Originally native to southern Mexico and now cultivated in many tropical countries (including Brazil , India , Indonesia , South Africa , Vietnam and Sri Lanka ), the papaya plant has been touted by traditional healers for centuries as a source of powerful medicine. Not only is papaya fruit delicious and loaded with vitamins and phytochemicals, but other parts of the plant have been used historically to treat health problems too.
Now University of Florida (UF) researcher Dr. Nam Dang and his colleagues inJapan have announced new evidence that the papaya fights cancer cells. In fact, they discovered that an extract made from dried papaya leaves produced a dramatic anti-cancer effect against a broadrange of tumors grown in the laboratory — including cancers of the cervix, breast, liver, lung and pancreas.
The study, recently published in theJournal of Ethnopharmacology, not only showed that papaya has a direct anti-tumor effect on a variety of malignancies, but it also documented for the first time that papaya leaf extract increases the production of key signaling molecules called Th1-type cytokines.
That’s important because this regulation of the immune system raises the strong possibility that the use of papaya could help the body’s own immune system to overcome cancers. In addition, it suggests papaya could be helpful in treating or preventing other health problems such as inflammation and autoimmune diseases.
The research team found that papaya’s anti-cancer effects were strongest when cancer cells received larger doses of the papaya leaf extract — yet, unlike many mainstream cancer therapies, there were no toxic effects at all on normal cells.
In a statement to the media, Dr. Dang pointed out that the ability of papaya extract to stop cancer without toxicity is consistent with reports from indigenous populations in Australia and in his native Vietnam .
What exactly does papaya do to halt malignancies? To find out, the researchers focused on a T-lymphoma cancer cell line. They discovered that at least one of the mechanisms that makes papaya extract a potent anti-cancer weapon is the natural compound’s ability to cause malignant cells — but not normal ones — to die.
The researchers hope to follow up these experiments by eventually testing the papaya cancer treatment in animal and human studies. Up next for Dr. Dang and his colleagues: they’ve applied to patent a process to distill the papaya extract through the University of Tokyo and they are working to identify all the specific compounds in the papaya extract that are active against cancer cells.
To this end, Dr. Dang has partnered with Hendrik Luesch, a UF Shands Cancer Center professor of medicinal chemistry who is an expert in the identification and use of natural products for medical purposes. Dr. Luesch recently discovered yet another natural cancer fighter — a coral reef compound that blocks cancer cell growth in cell lines.
Sweet and tasty papaya makes an excellent breakfast and is good in fruit salads. It can be blended with yogurt to make a delicious digestive smoothie. It also works well as an added ingredient in green salads. It tastes particularly good with lemon juice squeezed over it. The health benefits of papaya include heart disease and cancer prevention, cold and flu prevention and healthy digestions.
Papaya is an excellent source of vitamin C, with one medium papaya containing about 150% of the Daily value. It is also a good source of vitamin A, in beta-carotene form. It is also a good source of vitamin K, vitamin E and folate as well as the mineral potassium.
Papaya for Heart Disease Prevention
One of the health benefits of papaya is related to the fact that it contains high doses of three vitamins involved in heart disease prevention- vitamin A, vitamin E and beta-carotene. In addition, the high levels of folate found in papayas can help lower levels of the heart disease promoting amino acid homocysteine.
Papaya for Cold and Flu Prevention
Foods high in vitamin C, such as papaya, help boost the immune system. Vitamin C has been shown to help ward off symptoms of influenza A, the common cold and pneumonia. Vitamin A provides additional immune system support.
Papaya for Neural Tube Defect Prevention
Because papayas are rich in folate, they have applications in preventing neural tube defects. Eating folate-rich foods pre-pregnancy and during pregnancy can help the fetal spinal column to develop normally.
Papaya for Digestive Health
Papaya contains special digestive enzymes, called papain and chymopapain, which help digest proteins. Papaya is often used as a detoxification food and to give the digestive system a break, because it is so rich in its own digestive enzymes. Papaya also contains anti-oxidant vitamins C and E as well as folate, all of which can help prevent colon cancer.
Papaya/Pawpaw apaya (Carica papaya) originates from tropical American
countries. Today Papaya is cultivated in most tropical countries around the