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Papaya Uses and Health Benefits

Papaya Description

The papaya is the fruit of the Carica papaya L. plant, a large, woody herb belonging to the Caricaeae family. In Australia, it is often commonly referred to as pawpaw, although this name is given to the unrelated fruit of the Asimina triloba elsewhere in the world. The papaya fruit itself is pear-shaped or rounded, somewhat melon-like, contains numerous small black seeds, can range from 0.5 to 10kg and measure 20 to 40cm, depending on variety. When ripe the fruit develops an orange exterior, and the flesh can be various shades of orange, pink or red. The ripe flesh has a distinct sweet, musky taste and a buttery, soft texture.

Papaya History

The papaya is native to Central America, where it has been used for centuries by the Latin American Indians as both a food and folk medicine. During the 14th and 15th centuries, seeds were spread to many other tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world by Spanish and Portuguese explorers, including India, South-east Asia, many islands of the South Pacific and parts of Africa, where it has since thrived. The papaya plant has undergone many changes since it was domestically cultivated, due to mutations and human selection, including growth habits, its reproductive system and fruit size and colour. In 1998, biotechnologists at the University of Hawaii created a cultivar immune to the viruses which plague papaya plantations, making it the first genetically modified fruit for human consumption. Papaya is now widely available in many countries throughout most of the year.

Papaya Food Nutrient Profile

The following table provides nutritional information based on 100g of ripe papaya flesh.





Carbohydrates, total


Sugars, total






Dietary Fibre


Lipids, total


Saturated Lipids


Monounsaturated Lipids


Polyunsaturated Lipids


Trans Fatty Acids




Protein, total




Vitamin A, RAE


Vitamin A, IU


Vitamin B1, Thiamine


Vitamin B2, Riboflavin


Vitamin B3, Niacin


Vitamin B5, Pantothenic Acid


Vitamin B6, Pyridoxine


Vitamin B9, Folate


Vitamin B12, Cobalamin






Vitamin C, Ascorbic Acid


Vitamin E, Alpha-tocopherol


Vitamin K, Phylloquinone


Calcium, Ca


Iron, Fe


Magnesium, Mg


Phosphorus, P


Potassium, K


Sodium, Na


Chloride, Cl


Zinc, Zn


Copper, Cu


Manganese, Mn


Selenium, Se


Carotene, Alpha


Carotene, Beta


Cryptoxanthin, Beta


Lutein + Zeaxanthin


Organic Acids, total


Acetic Acid


Citric Acid


Lactic Acid


Malic Acid


Papaya is a rich source of vitamin C, Folate, Potassium, dietary fibre, vitamin A, vitamin E and vitamin K.

Traditional Papaya Uses

The papaya has been used medicinally and for culinary purposes for centuries in many parts of the world including Central America, India, South-east Asia, many islands of the South Pacific and parts of Africa. Different parts of both the papaya plant and fruit have been utilized to treat a variety of ailments and illnesses. The flowers are used to treat jaundice, the inner bark to numb sore teeth and the juice as a topical treatment for warts, cancers, tumours, corns and skin indurations. The ripe fruit is eaten to prevent rheumatism and reduce urine acidity.

The green fruit is ingested in large amounts as a contraceptive and to cause abortion. It is also used as a local antiseptic as well as a meat tenderiser. The fresh latex has been used externally to treat a wide range of skin conditions including boils, warts, freckles, cuts, rashes, stings, burns, psoriasis, ringworm and cancerous growths. It is given internally as a vermifuge and also as a cure for dyspepsia. It is also applied to the uterine mouth as an irritant to induce abortion.

The leaves are poulticed onto nervous pains and elephantoid growths. They are also dried and infused to make a tea which is used as a vermifuge, an amoebicide, a purgative, to prevent and treat malaria, and as a treatment for stomach troubles and genito-urinary ailments. The fresh leaves are also used as a primitive substitute for laundry soap.

The seeds are used to promote menstrual discharge, evacuate parasitic intestinal worms, as a counter-irritant and an alexeritic. The seeds are eaten as a contraceptive by men, and are said to quench thirst. They can also be ground and used as a substitute for pepper. The root of the papaya plant is said to cure piles and yaws and can be used to make salt. Root infusions and decoctions are used to expel round worms, treat syphilis and remove urine concretions. Sinapisms prepared from papaya root are used as treatment for uterine tumours and a mixture of ground papaya root, salt and water is given as an enema for abortion.

Specific Benefits and Uses

  • Liver Cancer

Papaya juice has been seen to have an antiproliferative effect on liver cancer due to its lycopene content. A study on the ‘antiproliferative activity of pure lycopene compared to both extracted lycopene and juices from watermelon (Citrullus vulgaris) and papaya (Carica papaya) on human breast and liver cancer cell lines’ showed that papaya juice may have anticancer properties upon liver cancer (HepG2 cell line) and was found to cause 50% cell death of HepG2 cells at 20 mL mg-1.

