It was surely the delicious taste first of all that caused Columbus, upon his discovery of the papaya fruit, to call it the ‘fruit of the angels’. That papaya could have so much more to offer than its refreshingly delicious taste—that, of course, Columbus could not have guessed after his first encounter with this potential natural remedy.
The detoxifying, purifying, immune-strengthening – in short: the healing effect of papaya has been appreciated for centuries by native peoples around the globe and used on all variety of illnesses and complaints, e.g. by the Aborigines, the Indians of Central and South America, the native peoples of India, the Kahunas and even the Chinese.
For the native Australians (Aborigines) and the Kahunas on Hawaii, this ‘magical fruit’ is THE cancer remedy per se – and this rightfully, as the 600 scientific studies about the cancer-healing powers of papaya reinforce!
The immune-strengthening, detoxifying and base-forming potential of papaya in connection with many other mechanisms of action lead to as yet unrecognised healing possibilities as well as to relief of numerous diseases and disorders.
Papaya – the basic botanical information
The papaya (botanical name ‘Carica papaya’) is also called the ‘melon tree’ or ‘papaya tree’, and sometimes also the ‘Poor Man’s Banana’ or the ‘Hoosier Banana’. It belongs to the plant family of the melon tree plant. The name ‘papaya’ originates in the language of the Arawak Indians, who have used the papaya fruit for ages as a medicinal plant.
The papaya fruit grows on papaya trees that are approx. 3-8 m tall, often in a bunch of up to 9 individual fruits. Their shapes range from pear-like to oval and become about 8-15 cm long and weigh up to 400 g.
The still unripe papaya fruit is green; once it ripens, it takes on a yellow-green to yellow-orange colour. Within the papaya is a hollow space; the flesh is, independently of type and ripeness, yellow to dark orange. In the middle, there are the black pits which resemble peppercorns.
The flesh of the papaya fruit resembles that of the melon or apricot, but is very soft and sweet.
Originally from the coastal regions and lowlands of the American tropics, it was the Spaniards who relocated the papaya as early as the beginning of the 16th century to the Philippines and the Antilles and there began to grow the plant.
The tropical to subtropical climate mirrored the conditions the papaya needs for its growth. Today it is thus cultivated mainly in Florida (USA), India, Australia, Africa, Brazil and in South and Central America. Papaya is offered year-round on the market.
Papaya enzyme ‘papain’
Towards the end of the 20th Century, scientists were able to isolate the most important enzyme of the papaya, ‘papain’, from the leaves and still unripe fruit of the papaya tree. Papain is mainly extracted from the latex of the papaya tree, but a few other fruits also contain smaller amounts of papain. Papain is a so-called ‘proteolytic enzyme’ which is composed of more than 200 amino acids. Its therapeutic uses are diverse and range from aiding digestion to the healing of wounds and the vitalisation of heart function all the way to cancer. In its role in digestive support, papain primarily splits peptide connections which basic amino acids take part in. It is thus predestined to facilitate the digestion of dietary protein. An interesting fact for people who suffer from gluten intolerance is that it also helps digest gliadin as a part of the gluten and can reduce the intolerance and sometimes even eliminate it.
The papaya enzymes have a special protein-dissolving power, but attack only sick tissue (cancer tumours) and protect the healthy cells at the same time. Healthy cells possess protective mechanisms against voracious, proteolytic enzymes, while cancer cells only develop enzyme inhibitors within 12 to 48 hours – a time long enough to selectively eliminate cancer cells.
During heart therapy or the prevention of cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and stroke, papain contributes to the breaking down of fibrin and fibrinogen, which could otherwise lead to the clotting of blood cells together with serious cardiovascular health problems.
Incidentally, green, unripe papayas contain almost 5000 % more papain than ripe papayas!
Medical recognition of the papain enzyme
In 1982, papaya extract was officially recognized by American pharmaceutical authorities. Papain assists the papaya tree, which itself almost never suffers from diseases or is infested with parasites, as a defence system against destructive and disease-causing microorganisms. It was thus obvious to try out this operating principle on human beings, and for humans, too, the immune system defended itself best when enzymes activate our immune cells and protect from bacteria, fungi, viruses and even cancer cells.
Papain and its medical uses
The therapeutic uses of papain are diverse and include:
- inflammatory diseases of all kinds,
- cardiovascular disease
- digestion problems of all kinds,
- gastrointestinal ulcers,
- poorly healing wounds,
Active ingredients in papaya
Alongside the extremely important enzyme ‘papain’ which we described in detail above, papaya also possesses numerous other notable active ingredients. The flesh of the papaya fruit consists of 89 % water, 11 % carbohydrates and 0.4 % protein.
The papaya fruit has honestly earned its Cuban name ‘Fruta de Bomba’ (Bomb fruit) due to its enormous variety of healthy ingredients, and the papaya is in fact a real ‘vital substance bomb’ with numerous vitamins, minerals, trace elements and enzymes.
It is assumed that most of the active ingredients contained in the papaya have so far not been identified and defined by science. On this topic, the papaya expert Prof. Chung-Shih Tang of the University of Honolulu speaks of a real ‘knowledge gap in the therapeutic value of the papaya plant’, and this despite many hundreds of studies.