By Omotayo Omowunmi (B.Sc. Industrial Chemistry)
Carica papaya, commonly known as pawpaw in Nigeria, is known for its economic value, and its uses range from nutritional to medicinal. This has made pawpaw a valuable nutraceutical fruit plant. The many benefits of papaya is due to its high content of vitamins A, B, and C, phytochemicals such as alkaloids, saponins, glucosides, tannins, papain and chymopapain, all which have been shown to have antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties.
The papaya fruits, seeds, roots and leaves are used medicinally. Papain, which is the major and important constituent of papaya, helps in digestion of protein. It converts the protein in our food to amino acid, thus preventing stomach disorder and indigestion. Older people tend to have indigestion problem because they produce less digestive enzymes in the stomach and pancreas. Indigestion is also known to increase the growth of bacterial in the gastrointestinal system. Eating pawpaw after meal aids better digestion, and prevents bloating and chronic indigestion.
Papaya also has anti-inflammatory property; hence, it helps in relieving rheumatoid arthritis. Papaya is rich in vitamin E (an antioxidant) which prevents oxidation of cholesterol. This antioxidant helps in treatment against heart attack and diabetic heart disease. The Vitamin C in papaya prevents recurrent cold and flu. Papaya has been found to be useful in the treatment of many diseases and disorders such as high blood pressure, dyspepsia, constipation, fever, beriberi, general debility etc. It can also be used in ‘de-worming’ treatment.
The fresh papaya peel is used in treating wounds which doesn’t heal on time. This could be done by dressing it with papaya peel. Apart from all the medicinal uses listed above, papaya leaves have also found good uses in tenderizing of meats.
There is, however, the need to be aware that papaya is a rare example of a species in which good (glucosinolate) and bad (cyanogenic glycoside) exist together. Excessive consumption of part of papaya containing cyanogenic glycosides (that is, the leaves and root), may induce adverse reactions due to the formation of cyanide in the digestive tract of the consumer, although none has been reported in the case of papaya.