Have you ever asked yourself, “What are the benefits of papaya?” It turns out that not only does this fruit have a lusciously sweet, mildly musky flavor and soft, luxurious consistency that inspired Christopher Columbus to call it “the fruit of the angels,” but it’s also incredibly good for you.
The papaya fruit contains a wealth of antioxidants that have been linked to numerous benefits. Papaya benefits for healthy aging is an especially exciting area of research.
Quick Papaya Fruit Facts
The papaya tree originated in Central America and Southern Mexico but now grows in many other locations around the globe. Papayas vary widely in both shape and size. They tend to be somewhat pear-shaped and between 15 to 45 centimeters long and 10 to 30 centimeters wide.
According to SELF Nutrition Data, a medium papaya (approximately 13 centimeters long and 7.6 centimeters wide) contains the following nutrients:
- Calories: 119
- Carbohydrates: 29.8 grams
- Fiber: 5.5 grams
- Protein: 1.9 grams
- Vitamin C: 188 milligrams, which is 313% of your recommended dietary allowance (RDA)
- Vitamin A: 3325 IU, which is 67% of your RDA
- Folate: 116 milligrams, which is 29% of your RDA
- Potassium: 781 milligrams, which is 22% of your RDA
Papaya is also the only natural source of papain, an enzyme that accelerates the breakdown of protein chains. Because of that effect, papain has a long history of use as a digestive aid as well as a meat tenderizer.
A note of caution: for some people, side effects of eating papaya can include severe allergic reactions. Papaya is high in latex which can cause skin reactions such as blistering. Concentrations of papaya latex are highest when the fruit is unripe. Pregnant women should be particularly careful to consume only fully ripened papaya, since there’s some indication that eating unripe papaya can stimulate contractions.
If you’ve ever been daunted by how to eat a fresh papaya, it’s probably simpler than you’ve made it in your head. Here’s an easy four-step method.
What Are the Benefits of Papaya for Healthy Aging?
Papaya is also an excellent source of carotenoids, a potent type of antioxidant. This tropical fruit contains especially high levels of a carotenoid known as lycopene. And research shows that your body can more readily absorb carotenoids from papaya than from other sources like carrots or tomatoes.
Once ingested, the antioxidants in papaya work to neutralize excess free radicals. When levels of free radicals in the body rise too high, they can cause oxidative stress, an underlying condition known to contribute to often unwanted aspects of the aging process, like wrinkles, as well as age-related conditions including heart disease, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and more.
Studies show that fermented papaya, in particular, has seriously impressive effects on oxidative stress levels. Researchers have found clear evidence that papaya can have benefits for older adults and individuals with prediabetes, mild hypothyroidism, and liver disease.
Here are five research-backed papaya benefits that can help you maintain optimal wellness as you age.
1. Reduces Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
Scientists believe that oxidative stress contributes significantly to the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common neurodegenerative disease that causes dementia.
While a number of complex molecular events collectively cause Alzheimer’s disease, and no cure or truly effective treatment has been identified to date, it appears that compounds found in papaya can lower oxidative stress levels in the brain by up to 40%. Evidence suggests that antioxidants like the ones in papaya can help to slow the progression of the disease, which is the most common cause of disability in adults over the age of 65.
2. Quells Chronic Inflammation
Long-term inflammation is the root cause of many conditions, including obesity. High-quality research shows that adding carotenoid-rich foods like papaya to your diet can significantly reduce inflammation levels.
One study found that papaya can influence your T cells, which mediate your body’s inflammatory responses. It appears that, because of its effect on your T cells, eating papaya can stimulate a widespread anti-inflammatory response throughout your body. The study’s authors believe papaya could be valuable when it comes to alleviating symptoms of a number of inflammatory conditions.
3. Enhances the Health of Your Heart
Researchers have demonstrated that vitamin C and lycopene, both of which papaya contains tons of, can help to prevent heart disease. It appears that papaya can have an extra strong impact on cholesterol levels.
A study published in Preventative Medicine found that over the course of just 14 weeks, papaya was able to create a healthier ratio of ‘bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol to “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Improving your LDL to HDL ratio has been shown to decrease your risk of heart disease.
4. Prevents Skin Damage
Papaya’s ability to tame rampant free radicals also has beauty benefits. Studies show that oxidative stress can damage skin cells, causing signs of aging to appear sooner and more dramatically.
According to one study, lycopene may improve skin health because it’s part of the light-protecting system used by plants. After 10 to 12 weeks of eating foods loaded with lycopene, study participants experienced less skin sensitivity to UV damage. The study’s authors concluded that an ongoing intake of carotenoids such as lycopene can establish “life-long protection” against skin damage.
Another study found that a combination of lycopene, vitamin C, and other antioxidants could visibly reduce facial wrinkles in only 14 weeks!
5. Lowers Your Odds of Developing Cancer
While more research is needed to confirm the anti-cancer benefits of papaya, the evidence so far is highly encouraging.
Two Polish researchers conducted a review of existing data on the anti-cancer effects of lycopene, an antioxidant prominently found in papaya, and discovered that not only does an increased dietary intake of lycopene help to reduce your risk of many kinds of cancer, but it can also slow the growth of tumors. Additionally, they found that lycopene can provide protection from some of the damaging side effects of radiation.
Another study found that papaya may have even greater benefits than other antioxidant fruits. Researchers evaluated how well 14 fruits and vegetables known to have high concentrations of antioxidants stopped the spread of breast cancer cells. Only papaya had a significant effect.