Table of Contents
What is Papain?
Papain is a plant-based proteolytic enzyme derived from raw papaya fruit (Carica papaya L.) which is indigenous to India and western Asia. In fact, papaya fruit is one of the main exports of India. Naturally, most papain supplements are made through the extraction process of papaya fruit.
Enzymes are technically proteins that help catalyze various reactions in the body (meaning they are able to modify or change other substances without altering their own structure). Proteolytic enzymes like papain help the body break down the protein that you ingest into small peptide chains and individual amino acids.
Papain also plays a key role in many other biological processes and is often used in alternative medicine for over 100 years to treat indigestion, gluten intolerance, leaky gut, wound healing, and much more.
Where to Buy Papain
Papain and is readily sold over-the-counter at many health food stores and pharmacies in the United States. It might not always be available as a standalone product at supermarkets and drug stores but rather as an ingredient in digestive aids and enzyme complex supplements.
If you want to get more papain in your diet, your best bet is to either eat more of the foods that naturally contain this enzyme or to purchase a supplement containing papain (we will cover the best papain supplement below).
Foods that Contain Papain
If you are a fruit lover, then it’s actually quite simple to get more papain in your diet. Papain is readily found in papayas (duh!), mangos, and pineapples, the latter of which also contains bromelain – another plant source of proteolytic enzymes. Be sure to opt for fresh or frozen fruits as opposed to the canned versions, which are generally devoid of micronutrients and not as nutritious.
If you’re not much of a snacker, then drinking pineapple, mango, or papaya juice are easy ways to get more papain in your diet without having to exercise your mandible. You may even come across juices that are branded as being “papain-rich.”
Be careful to watch your sugar intake, though. Fruit juices are generally high in fructose and added sugar which can add up quick if you’re the type to chug two liters of liquid at a time.
Since many health enthusiasts and bodybuilders alike try to limit their fruit/sugar intake, drinking pineapple juice and eating a bunch of papayas isn’t going to be a prudent way to get more papain in the diet.
The good news is that you can find papain in various supplements that contain no sugar or calories. In rare cases, you might be able to find papain tablets at your local grocery store or pharmacy, but it’s most likely to be found as a component of digestive enzyme supplements.
You can usually find papain supplements at various online health supplement vendors for very affordable prices. Don’t get too carried away with using papain tablets/pills though; remember, you don’t want too much or too little of anything when it comes to diet, even digestive enzymes.
To ensure that you’re getting the right amount of papain along with your protein fix, WheyXX takes the guesswork out of the process by giving you evidence-based doses of quality whey protein isolate and papain. Very few protein powders contain papain, which is ironic because it’s a key enzyme for essentially “unlocking” the amino acids you consume through protein.
Benefits of Papain
The unique thing about papain is that it’s not produced endogenously (i.e. within the body) like other proteases, such as trypsin, pepsin, and chymotrypsin. If the body lacks production of proteases, protein malabsorption becomes a greater risk, and you may experience symptoms like bloating, flatulence, lethargy, and inability to recover from exercise.
As such, supplementing with papain is an effective measure for promoting proper protein digestion and assimilation, especially if you eat a generous amount of protein-rich foods and/or use protein powder supplements.
Research even shows supplementing with proteolytic enzymes like papain can reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness and the time it takes to recover from exhaustive exercise. In fact, one study found that athletes who took a papain supplement reduced the time it took to fully recover from their workouts by four and a half days!
It’s interesting to think that a supplement as simple as papain could result in such drastic physiological benefits. While the majority of gym-goers and bodybuilders know that protein is imperative for building muscle and recovering, those same people generally don’t realize that proteolytic enzymes are what help put protein they consume to good use.
Thinking like this might help: Your car won’t function well at all if you have a dirty/clogged oil filter. If your body isn’t able to keep up with all the protein you ingest, those amino acids aren’t able to make it to the blood efficiently and eventually you’ll start feeling the side effects of indigestion.
Hence, taking a papain supplement is much like giving your car a new oil filter every time you eat protein; the protein will be able to pass through the digestive tract more efficiently so that those essential amino acids can be properly isolated and absorbed.
