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The Health Benefits of Papain

Written by Dr. Group, DC Founder
Papain enzymes can be found in papaya.

Papain is a powerful digestive enzyme commonly found and extracted not only from the papaya fruit (Carica papaya) latex but also from papaya leaves and stems. It is also referred to as papaya proteinase. The papaya enzyme papain plays a key role in digestive processes involving breaking down tough protein fibers. For this reason, it has been commonly used in its native South America for digestive support when eating meat and even to tenderize meat before cooking.

Science is catching up with the wisdom of traditional healers in South America. Papain can play a significant role in the breakdown of toxins and is a powerful digestive aid and antioxidant.

How Does Papain Work?

The papaya enzyme papain breaks down larger proteins into smaller proteins, known as polypeptides, and into individual amino acid subunits. Like all proteases, papain works by cleaving chemical bonds either on the inside of the protein (which exist in a complex 3-dimensional structure) or at the end of the chain. Endopeptidases break proteins down from the inside, and exopeptidases work from the ends.

Papain enhances the digestive process and increases nutrient absorption of protein-based foods. Because of its ability to hydrolyze (break down) proteins, papain can play a role in many physiological processes and potentially influence disease processes for good.

The Health Benefits of Papain

1. Stimulates Digestion

One of the key areas in which papain serves the body is in the realm of its protein-digestive properties. One case study found that when a male patient with gluten intolerance ate a gluten-free diet, he still experienced diarrhea, but when he additionally took 1800 mg of papain for one month, he had fewer loose stools and less malabsorption.[1, 2] This is just one study, and more research needs to be conducted.

2. Aids Skin and Wound Healing

Due to papain's beneficial capacities, people have used it for many years as a topical application to burns, ulcers, irritations, bedsores and other wounds, and to assist recovery from sports injuries.[3, 4] Some practitioners have used it dental cavities.[3] Papain’s enzymatic action is very specific, and it does not harm healthy skin.[3] Traditional cultures in Hawaii and Tahiti made poultices out of the skins of papaya, as this part of the fruit has a particularly high concentration of papain. Traditional healers applied this substance to the skin to heal wounds, burns, rashes and insect stings.

3. Digests Mucus

Studies have found that papain digests sinus mucin, a glycoprotein found in mucus, and hence may have beneficial effects for people having sinus issues.[5] Papain makes mucus less viscous, or runnier, and hence better able to be eliminated. Because of this feature, some researchers are studying how papain can help deliver nanoparticle medicines to the body so that they can get through the body’s natural mucosal barrier in the gut.[6] Using papain with nanoparticles may not be the best for your health.

4. Supports Immune System Function

Studies have found that papain may have anti-cell proliferation properties. Some studies have shown papain delivers a strong effect while others found no difference between papain and controls.[7, 8] A review article found strong evidence for the overall immune function properties of papaya.[9]

5. Resists Redness and Irritation

Studies confirm that the papain enzyme offers powerful resistance to redness and irritation. Papain helps aid the absorption of another beneficial substance, quercetin. One study found that when papain and bromelain were given along with quercetin, it helped swelling symptoms associated with prostate health.[9, 10]

6. Acts as an Antioxidant

Papain holds compounds that may aid in protecting the body from cellular damage caused by free radicals, which makes it an antioxidant. The compounds in papaya juice effectively scavenge, or counteract, highly reactive hydroxyl (OH-) free radicals, as well as superoxides. Papain has an antioxidant level on par with Vitamins E and C.[11, 12] In one study, the Sunrise Solo cultivar (a type of papaya) was more effective as an antioxidant than two other cultivars.[13]

7. Prevents Food Spoilage

Since research has shown papain has antifungal and antibacterial properties, and it is sometimes used to preserve foods naturally.[14, 15] It is a powerful agent commonly used in food preservation, reducing bacterial infestations and spoilage due to oxidation.

