It's likely you don't think much about your digestive system unless it gives you problems. When working properly, it breaks food down into smaller components so that your body can absorb and use nutrients from your diet. If healthy, your body produces the enzymes you need for proper digestion. However, there is some evidence that fruits such as papaya may aid in digestion -- although more research is needed to know for sure. Either way, papaya is a nutritious, high-fiber fruit, so adding it to your diet won't hurt. People with a latex allergy must avoid certain fruits such as papaya.
Potential Digestive Aid
Eating papaya is proposed to improve digestion. However, research to support this proposal is largely lacking. Papaya contains a proteolytic enzyme called papain, which is highest when the fruit is ripe. Proteolytic enzymes aid in protein digestion. A test tube study found papaya may potentially act as a digestive aid, according to a 2012 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign master's degree thesis. The student found that papaya enzymes are active in the stomach's acidic environment, help break down protein and are a good source of fermentable substances that promote health.
Papaya Supplement May Help Digestive Disorders
Researchers reviewed the effectiveness of a concentrated papaya supplement made from papaya pulp on various digestive issues. Participants with chronic indigestion and digestive tract disorders took the papaya concentrate daily for 40 days. Researchers found the papaya concentrate improved some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, such as constipation and bloating. The results were published in the journal "Neuro Endocrinology Letters" in 2013.
May Fight Intestinal Parasites
Papaya may promote a healthy digestive system by fighting intestinal parasites, according to a study published in the May 2007 edition of the "Journal of Medicinal Food." Papaya fruit and its seeds have potent antimicrobial activity, according to researchers. To test effectiveness, researchers gave a papaya seed preparation to children who tested positive for intestinal parasites. The study found papaya seeds were effective at treating parasites without harmful side effects.
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May Be Beneficial for Ulcers
Papaya may offer benefits for people with stomach ulcers -- painful sores in the stomach lining. Researchers examined the effect of unripe papaya extracts on rat models of stomach ulcer. Papaya appears to contain substances that may help protect the digestive system. The study found that the papaya extracts significantly reduced ulcer in the experimental models. Papaya may serve as a natural treatment for stomach ulcers, but human studies are needed to say for sure. The results were published in the December 2009 edition of the "Journal of Medicinal Food."
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Effect of Proteolytic Enzyme and Fiber of Papaya Fruit on Human Digestive Health
- Neuro Endocrinology Letters: Papaya Preparation (Caricol) in Digestive Disorders
- Journal of Medicinal Food: Effectiveness of Dried Carica Papaya Seeds Against Human Intestinal Parasitosis: A Pilot Study
- Journal of Medicinal Food: Carica Papaya (Paw-Paw) Unripe Fruit May Be Beneficial in Ulcer
Janet Renee is a clinical dietitian with a special interest in weight management, sports dietetics, medical nutrition therapy and diet trends. She earned her Master of Science in nutrition from the University of Chicago and has contributed to health and wellness magazines, including Prevention, Self, Shape and Cooking Light.