Papaya is a rich source of valuable proteolytic enzymes, such as papain, chymopapain, caricain and glycyl endopeptidase, that can greatly aid in digestion. This is especially true of meals that contain meat or other concentrated forms of protein.
But, as this page will show, papaya enzymes can have many other health benefits and may have an even more important role to play when taken on an empty stomach.
Protein Digestion and Papaya Enzymes
Many of us eat large amounts of low quality meat each week that can put great strain on our digestive system and enzyme producing pancreas. Processed meats, with additives such as the potentially carcinogenic sodium nitrite, are particularly worrying from a health perspective.
To make matters worse, rushed meals, extra large serving sizes, low digestive enzymes and stomach acid production, and poorly functioning digestive systems in general all contribute to this meat often ending up only partially digested by the time it reaches the lower intestine.
Here it can putrefy as it is acted upon by masses of flatulence causing bacteria. But smelly gas is the least of the potential health problems caused by undigested protein in the colon.
The place to fix flatulence and other more serious health issues associated with poor digestion, such as constipation, leaky gut syndrome and IBS, is not at the end of the process in the colon, but at the beginning. Proper chewing is important to break up food and can significantly assist carbohydrate digestion, but to get a head start on protein, proteolytic enzymes like the papain in papaya can really help.
What is Papain and What Does It Do?
The term proteolytic actually means protein digesting and, as an enzyme, papain is one of the most effective at breaking down meat and other proteins, comparable to the enzyme pepsin that we produce in our pancreas. In fact, papain is often preferred to pepsin in scientific cell isolation procedures as it is considered more effective. It is also used commercially as a meat tenderizer.
Papain works by cleaving the peptide bonds of complex proteins, breaking them down to their individual amino acids, ready for use in the growth and repair of your body.
Introducing papain into a meal containing meat can significantly speed up its digestion. It may also help with the breakdown of other ‘troublesome’ proteins, such as the gluten in wheat and the casein in milk, that are often implicated in digestive problems.
Some people suggest that papain and other plant based enzymes would be destroyed in the hydrochloric acid of the stomach and see no value in them.
But other nutritional experts believe that while papain may be rendered inactive with high levels of stomach acid, at least some would continue working again once it passes through to the alkaline environment of the small intestine.
Aside from these varying views, there is often a period, estimated at around half an hour to an hour, between when food is first eaten and when large amounts of hydrochloric acid is produced. During this time, salivary enzymes and any plant-based enzymes in the food (or taken with it) begin the process of digestion. In this window of time the addition of papain into a meal can greatly increase protein breakdown.
Additionally, since papaya as a soft fruit doesn’t require much digestion itself, some of its enzymes may move into the small intestine before large amounts of stomach acid is produced. Once in our intestines, papain and other papaya enzymes can help clear undigested protein-based debris and waste products.
Aside from helping to clear bloating and flatulence issues, proteolytic enzymes may also aid more serious digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome and help prevent fungal candida overgrowth in the gastrointestinal tract.
Why Green Papaya is Better for Digestion
Green papaya does contain significantly more papain than fully ripe papaya but, perhaps with the exception of green papaya salad, it’s not as appetizing for most people. Bright yellow/orange papaya is also likely to contain more antioxidants and vitamins and have many other health benefits.
As a compromise, I personally use papayas that are just ripening but still have a little green on them. I’ll also use sections of fully green papaya in digestive smoothies.
A convenient and potent alternative is green papaya supplements. If fresh papaya is unavailable or too expensive, green papaya capsules can be taken with a meal high in protein and are an easy way to improve its digestion and avoid problems later on.
There is also the high strength Papaya Pro powder that, as well as very high levels of papain, also contains citrus pectin, mangosteen and several other powerful enzymes and antioxidants.
While papaya enzymes are most often taken with food, another strategy that is gaining popularity is to take green papaya in the powder or capsules, or blended up in a smoothie, on an empty stomach.
Under these circumstances little hydrochloric acid would be produced and the papain and other enzymes could pass into the small intestine in larger amounts. From here they are believed to be absorbed into the bloodstream where they can exert an anti-inflammatory effect throughout the body.
Proteolytic enzymes in the bloodstream are known to scavenge damaged and oxidized proteins. These damaged proteins are implicated in a variety of debilitating autoimmune disorders such as severe allergies, chronic fatigue syndrome and a weakened immune system that is much more vulnerable to infections and disease.
Papain and other proteolytic enzymes are also understood to break down fibrin protein, which is involved in both the formation of dangerous blood clots and provides a protective coating for cancer cells. It is this action of potentially dissolving cancerous cells protective coating that has many experts interested in papain for use in cancer prevention and possibly even as part of a treatment for cancer.
Papaya enzymes are generally recognized as safe and well tolerated when used internally. There are however some potential papain side effects and specific cautions to be aware of which will be covered next.
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