  • Protection Against Heart Disease

Papayas may be very helpful for the prevention of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease due to their high concentration of anti-oxidant vitamins and phytonutrients, in particular vitamin C. According to a 2003 study by Alul et al., ‘vitamin C inhibits oxidative modification of LDL-cholesterol directly through free radical scavenging activity, according to in vitro data, and indirectly by increasing glutathione and vitamin E within cell membranes, which has been demonstrated against the pre-oxidant combination of homocysteine and iron.’

  • Promotes Digestive Health

The nutrients folate, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and vitamin E in papaya are helpful in the prevention of colon cancer. These nutrients have been shown to provide synergistic protection for colon cells from free radical damage to their DNA. A 2005 study by Powers, H et al, demonstrated ‘improved response in patients with adenomatous polyps using a combination of 100ug of folate and 5mg riboflavin’. In addition, the fibre in papaya is able to bind to cancer-causing toxins in the colon and keep them away from the healthy colon cells.

  • Anti-Inflammatory Effects

Papaya contains the unique protein-digesting enzymes papain and chymopapain, which have been shown to help lower inflammation and to improve healing from burns. The antioxidant nutrients found in papaya, including vitamin C, vitamins E, and beta-carotene, are also very good at reducing inflammation and the severity of diseases that are worsened by inflammation, such as asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. A 1996 study published in Nutrition, found that ‘Essential nutrients such as vitamins C and E may protect against oxidant-mediated inflammation and tissue damage by virtue of their ability to scavenge free radicals and by their ability to inhibit the activation of NF-kB (and possibly other oxidant-sensitive transcription factors).’

  • Immune Support

Papaya is rich in both Vitamin C and beta-carotenes, which are utilised in the body to make vitamin A. Both vitamins are needed for the proper function of a healthy immune system, which will help prevent illnesses such as recurrent ear infections, colds and flu.  In vivo and in vitro studies compiled by Hendler et al, show that ‘Vitamin C favourably modulates lymphocytes and phagocytes, regulates NK cells and can influence antibody and cytokine synthesis under certain situations’.

  • Protection against Macular Degeneration

 The anti-oxidant vitamins A, C, and E, and carotenoids in fruits such as papaya, have been found to be protective against the onset and progression of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) and the more severe neovascular ARMD. These findings were reported in a study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology (Cho E, Seddon JM, et al.), which indicated that eating 3 or more servings of fruit per day may lower your risk of ARMD by 36%, compared to persons who consume less than 1.5 servings of fruit daily. Anti-oxidant rich fruits were shown to be far more effective in this respect, than anti-oxidant rich vegetables or anti-oxidant supplementation.

  • Protection against Rheumatoid Arthritis

Papaya and other vitamin C-rich foods have been found to provide humans with protection against inflammatory polyarthritis (a form of rheumatoid arthritis which affects two or more joints). A study presented in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases (Pattison DJ, et al.), of more than 20,000 subjects showed those who consumed the lowest amounts of vitamin C-rich foods were more than three times more likely to develop arthritis than those who consumed the highest amounts.

  • Promote Lung Health

A series of studies conducted by Baybutt, R et al. found that a common carcinogen in cigarette smoke, benzo(a)pyrene, induces vitamin A deficiency, which is associated with lung inflammation, and emphysema. Vitamin A-rich foods, such as papaya, can help counter this effect, and greatly reduce risk of emphysema in smokers and those who are exposed to second-hand smoke.

  • Prevention of Prostate Cancer

Research published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Jian L, Lee AH, et al.) shows that regularly eating lycopene-rich fruits, such as papaya, and drinking green tea can reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer in men. In this case-control study involving 130 prostate cancer patients and 274 hospital controls it was found that ‘regular consumption of both green tea and foods rich in lycopene resulted in a synergistic protective effect, stronger than the protection afforded by either’.

  • Antibiotic Activity

Extracts of ripe and unripe papaya fruits and of the seeds have been found to be active against gram-positive bacteria, and in strong doses against gram-negative bacteria. Studies at the University of Nigeria have revealed that ‘the fresh crushed seeds yield the aglycone of glucotropaeolin benzyl isothiocyanate (BITC) which is bacteriostatic, bactericidal and fungicidal. A single effective does is 4-5 g seeds (25-30 mg BITC)’.

Cautions and Concerns

Care must be taken when harvesting papaya as fresh latex is irritant, dermatogenic and vesicant. It will digest tissue and cause sores under rings and bracelets, and can cause severe conjunctivitis. Papaya flower pollen can also induce severe respiratory reactions in sensitive individuals.

Caution must be used when consuming meat tenderised with papain. It should be fully cooked to deactivate the papain and to avoid food poisoning. Tenderising meat with papain will make it highly perishable, particularly the tongue, liver and kidney meats, and strict food safety measures should be taken. Papain can also induce asthma and rhinitis.

Only small amounts of ripe fruit should be consumed during pregnancy, as green papaya and papaya seeds can cause miscarriage, particularly in large amounts, due to their contraceptive and abortifacient capability. Papaya also contains chitinases, chemical compounds which are associated with latex-fruit allergy. They may also affect people with other latex allergies, and should therefore be avoided or used with extreme caution.

Papaya should not be consumed in excessive amounts. Papaya fruit, seeds, latex and in particular young leaves contain carpaine which can be dangerous in large doses, due to its depressive actions on the heart. Excessive consumption can also cause carotenemia, the yellowing of palms and soles which is otherwise harmless.

