Heartburn is a painful burning sensation experienced in the upper stomach or chest due to the reflux of stomach acid into the oesophagus.
This reflux, usually triggered by poor diet and lifestyle is caused because of the relaxation of the sphincter muscle or the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES), which guards the entry of the stomach, preventing backflow of its contents.
Heartburn is a relatively common disorder, experienced at least once by each individual by the time of adulthood but its ignorance can lead to the development of a chronic form called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Papaya and heartburn treatment
Carica papaya L. or more commonly known as papaya or pawpaw is a tropical fruit widely grown across the world. Apart from its use as a raw sweet fruit and as an edible in cooking, its fruit and other plant parts are also consumed widely for its medicinal properties. Its roots and leaves are used for their diuretic properties, seed and leaves as an anti-helminthic consumable and fruit for treatment of bilious conditions (gastric disorders) .
Papaya leaves and fruits have certain medicinal components that act specifically on the gastrointestinal tract to relieve the gut associated disorders including heartburn. Analysis of individual components of the leaves and fruits has confirmed the therapeutic properties of the same.
Papaya leaf has high amount of ascorbic acid
Ascorbic acid or vitamin C is known for its anti-oxidant properties. Due to its acidic nature, citrus fruits that have abundant vitamin C are usually not prescribed in heartburn as the acid may exacerbate the effects of the reflux. However, in limited amounts, its antioxidant properties help heal heartburn and heartburn associated injuries in the gut wall.
The reflux of acid creates lesions in the mucosal membrane of the stomach and oesophagus, activating the reactive oxygen species which damage the layer further. The damage causes ulcers, inflammation and pain to arise. This effect is combated by the antioxidants and vitamin C is an effective natural antioxidant present in exactly optimum amounts in papaya leaf, which is why it has been prescribed one of the best natural medications to treat acid reflux and its associated pathologies .
Papaya fruit contains digestive enzymes papain and chymopapain
Papaya is rich in digestive enzymes called papain and chymopapain, of which mainly papain is involved in potentially treating functional dyspepsia or indigestion. Dyspepsia is one of the major reasons of heartburn as it increases the retention time of food in the stomach, decreases the pressure of the LES and causes excessive acid secretion due to which chances of reflux increase tenfold.
Papain available in highest amounts in papaya juice or as tablets in the market helps digest food faster and cures indigestion, leaving no chances for heartburn to occur.
Certain digestive enzymes available in the form of tablets are prescribed to treat indigestion and heartburn. For heartburn, usually antacids are also taken which are alkaline themselves and cause the stomach pH to rise significantly, making the stomach environment alkaline as well.
The enzyme tablets, if taken for heartburn at the time when the antacids are also being consumed, become ineffective in the stomach because they need acidic environment to be active. This drawback is ruled out by papain which is highly effective even in the alkaline environments in the stomach. In fact, to increase the therapeutic efficacy of papain tablets or papaya juice containing papain, antacids are taken just before or after the consumption of papain.
Also, its antiseptic activities checks indigestion triggered abnormal fermentation of food in the stomach by unwanted microbes which help a great deal to reduce flatulence and gas .
Papain from papaya reduces ulcers
Ulcers are one of the most painful conditions accompanied by heartburn. They are caused by excessive acid exposure in the oesophagus and stomach, creating lesions in the gut wall. A study on rats demonstrated that papain from papaya in the form of papaya latex or papaya juice can treat ulcers easily and effectively in a very less time. This is mostly mediated by the reduction in amounts of acid secretion in the stomach which reduces the chances of damage in the gut wall due to excessive acid exposure .
Papaya leaves are rich in B vitamins
Chronic heartburn is treated with prescribed drugs like proton pump inhibitors and H2 receptor inhibitors. These reduce acid secretion which impairs the absorption of B vitamins from the food, a process that needs acidic environment. Also, B vitamins help treat ulcers and inflammation. Due to medications prescribed for heartburn, severe vitamin B deficiency occurs. Papaya leaves have been found to be highly rich in B vitamins and its intake can help heal ulcers caused by heartburn faster apart from replenishing the body’s vitamin B levels to normal .
