Papaya, also called pawpaw, is a tropical fruit rich in antioxidants and plant nutrients called flavonoids. The nutrients were found to reduce cell damage that can lead to ulcers in research done on rats and published in the journal Acta Informatica Medica in 2012. But what about for people?
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Papaya and Digestion
About half of all adults globally have chronic gastritis, or inflammation of the lining of the stomach, which can lead to ulcers if not treated, according to a June 2015 review in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology.
And as the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) points out, one of the most common types of chronic gastritis is caused by infection with the H. pylori bacteria. Overuse of NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) is another common cause of gastritis.
Foods do not cause these conditions, and papaya in particular won't cure them, but the unique concentration of micronutrients from papaya and other fruits might help lower your risk or reduce your symptoms.
Fruits like papaya and pineapple are sources of natural digestive enzymes, including papain and bromelain, respectively, according to Harvard Health Publishing. These enzymes help you digest food. They're also sold as diet supplements to treat heartburn and gastritis. Because long-term gastritis can lead to an ulcer, the belief is that natural digestive enzymes might reduce symptoms of gastritis and ulcer disease.
However, as Harvard Health points out, these supplements are not regulated and there's very little evidence that they are helpful for heartburn. On the other hand, they are safe, and some people do get relief.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, there is some evidence that bromelain supplements can reduce swelling from sinusitis, ease arthritis and heal skin wounds, but its review also states that there's not enough to conclusively say they're effective for treating digestive issues.
Read more: Meal Plan for Ulcer Patients
The Whole Fruit Advantage
"Both papain and bromelain may improve symptoms of gastritis," says Andrew L. Rubman, ND, a naturopathic physician and director of the Southbury Clinic for Traditional Medicines in Southbury, Connecticut. "Rather than spending money taking the supplement, you might want to try eating the whole fruit. Fruit is generally good for digestion."
Whole fruits are good sources of phytochemicals (such as flavanoids), which act as antioxidants (or compounds that defend against cell damage), according to a July 2012 review in Advances in Nutrition. Fruit also provides dietary fiber, which can improve the quality of your gut bacteria, says a December 2019 article in the journal Nature.
"Flavonoids are also called phytochemicals," says Rubman. "They help antioxidants work better and may reduce the damage done to the lining of the stomach from H__. pylori or NSAIDs." Besides pineapple and papaya, all colorful fruits and berries are good fruit sources for antioxidants and flavonoids. Keep in mind that there are many thousands of micronutrients, including antioxidants and flavonoids, in these fruits, making it impossible to replicate them exactly in supplement form.
Read more: Symptoms of Ulcers: Nausea, Burning and More
Papaya for Gastritis or Ulcer
Eating a nutritious diet — including papaya — can help boost a healthy gut and your health in general. But it's important to keep in mind that even the best fruits, like papaya, are not a substitute for the treatment of gastritis or an ulcer, if you have one of these conditions.
Avoid excessive use of NSAIDs, which include common over-the-counter pain and fever medications like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve), says NIDDK. And, if you have an H. pylori infection, take whatever your doctor prescribes — an antibiotic to kill the infection or medication to block stomach acids to ease inflammation and let your intestinal lining heal.
Is This an Emergency?
- Acta Informatica Medica: “Antioxidant and Immunostimulant Effect of Carica Papaya Linn Aqueous Extract in Acrylamide Intoxicated Rats”
- Harvard Medical School: "Digestive Enzyme Supplements for Heartburn"
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Bromelain”
- Andrew L. Rubman, ND, naturopathic physician, director, Southbury Clinic for Traditional Medicines, Southbury, Connecticut
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Definitions and Facts for Gastritis and Gastropathy"
- Advances in Nutrition: "Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables"