PAPAYA - THE FRUIT OF THE ANGELS

DR. S. M. ALAM
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

June 20 - 26, 2011

Originally from southern Mexico, Central America and northern South America, the papaya is now cultivated in most countries with a tropical climate, such as Brazil, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the hilippines.

The papaya is the fruit of the plant Carica papaya, in the genus Carica. It is native to the tropics of the Americas, and was first cultivated in Mexico several centuries before the emergence of the Mesoamerican classic cultures.

It is a large tree-like plant, with a single stem growing from five to 10 metres (16 to 33 ft) tall, with spirally arranged leaves confined to the top of the trunk. The lower trunk is conspicuously scarred where leaves and fruit were borne. The leaves are large, 50-70 centimeters (20-28 in) diameter, deeply lobed with 7 lobes. The tree is usually un-branched if un-lopped.

The flowers are similar in shape to the flowers of the Plumeria, but are much smaller and wax-like. They appear on the axils of the leaves, maturing into the large 15-45 centimeters (5.9-18 in) long, 10-30 centimeters (3.9-12 in) diameter fruit. The fruit is ripe when it feels soft (like a ripe avocado or a bit softer) and its skin has attained an amber to orange hue.

Papaya can be used as a food, a cooking aid, and in medicine. The stem and bark are also used in rope production. The ripe fruit is usually eaten raw, without skin or seeds. The unripe green fruit of papaya can be eaten cooked, usually in curries, salads, and stews. It has a relatively high amount of pectin, which can be used to make jellies. The black seeds are edible and have a sharp, spicy taste. They are sometimes ground and used as a substitute for black pepper. In some parts of Asia, the young leaves of papaya are steamed and eaten like spinach. In some parts of the world, papaya leaves are made into tea as a preventative for malaria, though there is no real scientific evidence for the effectiveness of this treatment. Green papaya fruit and the tree's latex are both rich in an enzyme called papain, a protease which is useful in tenderizing meat and other proteins. Its ability to break down tough meat fibers was used for thousands of years by indigenous Americans. It is included as a component in powdered meat tenderizers.

Papain is also applied topically (in countries where it grows) for the treatment of cuts, rashes, stings and burns. Papain ointment is commonly made from fermented papaya flesh, and is applied as a gel-like paste.

Women in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and other countries have long used green papaya as a folk remedy for contraception and abortion.

Enslaved women in the West Indies were noted for consuming papaya to prevent pregnancies and thus preventing their children from being born into slavery. Medical research in animals has confirmed the contraceptive and abortifacient capability of papaya, and also found that papaya seeds have contraceptive effects in adult male langur monkeys, and possibly in adult male humans, as well.

Unripe papaya is especially effective in large amounts or high doses. Ripe papaya is not teratogenic and will not cause miscarriage in small amounts. Phytochemicals in papaya may suppress the effects of progesterone.

The health benefits of fruits and vegetables cannot be equated to that promised by nutritional pills and supplements. Nutrition experts advocate generous intake of fruits for optimum health as these food items are loaded with all the benefits. Fruits are goldmine of vitamins, minerals, and fibre and are ideal to consume at least 4-5 servings in a day. Since they are in the natural form, account for largest part of water and 100 per cent bad cholesterol free, it's much easier for the body to process and absorb the vitamins and minerals from the fresh fruit.

Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables contain varying amounts of antioxidants such as vitamin C as well as carotenoids and bioflavonoids, two classes of phytochemicals that scientists are studying extensively for their health-promoting potential. In addition, a new scientific base is emerging to support a protective role for this group of fruits and vegetables in prevention of cataract formation, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diverticulosis, and possibly, hypertension.

Papaya is recommended to be one such pick from the group of yellow and orange fruits, which promises abundant health benefits. It is a melon like fruit with yellow-orange flesh with dozens of small black seeds enclosed in skin that ranges in color from green to orange. Papaya has high nutritional benefits. It is rich in anti-oxidants, the B vitamins, folate and pantothenic acid; and the minerals, potassium and magnesium; and fiber. Together, these nutrients promote the health of the cardiovascular system and also provide protection against colon cancer. In addition, papaya contains the digestive enzyme, papain, which is used like bromelain, a similar enzyme found in pineapple, to treat sports injuries, other causes of trauma, and allergies. Vitamin C and vitamin A, which is made in the body from the beta-carotene in papaya, are both needed for the proper function of a healthy immune system. Papaya may therefore be a healthy fruit choice for preventing such illnesses as recurrent ear infections, colds, and flu. This highly loved tropical fruit was reputably called "The Fruit of the Angels" by Christopher Columbus.

In the 20th century, papayas were brought to the United States and have been cultivated in Hawaii, the major U.S. producer since the 1920s. Today, the largest commercial producers of papayas include the United States, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.

Gluten refers to a group of proteins that are difficult for humans to digest. One group of proteins called gliadin is thought to do most of the damage to the intestinal lining. Glutenins are another group of proteins found in gluten and thought to be associated with autoimmune skin diseases and asthma. Gluten proteins are extremely resistant to intestinal digestion, despite grinding, cooking, processing, and digestion. Papaya contains the digestive enzyme papain and therefore valuable for aiding digestion. The unique protein-digesting enzymes papain and chymopapain have been shown to help lower inflammation and to improve healing from burns in addition to helping in digestion of proteins. The antioxidant nutrients found in papaya, including vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene, are also very good at reducing inflammation. The ripe fruit is easily digestible and prevents constipation. Case studies indicate that this food taken alone for two or three days has a highly beneficial tonic effect upon the stomach and intestines. The juice of the papaya aids in relieving infections of the colon and has a tendency to break down pus and mucus reached by the juice and may help prevent cancer in organs and glands with epithelial tissue (ripe papaya). Papaya's fiber is able to bind to cancer-causing toxins in the colon and keep them away from the healthy colon cells. In addition, papaya's folate, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and vitamin E have each been associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer. The seeds are anti-helmintic, for expelling worms and they are given with honey.

Papayas may be very helpful for the prevention of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease. Papayas are an excellent source of vitamin C as well as a good source of vitamin E and vitamin A (through their concentration of pro-vitamin A carotenoid phytonutrients), three very powerful antioxidants. Papayas are also a good source of fiber, which has been shown to lower high cholesterol levels.