Choosing and Using Papaya

Fresh papaya is available in fruit shops and supermarkets in Australia throughout most of the year; however they are at their peak in summer and autumn. There are two main varieties of fresh papaya available in Australia, both of the Hawaiian ‘Solo’ type. These are the smaller, pear-shaped, pinkish-red fleshed fruit which is commonly sold under the name papaya and the larger, round, orange fleshed fruit which is commonly sold under the name pawpaw. Papaya/pawpaw is also available dried, canned or as juice (although the latter is usually in combination with other tropical fruits). Other products made from papaya are also available, such as meat tenderiser, which is ground dried papaya latex.

When choosing a fresh papaya, look for orange-reddish skinned fruit that are soft to the touch. Fruit with yellow-green patches will take a few days to ripen. Avoid fruit that is overly soft or bruised, although a few black spots on the skin will not affect the papaya’s taste. Do not buy fully green or very firm fruit unless you are planning on using it green, as it will not fully ripen and develop its characteristic sweet, musky flavour.

Ripe papaya can be eaten on its own (either plain or drizzled with a little lemon or lime juice for added zest), in a fruit salad, as part of a juice cocktail or smoothie, in a salsa or as an accompaniment to seafood. Green papaya can be cooked and used as a vegetable and used in Asian soups, curries and salads. The following recipe, Papaya, Mango and Green Tea Granita, is a delicious, healthy way to eat papaya and maximise your anti-oxidant intake at the same time. It can be enjoyed either as a cool, refreshing summer beverage, or alternatively served over slices of fresh papaya and mango for a healthy dessert option.

Papaya, Mango and Green Tea Granita

  • 500mL of your favourite green tea
  • 1 small ripe papaya
  • ½ cup fresh-squeezed mango juice (approx 2 small or 1 large mango)

Prepare tea as usual, and then allow to cool. Pour cold tea into and ice cube tray and freeze. This is best done the day before, or plan ahead and prepare up to a month ahead and store in a container in the freezer. Peel, deseed and dice the papaya. Place papaya and mango juice in a blender and process until smooth. Add green tea ice cubes and blend until crushed, making sure there are no large pieces remaining. If your blender is struggling to crush the ice, then the mixture does not contain enough liquid and you will need to add either a little water, extra mango juice or cold green tea. Spoon into glasses or bowls and serve.


Alul RH et al. 2003, ‘Vitamin C protects low-density lipo-protein from homocysteine- mediated oxidation’, Free Radical Biological Medicine, 34, 7, 881-91.

Baybutt RC, Hu L, Molteni A, 2000, ‘Vitamin A deficiency injures lung and liver parenchyma and impairs function of rat type II pneumocytes’, Journal of Nutrition 130(5),1159-65.

Braun, L, Cohen, M, 2007, Herbs and Natural Supplements- An evidence based guide, 2nd edition, Elsevier Australia, Sydney.

Cho E, Seddon JM, Rosner B, Willett WC, Hankinson SE, 2004, ‘Prospective study of intake of fruits, vegetables, vitamins, and carotenoids and risk of age-related maculopathy’, Archives of Ophthalmology, 122, 6, 883-92.

Conner, EM and Grisham, MB, 1996, ‘Inflammation, free radicals, and antioxidants’, Nutrition, 12, 4, 274-277.

George Mateljan Foundation, 2001 , ‘Papaya’ (updated 10 July 2009), The Worlds Healthiest Foods, Retrieved 15 July 2009 from http://whfoods.org/sitesearch.php

Hendler SS, Rorvik D (eds), 2001, PDR for Nutritional Supplements, Medical Economics Co., Montvale, NJ.

Jian L, Lee AH, Binns CW, 2007, ‘Tea and lycopene protect against prostate cancer’ Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 16, 1, 453-7.

Li T, Molteni A, Latkovich P, Castellani W, Baybutt RC, 2003, ‘Vitamin A depletion induced by cigarette smoke is associated with the development of emphysema in rats’, Journal of Nutrition, 133, 8, 2629-34.

Morton, J, 1987, ‘Papaya’, Fruits of warm climates, Miami, FL, 336–346

Pattison DJ, Silman AJ, Goodson NJ, Lunt M, Bunn D, Luben R, Welch A, Bingham S, Khaw KT, Day N, Symmons DP, 2004, ‘Vitamin C and the risk of developing inflammatory polyarthritis: prospective nested case-control study’, Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 63, 7, 843-7.

Powers, H, 2005 ‘Interaction among folate, riboflavin, genotype and cancer, with reference to colorectal and cervical cancer’, Journal of Nutrition, 135, 2960-66.

Rahmat, A, Rosli, R, et al. 2002, ‘Antiproliferative activity of pure lycopene compared to both extracted lycopene and juices from watermelon (Citrullus vulgaris) and papaya (Carica papaya) on human breast and liver cancer cell lines’, Journal of Medical Science, 2, 2, 55-58.

Van Wyk, BE, Wink, M, 2004, Medicinal Plants of the World, Briza Publications, South Africa.

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