Do the Enzymes Found in Papaya Help Hepatitis C?
Revered by holistic healthcare practitioners as a digestive aid with the potential to help a variety of health conditions, papaya can be considered a medicinal food. Papain is the lauded enzyme derived from the papaya that is incorporated into several types of enzymatic health supplements. Although the evidence is scant, some sources even suggest that papain is helpful in fighting Hepatitis C.
About Papayas and Papain
Nicknamed “the fruit of the angels” by Christopher Columbus, the papaya is a tropical fruit measuring about six inches long and weighing anywhere between 1 and 20 pounds. When ripe, the papaya has:
- An interior consisting of silky smooth, orange-yellow flesh
- A large center cavity full of grayish-black seeds
- Juicy flesh that has a subtle, sweet, musky taste
Papain comes from a papaya before it ripens; it is a milky latex collected by making incisions in green (unripe) papayas. A proteolytic enzyme, papain breaks down protein. Papaya and pineapple stems are the two richest plant sources of proteolytic enzymes. Papain is most commonly used for:
- Tenderizing meat
- Easing gas, bloating and flatulence
- Pancreatic insufficiency or pancreatitis
- Food allergies
- Digestive ailments such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease or gastroesophageal reflux disease
In addition, papain’s classification as a proteolytic enzyme has initiated its use for other health issues such as:
- Muscular sprains and strains
- Chronic yeast infections
- Acne rosacea
- Reducing cancer treatment side effects
- Preventing diabetes complications
- Thwarting outbreaks of herpes and HPV
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Hepatitis C
Despite the faith many place on this proteolytic enzyme, no conclusive medical research supports using papain to prevent or treat any health condition.
It comes from a seemingly innocuous fruit, but papain is not safe for everyone. Besides papain, papaya also contains chitinases – substances that are associated with the latex-fruit allergy syndrome. Individuals who are allergic to latex are especially prone to a papaya allergy due to a cross-reaction.
Despite the latex-fruit allergy syndrome, papaya’s enzymes are generally well-tolerated. However, these side effects have been infrequently reported:
- Mild stomach upset
- Irritation of the mouth, esophagus, stomach or intestines (especially if these tissues are already irritated)
Papaya enzymes also have the potential to interact with certain medications and pose specialized health risks:
- Children with cystic fibrosis are advised to avoid papain due to a risk of intestinal damage.
- Those on blood thinners (like aspirin or Coumadin), anticoagulants or anti-platelet drugs have an increased risk of uncontrolled bleeding with papain.
- Papain may also pose a risk of uncontrolled bleeding when taken with blood-thinning herbs such as garlic, ginkgo, devil’s claw, ginger, red clover and saw palmetto.
Possible Benefit for Hepatitis C
Aside from one published study touting papain’s usefulness for Hepatitis C back in 1997, papaya’s effect on those with this virus is mostly speculation. Though there is a lack of evidence, papaya is known to be a natural anti-inflammatory – a potential benefit for those hoping to ease liver inflammation caused by the Hepatitis C virus.
- Papaya’s two unique protein-digesting enzymes, papain and chymopapain, have been shown to help lower inflammation.
- In addition, papaya contains the antioxidants Vitamin C, Vitamin E and beta-carotene, all of which contribute to inflammation reduction.
Papaya’s proteolytic enzyme content has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to help break down gas to relieve flatulence and bloating. In this regard, a papain supplement would be a good alternative to an over-the-counter drug for aiding digestion. Such a choice is especially useful for those with Hepatitis C who want to minimize the chemical burden on their liver.
For Hepatitis C sufferers, papain may be a good supplement to have on hand for occasional digestive discomfort – as long as the cautions are heeded. Unfortunately, there is no concrete evidence that papain will help reduce inflammation of the liver – or offer any other specific benefits for managing the Hepatitis C virus.
http://doctormurray.com/2010/12/the-healing-power-of-proteolytic-enzymes/, The Healing Power of Proteolytic Enzymes, Retrieved November 4, 2012, Doctor Murray, 2012.
http://www.lahey.org/Departments_and_Locations/Departments/Cancer_Center/Liver_Cancer_Center/Ebsco_Content/Hepatitis_C.aspx?chunkiid=38880, Papain: Nature’s own Digestive Aid, Elizabeth A. Peterson, MFA, Retrieved November 4, 2012, Lahey Clinic Foundation, Inc., 2012.
http://www.livestrong.com/article/282861-papaya-enzymes-flatulence/, Papaya Enzymes & Flatulence, Sarah Terry, Retrieved November 4, 2012, Demand Media, 2012.
http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=47, Papaya, Retrieved November 4, 2012, The George Mateljan Foundation, 2012.