How to Read the Units of Measurement for Papain

Papain is a plant-source protease enzyme measured in PUs (Papain Units). The PUs tell you the activity level of the enzyme. The United States Pharmacopeia (USP) creates the standard measurements for supplements. These are published in the USP’s Foods Chemical Codex (FCC), an internationally accepted compendium of standards for the quality of food ingredients, supplements, and additives. One PU is how much of the papain enzyme that frees up one mcg of tyrosine per hour during the test, or assay.[16] The number that you see reflects the activity level of the enzyme; the higher the number, the more active it is.

Never buy an enzyme that lists the amount in weight, like milligrams (mg) because this fails to tell you about the enzyme’s effectiveness.

Where Can I Find The Best Source of Papain?

The product VeganZyme® contains a 100% vegan form of papain extracted from the Carica papaya. It comes from non-GMO sources, is kosher certified, gluten-free, made in the USA from globally sourced ingredients, contains no animal products, and is great for vegetarians and vegans.

VeganZyme is the most advanced full-spectrum systemic and digestive enzyme formula in the world and is free of fillers and toxic compounds. This formula contains digestive enzymes, which help digest fats (lipids), sugars, proteins, carbohydrates, gluten, fruits and vegetables, cereals, legumes, bran, nuts and seeds, soy, dairy, and all other food sources.

VeganZyme may also be used as a systemic enzyme blend to break down excess mucus, fibrin, various toxins, allergens, as well as excess clotting factors throughout your body.

References (16)
  1. Roxas M. "The Role of Enzyme Supplementation in Digestive Disorders." Altern Med Rev. 2008;13(4),307-14.
  2. Messer M, Baume PE. "Oral papain in gluten intolerance." Lancet. 1976;2(7993),1022.
  3. Amri E, Mamboya. "Papain, a Plant Enzyme of Biological Importance: A Review." Am J Biochem Biotechnol. 2012;8(2),99-104.
  4. da Silva CR, et al. " Genotoxic and Cytotoxic Safety Evaluation of Papain (Carica papaya L.) Using In Vitro Assays." J Biomed Biotechnol. 2010; 2010,197898.
  5. Ali ME, Pearson AP. "More Than One Disease Process in Chronic Sinusitis Based on Mucin Fragmentation Patterns and Amino Acid Analysis." Int J Otolaryngol. 2015;2015, 708475.
  6. Liu M, et al. "Developments of mucus penetrating nanoparticles." Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. 2015;10(4),275-282.
  7. Müller A, et al. "Comparative study of antitumor effects of bromelain and papain in human cholangiocarcinoma cell lines." Int J Oncol. 2016;48(5),2025-34.
  8. Bellelli A, et al. "Inhibition of tumor growth, invasion and metastasis in papain-immunized mice." Invasion Metastasis. 1990;10(3),142-69.
  9. Pandey S et al. "Anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties of Carica papaya." J Immunotoxicol. 2016;13(4),590-602.
  10. Nickel JC, et al. "Nutraceuticals in Prostate Disease: The Urologist’s Role." Rev Urol. 2008;10(3),192–206.
  11. Manosroi A, et al. "Antioxidant and Gelatinolytic Activities of Papain from Papaya Latex and Bromelain from Pineapple Fruits." Chiang Mai J Sci. 41(3),635-648.
  12. da Silva CR, et al. " Genotoxic and Cytotoxic Safety Evaluation of Papain (Carica papaya L.) Using In Vitro Assays." J Biomed Biotechnol. 2010; 2010,197898.
  13. Ozkan A, et al. "Antioxidant capacity of juice from different papaya (Carica papaya L.) cultivars grown under greenhouse conditions in Turkey." Turk J Biol. 2011;35,619-625
  14. Manohar CM, et al. "Design of a Papain Immobilized Antimicrobial Food Package with Curcumin as a Crosslinker." PLoS ONE 10(4): e0121665.
  15. Nwinyi OC, Anthonia AB. "Antifungal effects of pawpaw seed extracts and papain on post harvest Carica papaya L. fruit rot (PDF)." African J of Agric Res. 2010;5(12),1531-1535.
  16. "Food Chemicals Codex.." Volumes 2-3. National Academies Press. 1981.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.


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