Once believed to be native only to Southern Mexico and Central America, papayas are now commonly found in every tropical and subtropical country.
Although they have exacting climate conditions for growth and fruit production, they do make good plants for container gardens when the moisture and temperature levels can be controlled.
The plant is short-lived but fast growing, reaching between 10 and 12 feet in height in the first year. Although papaya plants look like trees, they are actually large herbs with hollow green or deep-purple stems, thicker at the base.
Successful commercial production primarily occurs in Hawaii, tropical Africa, the Philippines, India and Australia.1
There are two different types of papaya, Hawaiian and Mexican. The most commonly found type in the grocery store is the Hawaiian variety. This is probably because the Hawaiian plants are shorter and the fruit slightly lighter, making them easier to harvest.
Mexican papaya fruit can weigh up to 10 pounds and be 15 inches in length. The fruit and seeds are edible. The papaya is juicy, sweet and tastes a little like cantaloupe, while the seeds have a spicy flavor suggestive of black pepper.
When grown at home, the plants should be replaced every four years to continue to harvest sweet fruit.2 Most Hawaiian papaya, as well as papaya grown in China, is genetically engineered (GE), so it’s important to only purchase organic papaya to avoid genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The Versatile Power of the Papaya
The papaya is a power-packed fruit with more health benefits than you might imagine. However, fruit that is sprayed with insecticides and fungicides may create more health problems than potential benefits. Carefully choose papayas grown organically to reduce the negative effects on your health.
1. Vitamins C and A
Papaya fruit has more vitamin C than an orange, and 1 cup has 144 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin C.
Vitamin C is important in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, stroke, breast cancer, stomach cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, cataracts and gout, and plays a significant role in supporting your immune system.5
The fruit also has 31 percent of the RDA of vitamin A, which is important in the regulation of gene expression, prenatal and postnatal development and red blood cell production, and helps prevent cancers of the skin, breast, liver and prostate.
2. Reduces Arthritis Pain
The presence of papain and chymopapain in papaya is in part responsible for the anti-inflammatory effects of the fruit. The reduction of inflammation reduces pain at the joints.
In addition, a research study in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases discussed findings linking low levels of vitamin C with a higher risk of developing arthritis.
High in vitamin C and papain, the papaya plays a role in prevention of and reducing pain and inflammation from arthritis.
3. Reduces Menstrual Pain
Papain may also help reduce the pain of cramps and regulate flow during a woman’s menstrual cycle.8
4. May Reduce Cardiovascular Disease
Papaya is one of the richest food sources of folate you can purchase at the grocery store. Folate is important in the reduction of homocysteine levels in your body.
Homocysteine is an amino acid associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, folate is also important in preventing neural tube defects in developing babies.
5. Helps to Prevent DNA Damage
Papaya is packed with antioxidants that prevent damage to your cell DNA. This is one of the ways that papaya may help to prevent certain cancers and reduce the appearance of aging in your skin.
6. Lowers Blood Sugar in People With Diabetes
Fermented papaya fruit may lower blood sugar in people with diabetes. Before adding this to your daily regimen, discuss stringent blood sugar monitoring with your physician in order to prevent accidental hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.
Also keep in mind that this effect was due to fermented papaya. If you have diabetes, you’ll want to consume fresh papaya only in moderation because it is relatively high in fructose.
7. May Help Prevent Macular Degeneration
Papaya is rich in vitamin A, which is very important in the prevention of macular degeneration and other eye conditions.
8. Antioxidant Effects on Alzheimer’s Disease
Free radicals are produced in your body during metabolism and due to other factors like stress, poor diet and exposure to environmental pollution. Like other reactions and chemicals, these free radicals should exist in a balanced state.
When too many are produced, for instance due to the types of food you eat, they create a state of oxidative stress in your body. Free radicals in your brain may be an important factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
In one study, individuals who ate fermented papaya for six months experienced a 40 percent reduction in one biomarker of oxidative stress damage to DNA, increased aging and the development of cancer.
9. Prostate Cancer
The antioxidant and high vitamin content of papaya play a significant role in the prevention of certain cancers. One study found that the combination of green tea and lycopene had an effect in the prevention of prostate cancer.16 Papaya is rich in lycopene.
10. Improved Digestion
Papain is a digestive enzyme that aids in the breakdown of proteins. People living in the tropics have long used papaya to aid in the treatment of constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. The fruit is easy to digest and the high fiber content may improve your intestinal health.
11. Seeds and Pulp Have Anti-Cancer Properties
Although the fruit is tasty, the pulp and seeds are also edible. In one study, the activity of benzyl glucosinolate (BG) compounds found in the seeds and pulp were demonstrated to have cancer-inhibiting properties.
The study found that the pulp contained more of the BG compounds before maturing while the seeds had similar strength of BG at every stage of ripening.