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Papaya: More Than Just A Digestive Enzyme

 Jessica Morgan, M.H.The papaya has been regarded as one of the most valuable of tropical fruits and was first cultivated in Mexico several centuries before the emergence of the Mesoamerian classic cultures, but is native to the tropics of the Americas. Christopher Columbus reportedly called Carica papaya "the fruit of the angels" because they are rich sources of antioxidant nutrients, minerals and fiber.

It is now known that the papaya fruit is an excellent source of dietary fiber, folate, vitamin A, C and E and also contains small amount of calcium, iron, riboflavin, thiamine and niacin as well as being rich in antioxidant nutrients, flavonoids and carotenes, plus it's low in calories and sodium.

But, beyond the fruit, did you know that the whole papaya plant is usable. Papaya can be used as a food, a cooking aid, and in medicine. The black seeds are edible and have a sharp, spicy taste and have been used as a substitute for black pepper, plus the roots are also used to make salt. In some parts of Asia, the young leaves of papaya are steamed and eaten like spinach and in some parts of the world, papaya leaves are made into tea as a preventative for malaria. The stem and bark are also used in rope production.

Papaya is mostly marketed in tablet form to remedy digestive problems and is cultivated for its milky juice or latex (obtained from the fruit), which is the source of the proteolytic enzyme papain., but papain is also applied topically (in countries where it grows) for the treatment of cuts, rashes, stings and burns. Papain ointment is commonly made from fermented papaya flesh, and is applied as a gel-like paste.

Papaya leaf, latex, and fruit contain several digestive enzymes, which account for the herb's action as a digestive aid and its ability to tenderize, that is, predigest meat. The latex contains the most enzymes, followed by the leaves, and lastly the fruit, though the fruit still contains enough to aid digestion. The most important digestive enzyme in papaya is papain, similar to the human digestive enzyme pepsin, which helps break down proteins.  In fact, papain is sometime called vegetable pepsin.  The herb's other enzymes include one similar to human rennin, which breaks down milk proteins, and another similar topectase, which helps digest starches. 

The effectiveness of the papaya as a medicinal herb has been known since the 1750's but it wasn't until the 1870's that its source of enzymes were recognized. Papain is by far the most widely studied enzyme of the papaya and has been used for wounds in hospitals, clotting milk, for contraception and abortion and as treatment for all kinds of digestive problems.

"Women in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and other countries have long used green papaya as a remedy for contraception and abortion. Enslaved women in the West Indies were noted for consuming papaya to prevent pregnancies and thus preventing their children from being born into slavery. Medical research in animals has confirmed the contraceptive and abortifacient capability of papaya, and also found that papaya seeds have contraceptive effects in adult male langur monkeys, and possibly in adult male humans, as well. Ripe papaya is not teratogenic and will not cause miscarriage in small amounts but the Phytochemicals in papaya may suppress the effects of progesterone."

In tropical folk medicine, the fresh latex is smeared on boils, warts and freckles and given as a vermifuge.  A root decoction is claimed to expel roundworms. The leaf also functions as a primitive soap substitute in laundering. Dried leaves have been smoked to relieve asthma or as a tobacco substitute. The sap is used topically to cure inflammation and itchy skin. It is used to clarify beer, also to treat wool and silk before dyeing, to de-hair hides before tanning, and it serves as an adjunct in rubber manufacturing. You can find it in toothpastes, cosmetics and detergents, as well as many pharmaceutical preparations to aid in digestion.

But, to support digestive health, eat up and drink up! ~Place a teaspoon or so of papaya leaf in cup of boiling water. Allow to steep 3-5 minutes. Strain, serve, and enjoy. Steep time and amount of tea used can be adjusted to suit your taste.

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Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Jessica Morgan, M. H., Morgan Botanicals.

Disclaimer - The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other health care professional. You should not use the information in this article for self-diagnosis or to replace any prescriptive medication. You should consult with a health care professional before starting any diet, exercise or supplementation program, before taking any medication, or if you have or suspect you might have a health problem, suffer from allergies, are pregnant or nursing.

Jessica Morgan, M.H.


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