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Papain

What Should I Know About Papain?

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Updated June 19, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Papain is an enzyme found naturally in the papaya plant (Carica papaya). Available in dietary supplement form, papain has been found to promote the breakdown of certain proteins. Proponents claim that use of papain supplements can provide a variety of health benefits.

Uses for Papain

Papain is typically touted as a natural remedy for the following health problems:

In addition, papain is said to reduce inflammation and relieve pain.

Papain is also thought to promote healing from wounds and burns when applied to the skin.

Benefits of Papain

Although research on the health effects of taking papain supplements is fairly limited, there's some evidence that papain may offer certain benefits. Here's a look at some key findings from the available research on papain:

1) Wound Healing

Papain shows promise for the treatment of wounds, according to a 2012 report published in the Portuguese journal Revista Gaúcha de Enfermagem. Looking at a number of studies on the use of papain in the wound-healing process (including only one clinical trial), the report's authors found that papain may help promote the healing of wounds. However, the report's authors point out that papain might cause side effects such as burning and pain.

2) Shingles

There's some evidence that papain may help treat shingles. In a 1995 study published in the German journal Fortschritte der Medizin, for instance, researchers found that papain may offer effects similar to those of acyclovir (a medication commonly used in treatment of shingles).

For the study, 192 patients with shingles took either acyclovir or a formula containing a variety of enzymes (including papain) for 14 days. In their analysis of study findings, researchers found no significant differences between the two treatments in terms of their effects on the pain and skin lesions caused by shingles.

3) Sore Throat

Several studies published in the 1970s and 1980s indicate that papain may be useful in the treatment of sore throat. However, more recent research on papain's effectiveness as a sore throat treatment is lacking.

Safety

Due to a lack of research, little is known about the safety of long-term use of supplements containing papain. However, there's some concern that papain can irritate the stomach and throat.

In addition, some individuals may experience allergic reactions when consuming papain. Papain should also be avoided by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

It's also important to note that self-treating a chronic condition with papain and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering the use of papain in treatment of a chronic condition, make sure to consult your physician before starting your supplement regimen.

Learn more about how to use supplement safely.

Alternatives to Papain

Another fruit-derived enzyme, bromelain may possess a number of health-enhancing properties. Extracted from the fruit and stems of pineapple and available in supplement form, bromelain has been found to reduce inflammation. Studies indicate that bromelain may help treat such conditions as indigestion, sinusitis, and osteoarthritis.

Where to Find Papain

Widely available for purchase online, supplements containing papain can be found in many grocery stores, drugstores, natural-foods stores, and stores specializing in dietary supplements.

Sources

Bienen H, Raus I. "Therapeutic comparison of throat lozenges." MMW Munch Med Wochenschr. 1981 May 1;123(18):745-7.

Billigmann P. "Enzyme therapy--an alternative in treatment of herpes zoster. A controlled study of 192 patients." Fortschr Med. 1995 Feb 10;113(4):43-8.

Leite AP, de Oliveira BG, Soares MF, Barrocas DL. "Use and effectiveness of papain in the wound healing process: a systematic review." Rev Gaucha Enferm. 2012 Sep;33(3):198-207.

Raus I. "Clinical studies on Frubienzyme in a controlled double-blind trial." Fortschr Med. 1976 Oct 7;94(28):1579-82.

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