Papaya and health

K Rashbehari Singh *

Papaya (botanical name: Carica papaya) is a small, bushy tree with a hollow trunk having large palmate leaves and oblong smooth – skinned fruits. Papaya, a tropical plant is believed to have originated in Southern Maxico and Central America and is now cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide because of its taste and numerous health benefits. The Mayans ( the indigenous people of Mexico and Central America ) called the papaya trees the “Tree of life” and worshiped it.

The story goes that when the crew of Christopher Columbus landed in America after a long voyage on meager meal, extravagant feast was provided to them by the native people and the voyagers suffered digestive problems. The natives took the voyagers to the forest and papaya was offered to them and digestive problem was cured. The Italian voyager, Christopher Columbus once referred to papayas as the fruit of the angels. Papaya fruit is an excellent source of dietary fiber, folate, Vitamin A, C, and E.

Small amounts of calcium, iron, riboflavin, thiamin and niacin are also present in the papaya fruits. Papaya is also very rich in antioxidant nutrients flavonoids and carotenes and low in calories and sodium. Papaya contains two important biologically active compounds, chymopapain and papain, which are supposed to aid in digestion.

Health benefits of papaya

Immunity : Papaya is rich in Vitamin A and Vitamin C and that help in boosting body’s immunity to fight against various infections. A single papaya contains more than 200% of our daily requirement of Vitamin C. Lowers Cholesterol: The fruit of papaya is rich in fiber, Vitamin C and antioxidants and as such help in prevention of cholesterol oxidation and can be used in the preventive treatments against atherosclerosis, strokes, heart attacks and diabetic heart disease.

Weight loss: Papaya contains very low calories and the fiber content in it makes feeling full when consumed and also clears bowel movement, making weight loss regime easier. Diabetics: Though the taste is sweet, the sugar content of papaya is low and hence it is an excellent food option for diabetics. As a preventive measure from diabetics, papaya can be consumed regularly.

Eye and skin Care: Papaya is an excellent source of Vitamin – A (provides 950 IU/100 g), which is required for maintaining healthy mucosa and skin and for healthy vision.

Digestion: Papaya has digestive enzymes known as papain and chymopapain which help in digestion, prevent constipation and clean the colon. In healing and prevention of stomach ulcers papain is helpful. Papaya leaves are also rich in protease and amylase and these enzymes help in breakdown and digestion of proteins, carbohydrates and minerals. The inflammation of stomach and colon is also reduced due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Due to its antimicrobial properties, the juice can be used for treatment of peptic ulcer by killing bacteria H. Pylori.

Ageing: Papaya is rich in Vitamin- C, Vitamin – E and antioxidants like bata-carotene which helps in prevention of our skin from free radical damage thereby keeping wrinkles and other signs of ageing at bay.

Cancer: Papaya is a rich source of antioxidants, phytonutrients and flavonoids that prevent cells from undergoing free radical damage. Consuming the antioxidant beta-carotene, found in papayas, may reduce cancer risk. Stress: Papaya is rich in several nutrients like Vitamin C which can keep us free from stress.

Intestinal worms: The seeds of papaya posses medicinal properties and can be used for treatment of intestinal worms in the body. Osteoporosis and gout: Papaya is useful in relieving pain for those who are suffering from arthritis, oedema and osteoporosis as it contains anti-inflammatory enzymes.

Gout is an acute, recurrent disease characterized by painful inflammation of the joints, chiefly those in the feet and hands, and especially in the great toe, and by an excess of uric acid in the blood. Papain is an enzyme found in papaya that is a natural anti-inflammatory agent and papaya is a tried and trusted remedy to treat gout.

Asthma prevention: Consumption of high amounts of certain nutrients like beta-carotene contained in foods like papaya, apricots, broccoli, pumpkin and carrots help in lowering the risk of developing asthma. Dengue: Dengue is an acute viral disease, transmitted by aedes mosquitoes, and characterized by headache, fever, pains in the joints, and skin rash. Dengue fever severely brings down the blood platelet count, and the extracts from papaya leaf are known to help increase the count.

Control of blood pressure: Lifestyle, dietary factors like high sodium intake and less or no physical activity can cause high blood pressure. One hundred (100 ) gm. of papaya contains 182 mg. of potassium, which is an essential mineral to keep blood pressure under control as potassium counteracts the effects of sodium.

Menstrual pain: In women who experience menstrual pain, the enzyme, papain, helps in regulating and easing flow during menstrual periods and easing menstrual pain. Papaya leaf juice works wonder to ease the menstrual flow and reduce the pain. The potent healing properties of papaya leaf balance hormones and regulate menstrual cycles.

Birth control: In the Indian subcontinent and some parts of Southeast Asia, papaya fruit and seeds have been used as a form of birth control since ages. To avoid pregnancy, women consume a large quantity of unripe green papaya. Raw papaya and papaya leaf juice should particularly be avoided by pregnant women as it may induce abortion.

Morning sickness: Regular consumption of a small slice of papaya helps to cure nausea and morning sickness in pregnant ladies due to the presence of vitamins C and E and folate.

Pregnant women: Papaya has high Vitamin C, Vitamin E and folate content and consumption of moderate quantities of it is considered to be good for pregnant ladies. It helps relieve of acidity, heartburn, constipation, and several other stomach disorders and also promote the growth of foetus. Many women consume a tonic, made of ripe papaya, milk and honey, which is a rich source of nutrients for pregnant ladies and lactating mothers.

Lactation: Raw papaya – a galactagogue should be included in the diets of lactating mothers to improve breast milk production. It also acts as sedatives and can help the mother relax and feed the baby better. Babies: Papaya fruit is usually introduced to infants when they are 7 to 8 months old. It assists proper bowel movement and keeps babies healthy and happy.

Caution: Before consuming papayas the following points should be remembered.

o Consumption of moderate amounts of papaya is safe.
o Consumption of excessive amounts of papaya specialy the raw one by pregnant and lactating mothers should be avoided.
o Eating too much of papaya might upset gastrointestinal system and in turn will cause an upset stomach.
o Papain or the latex present in papaya may cause allergic reaction in some people.
o Patients using medications such as anti-blood clotting should consult their doctors before consuming papaya as it may interact with their medicines.
o Overconsumption of black seeds of papaya can cause paralysis and cardiac depression.
o Papaya is not safe, if consumed in excessive amounts during diarrhoea.
o People advise mothers not to feed papaya to infants below the age of 1 year.

Papaya is a wonderful and invaluable gift of Nature. However, if we do not use it judiciously, side effects may follow.

* K Rashbehari Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is retd Deputy Director (Extension Education) Central Agricultural University, Lamphelpat
This article was posted on 24 September, 2018 .

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