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Papain helpful for digestive disorders

September 27, 2004|Elena Conis

Papaya trees, native to Central America, are now grown in tropical regions all over the world. The large, yellow-orange papaya fruit is a good source of vitamin C, folic acid, potassium -- and an enzyme known as papain that is found in the sap, or milk, of the fruit. The enzyme, which breaks down proteins, is a widely used commercial ingredient, included in such products as meat tenderizer, toothpaste and indigestion remedies.

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Uses: Papain has been used in Asian medicine for constipation, leprosy and intestinal worms. Today it's found in prescription and nonprescription drugs and supplements used to treat digestive disorders -- such as bloating, indigestion and digestive enzyme deficiencies -- as well as psoriasis, warts, ringworm and burns.

Dose: Doses vary widely depending on the condition being treated, so check manufacturer labels before use. Supplements are available in oral and topical forms.

Precautions: Oral papain can irritate the mouth and esophagus. Animal studies suggest papain could cause birth defects in humans, so pregnant women should avoid the enzyme and papaya supplements in general. People allergic to figs or kiwis may experience allergic reactions to papaya. Papain can also decrease blood clotting time, so people on blood thinners should avoid it too.

Research: Studies of cancer patients have produced some evidence that drugs containing papain may help reduce symptoms of the disease and side effects of radiation and chemotherapy treatment. Research also shows it may help treat the form of bone marrow cancer known as multiple myeloma. Other studies have examined papain's usefulness in treating diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and post-surgical swelling, but so far results have been mixed.

Dietary supplement makers are not required by the U.S. government to demonstrate that their products are safe or effective. Ask your healthcare provider for advice on selecting a brand.

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-- Elena Conis

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