Anti-inflammatory activities of papaya leaf extract
Prolonged heartburn often results in the inflammation of gastric mucosal layer, making it damaged and vulnerable to ulceration. Ethanolic extracts of papaya leaves have been shown to exert anti-inflammatory actions on the gut mucosa, thereby reducing the damaging effects of heartburn and treating the pain caused by it.
The anti-inflammatory activities of papaya leaf extracts have been attributed possibly due to its ability of inhibit the pro-inflammatory enzyme cycloxygenase 2 (COX2), as done by many anti-inflammatory drugs such as NSAIDs. COX2 enzyme, upon being triggered by mucosal damage mediates the production of molecules such as prostaglandins which cause pain and inflammation. Inhibition of COX2 reduces the production of such molecules and thus, inflammation .
Papaya helps control obesity
Obesity is one of the biggest culprits behind the occurrence of heartburn which is why it is recommended to lose weight on the onset of heartburn in obese people. Papaya fruit is amazingly sweet, tasty and a healthy snack to munch on when hunger strikes. This is good not just because papaya is low in calories but also because it stimulates the metabolism and helps reduce weight, thus controlling heartburn incidences.
Another mechanism by which papaya reduces weight is by reducing the oxidative damage and cholesterol levels which are key points for management of obesity. Papaya extract significantly reduces malandialdehyde (MDA), a mediator responsible for creating oxidative damage in case of obesity and the extract increases glutathione (GSH), which fights and detoxifies the oxidative species in the body .
Dosage and consumption of papaya
The exact dose of papaya depends on the age, sex and physiological condition of a person and since not much research has been done on it, there is no defined dose to be taken for heartburn by a person. Papaya is best consumed raw if ripe or in food preparations if unripe. Snacking on a bowl full of papaya everyday maintains gut health and helps check obesity.
Papaya juice is highly rich in the digestive enzyme papain and a glass full of this juice after meals can speed up the digestion. Papaya leaf can be used to make papaya leaf tea. The tea can be prepared by boiling the leaf pieces in water for a few minutes and strained after cooling. Papaya leaf tea preparations are highly beneficial because boiling the leaf helps all the nutrients and vitamins infuse into the water for maximum benefit .
There is not much research on the prescribed optimum dose of the tea so for being on a safer side, starting should be done with the smallest amounts of consumption of this tea, gradually going for higher doses until the heartburn is cured.
A doctor should be consulted if no relief is being provided by either the tea of juice or raw fruit itself as it may be a sign of any other problem of a chronic form of heartburn not easily treated with natural products. Papaya enzyme papain is available in the form of tablets and syrups over the counter with doses indicated on the label, which should strictly be followed.
Side effects and precautions
Papaya has miraculous effects on the gut if consumed in quantities that are just about right, not too less, not too much. Fewer quantities may not be effective enough to cure heartburn properly but at least it doesn’t pose hazardous effects on the body as the excessive dose of papaya does.
High amount of consumption of papaya may damage the oesophagus instead of healing it. It is also possibly unsafe when papaya latex is applied on the skin as it might cause irritations. It is strictly not recommended for pregnant woman to consume any part of papaya in any form as it can cause abortion or birth defects in the baby.
Papaya is good for diabetes as well but excessively ripe papaya can lower the blood sugar much more than required which can be problematic for diabetic people or people with low blood sugar.
Papaya is also not recommended for people who have latex allergy or papain allergy or those who have undergone a surgery recently as it may delay wound healing. Papaya interacts with a medicine called Warfarin (Coumadin) which slows down blood clotting. Papaya might enhance the effect of warfarin, making the wounds bleed , .
Papaya is a wonder fruit, used to treat many diseases including gastric disorders. It is highly helpful in treating heartburn by curing ulcers, vitamin deficiencies, inflammation, obesity and most importantly, indigestion.
Daily intake of proper amounts of papaya can make the gut healthy and keep away many diseases of the gut and other body parts. However, care should be taken regarding the dosing of papaya because excessive doses can be deleterious to health rather than being beneficial.