Pregnancy and nutrition go hand-in-hand. Not only do the foods that you eat affect you, they also affect your unborn baby. Whole grains, lean proteins, vegetables and fruits are the makings of a healthy diet for mommy and baby. While shellfish and undercooked meats and proteins should not be on an expectant mother's menu, WomensHealth.gov suggests avoiding unripe papaya.
Concerns over papaya and pregnancy often lead to confusion. Fully ripe papayas do not present a problem for pregnant women and are actually a healthy source of vitamins A and B, potassium and beta-carotene. It is however, the unripe papaya that poses a threat. Unripe papayas contain pepsins in their latex that may induce contractions and lead to miscarriage, according to a British Journal of Nutrition report. Instead of worrying whether papayas are ripe enough to eat, pregnant women may want to eliminate the risk and avoid papaya all together.
The milky white latex within the pulp of unripe papayas congeals and turns sticky when exposed to air. Papain is the powerful pepsin within this latex often touted as a helpful digestive enzyme. Despite the digestive benefit, papain in unripe fruit mimics the prostaglandins, which physicians sometimes use to kick-start the labor process. Aside from contractions, a PubMed abstract explains that papain from unripe papaya may also weaken vital membranes that are necessary to fetus survival.
The Latex Connection
Miscarriage is not the only concern when it comes to eating unripe papaya during pregnancy. Although some women may not even realize it, a latex allergy is more than simply an allergy to the gloves used in a physician's office or hospital. A latex allergy may cause a pregnant woman to have a dangerous reaction to certain foods that contain latex, papaya being one of them. The New York State Department of Health explains that anyone with a latex allergy may also be allergic to bananas, apples, chestnuts, wheat, rye and a series of other foods that contain plant latex.
The Bottom Line
The papain pepsins are present in the latex of the papaya when the outer skin is green. As the papaya ripens, the skin loses its green pigment, turning completely yellow when fully ripened. Yellow-skinned papayas contain very little, if any, latex. The British Journal of Nutrition reports that even the minutest amounts of latex may be dangerous for women who have a history of spontaneous abortion or premature labor due to increased contractile activity within the uterus.
- WomensHealth.gov: Staying Healthy and Safe
- British Journal of Nutrition; Papaya (Carica papaya) consumption is …; debowale Adebiyi, et al; March 2002
- PubMed.gov: The natural way. A tropical contraceptive.
- New York State Department of Health: Latex Allergy
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Fruit of the Month: Papaya