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Papaya

What is it?

Papaya is a plant. The leaves and fruit are used to make medicine.

Papaya is taken by mouth to prevent cancer, treat diabetes, and prevent recurrence of a viral infection called human papilloma virus (HPV). But there is little scientific evidence to support these uses.

Papaya contains a chemical called papain, which is commonly used as a meat tenderizer.

How effective is it?

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

The effectiveness ratings for PAPAYA are as follows:

Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...

  • Cancer. Population research has found that eating papaya might prevent gallbladder and colorectal cancers in some people.
  • Diabetes. Early research suggests that consuming fermented papaya fruit can reduce blood sugar levels before and after meals in people with type 2 diabetes.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Population research has found that eating papaya fruit at least once per week might reduce the chance of getting a persistent HPV infection compared to never eating papaya fruit.
  • Gum disease. Early research shows that applying a gel containing fermented papaya into spaces around teeth called periodontal pockets can reduce gum bleeding, plaque, and gum inflammation in people with gum disease.
  • Wound healing. Early research shows that applying a dressing containing papaya fruit to the edges of a reopened surgical wound reduces healing time and length of hospitalization compared to treating the reopened wound with a hydrogen peroxide dressing.
  • Stomach and intestine problems.
  • Parasite infections.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of papaya for these uses.

How does it work?

Papaya contains a chemical called papain. Papain breaks down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. That’s why it works as a meat tenderizer. However, papain is changed by digestive juices, so there is some question about whether it could be effective as a medicine when taken by mouth.

Papaya also contains a chemical called carpain. Carpain seems to be able to kill certain parasites, and it might affect the central nervous system.

Papaya also seems to have antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immune-stimulating effects.

Are there safety concerns?

Papaya is LIKELY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth in amounts commonly found in foods.

Papaya is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth as medicine.

Papaya is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth in large amounts or when applied to the skin as papaya latex. Papaya latex contains papain. Taking large amounts of papain by mouth may damage the esophagus, which is the food tube in the throat. Applying papaya latex to the skin can cause severe irritation and allergic reactions in some people.

Special precautions & warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Papaya is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth during pregnancy. Do not take papaya by mouth in medicinal amounts if you are pregnant. There is some evidence that unprocessed papain, one of the chemicals found in papaya, might poison the fetus or cause birth defects. Not enough is known about the safety of papaya during breast-feeding. It is best to avoid taking it in amounts higher than normal food amounts.

Diabetes: Papaya that has been fermented can lower blood sugar. People with diabetes who are taking medications to lower their blood sugar should pay close attention to their blood sugar as adjustments to medications might be needed.

Low blood sugar: Papaya that has been fermented can lower blood sugar. Taking this form of papaya might make blood sugar too low in people who already have low blood sugar.

Underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism): There is concern that eating large amounts of papaya might make this condition worse.

Latex allergy: If you are allergic to latex, there is a good chance you are also be allergic to papaya. If you have a latex allergy, avoid eating papaya or taking products that contain papaya.

Papain allergy: Papaya contains papain. If you are allergic to papain, avoid eating papaya or taking products that contain papaya.

Surgery: Papaya that has been fermented can lower blood sugar. In theory, this form of papaya might affect blood sugary during and after surgery. If you are taking papaya, you should stop 2 weeks before surgery.

Are there interactions with medications?

Moderate
Be cautious with this combination.
Amiodarone (Cordarone, Nexterone, Pacerone)
Taking multiple doses of papaya extract by mouth along with amiodarone (Cordarone, Nexterone, Pacerone) might increase the amount of amiodarone to which the body is exposed. This might increase the effects and adverse effects of amiodarone. However, taking a single dose of papaya extract along with amiodarone does not seem to have an effect.

Levothyroxine (Synthroid, Levothroid, Levoxyl, and others)
Levothyroxine is used for low thyroid function. Eating large amounts of papaya seems to decrease the thyroid. Excessive use of papaya along with levothyroxine might decrease the effects of levothyroxine.

Some brands that contain levothyroxine include Armour Thyroid, Eltroxin, Estre, Euthyrox, Levo-T, Levothroid, Levoxyl, Synthroid, Unithroid, and others.

Medications for diabetes (Antidiabetes drugs)
Papaya that has been fermented might decrease blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes medications are also used to lower blood sugar. Taking fermented papaya along with diabetes medications might cause your blood sugar to go too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your diabetes medication might need to be changed.

Some medications used for diabetes include glimepiride (Amaryl), glyburide (DiaBeta, Glynase PresTab, Micronase), insulin, pioglitazone (Actos), rosiglitazone (Avandia), chlorpropamide (Diabinese), glipizide (Glucotrol), tolbutamide (Orinase), and others.
Warfarin (Coumadin)
Warfarin (Coumadin) is used to slow blood clotting. Papaya might increase the effects of warfarin (Coumadin) and increase the chances of bruising and bleeding. Be sure to have your blood checked regularly. The dose of your warfarin (Coumadin) might need to be changed.

Are there interactions with herbs and supplements?

Herbs and supplements that might lower blood sugar
Papaya that has been fermented might lower blood sugar. Using fermented papaya along with other herbs and supplements that have the same effect might cause blood sugar to drop too low in some people. Some of these products include devil's claw, fenugreek, guar gum, Panax ginseng, Siberian ginseng, and others.
Papain
Papaya contains papain. Using papain (in meat tenderizer, for example) along with papaya might increase your chance of experiencing unwanted side effects of papain.

Are there interactions with foods?

There are no known interactions with foods.

What dose is used?

The appropriate dose of papaya for use as treatment depends on several factors such as the user’s age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for papaya. Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.

Other names

Banane de Prairie, Caricae Papayae Folium, Carica papaya, Carica peltata, Carica posoposa, Chirbhita, Erandachirbhita, Erand Karkati, Green Papaya, Mamaerie, Melonenbaumblaetter, Melon Tree, Papaw, Papaya Fruit, Papayas, Papaye, Papaye Verte, Papayer, Papita, Paw Paw, Pawpaw.

Methodology

To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.

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Last reviewed - 05/17/2018