papaya extract has been seen to prevent or retard the spread of malignant cells in a test tube study (14).
Red fruits and vegetables, such as papaya, contain an antioxidant called lycopene. Many studies confirm that dietary supplementation with lycopene reduce the risk of developing cancers in many organs, but also retard the growth of the tumors (15).
Lycopene has also positive effects against other diseases such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, male infertility and inhibits the toxic action of other agents (16).
7. Improves Symptoms of Digestive Disorders
Digestive disorders can affect quality of life. Digestive disorders can include heartburn, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation, gas, stomach pain, and stomach cramps.
Papaya (Carica papaya L.) is used as a natural remedy in abnormal digestion in tropical and industrialized countries. In one study, participants with chronic indigestions and dysfunctions of the gastrointestinal tract were treated with papaya. It was found that papaya improved constipation and bloating symptoms and overall contributed to the maintenance of digestive tract (17).
8. Protects against Skin Damage
Reactive oxygen species present in the environment, such as the sun, smoking and pollution damage skin and cause premature aging.
Antioxidants contained in papaya play a role in maintaining the youthful appearance and texture of skin. A human trial found that in particular lycopene, vitamin C and vitamin E found in papaya, with the addition of soy isoflavones and fish oil, significantly reduce the depth of facial wrinkles.
Interestingly, this research study is the first one of its kind that looked at the effectiveness of an oral nutritional supplement on the skin (18).
Papaya is a nutritious fruit. It is high in vitamin C, vitamin A, folate and fiber. Papaya may be a novel, economically feasible intervention option for the management of general health and well-being with its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Papaya may also be helpful in the areas of wound healing, Alzheimer’s Disease, heart disease, cancer and digestive disorders. As the science around papaya and its health benefits are in its infancy, more good quality human studies are needed before a science-based dietary recommendation can be made to treat certain health conditions.
In the meantime, enjoy papaya as you would any other fruit and reap the benefits related to its high nutrient and bioactive rich content.