The benefits and uses of papain don’t stop there, either…
Common Uses of Papain
Papain has been used in alternative medicine for decades, particularly to help treat gastrointestinal issues, oral health, and wound healing. Here are some of the most common uses of papain:
– Indigestion is generally the result of enzymatic deficiency and/or a lack of stomach acid (hypochloridia). Having too much stomach acid may also cause indigestion and lead to acid building up in the esophagus (acid reflux), in turn leading to things like heartburn and upper-abdomen pain. While many people are quick to use proton pump inhibitors like Prevacid, papain has been shown to be an effective natural remedy for treating indigestion, particularly digestive issues that occur after consuming protein.
– If you wear daily contact lenses, chances are your lens cleaner has papain in it. Why? Your eyes secrete proteins throughout the day that accumulate in your contact lenses, which is why they might become cloudy after wearing them for an extended time. Lens cleaners are ultimately what help break down and remove the proteins that build up in your contacts. Since papain is a proteolytic enzyme, it works as a natural contact lens cleaner.
– For almost two hundred years, humans in the India region have applied pastes made with papaya on flesh wounds to heal the skin and stop bleeding. Papaya fruit is inherently rich in antioxidants and when applied correctly doesn’t contain harmful contaminants. In addition, research suggests that papain helps prevent infection and promote our innate regenerative properties.
Dental Hygiene and Treatments
– Dental hygienists use a plethora of treatments and medicines when treating oral health, but recent studies have shown that papain has anti-plague and gum-healing properties. Chances are we will see more toothpaste and oral health products containing papain in the coming years.
Papain Side Effects
Now that you have a great understanding of what papain is, where it comes from, and what it’s used for, both in medicine and in fitness, it’s time to explore those pesky side effects that come with the territory.
However, the good news is that the side effects of papain are quite uncommon and fairly benign; less than 1% of the population may experience adverse reactions to papain consumption. Of course, there are the outliers who may experience harsher side effects, but that’s exceptionally rare. (Note: If you’re pregnant you should avoid consuming papain as it may cause birth defects. The chances are very rare, but it’s best to err on the side of caution. You may resume papain supplements after your child has been born.)
Here are two uncommon papain side effects:
●Stinging or burning
– Though mild, if ointment or lotions made with papain and applied to the skin, it’s possible to experience some stinging or burning sensation, resulting in a minor rash. The stinging or burning is likely the result of an allergic reaction to the papain (or possibly another ingredient in the product). If this happens, cease use of the ointment/lotion immediately.
– Even more rare, nausea has been reported by some people after ingesting papain. However, papain is often taken with meals to treat things like indigestion and upset stomach, so it’s hard to say if the side effect is the result of the papain or something more insidious that hasn’t been remedied (or the food itself).
In rare/extreme cases, papain side effects may include:
– Some users have experienced such an increase in lowering blood pressure and thinning of blood that it’s led to unintended bleeding disorders. The clotting problems can be solved usually by flushing the system and over time removing the papain. In some, the most severe of scenarios, iron deficiency can become a more permanent problem.
– As noted above, pregnant women should avoid papain. It’s not quite clear why papain consumption can cause defects in some infants, but it’s likely a genetic abnormality. Simply avoiding papain supplementation until after giving birth is the most practical way of avoiding this concern.
How to Avoid Papain Side Effects
If you are at all worried about consuming papain, then the best thing to do is consult with your primary doctor and/or a nutritionist. Naturally, if you experience any adverse reactions after consuming papain, stop use immediately.
Again, the odds are drastically in favor of you not experiencing any side effects from papain, but there’s always a chance for the improbable, so we are just being forthright with this information. If you don’t respond well to papain and are trying to treat heartburn or indigestion, then consider alternative options, such as bromelain, OTC antacids, etc.
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- Abhinav Tadikonda, Kalyana-Chakravarthy Pentapati, corresponding author Arun-Sreenivas Urala, and Shashidhar Acharya. Anti-plaque and anti-gingivitis effect of Papain, Bromelain, Miswak and Neem containing dentifrice: A randomized controlled trial. J Clin Exp Dent. 2017 May; 9(5): e649–e653.