You may have seen papain before, listed as an ingredient on a particular supplement or medication. A versatile enzyme, papain has possible benefits for both the most ambitious bodybuilders and even those so ill they are bedridden.
Though it may seem contradictory, read on to find out just what this curious ingredient is, learn about its all-natural origins, and discover how it may benefit you in your quest for peak physical fitness–or maybe just to heal a rash.
What Is Papain?
Papain is also sometimes called papaya proteinase . It is an enzyme extracted from the papaya plant native to the tropics of the Americas. Papain is typically extracted for use in medications and supplements, though it was first used as a homeopathic remedy in its native South America.
What Is Its Biological Role?
Papain has some use as an antioxidant. Antioxidants are compounds that help prevent and repair cell damage caused by other harmful elements in the body that we collectively refer to as free radicals. One of the most powerful use of papain, though, is as a digestive aid . This is because it is very efficient at breaking down protein fibers.
It does this by severing some of the links in the protein chain, separating a large protein into smaller proteins or even the tiniest building blocks of individual amino acids. This means that it is useful to aid in the digestion of foods that contain difficult to digest proteins.
This action supports optimal health of the stomach and the entire digestive system. The skin of the papaya, which has a naturally high concentration of papain, was used at one time as a poultice to help heal wounds. In modern times this use has been transformed as papain is a main ingredient in topical medications used to treat bed sores and other skin problem.
It is even being studied as a possible burn remedy. It is also being studied to determine its usefulness alongside cancer treatments; preliminary research suggests it may help the immune system to fight off the spread of certain cancers.
How Does It Help Bodybuilders and People Who Work Out?
Bodybuilders will sometimes suggest supplementing with digestive enzymes around mealtimes to help absorb as many nutrients as possible from your food. This is an attempt to help speed gains in muscle mass by gleaning the utmost amount of protein from the food you eat, so that it can be made available to the muscles for optimal growth.
Papain is commonly found in these digestive enzyme supplements, usually as part of a proprietary blend to help ensure even nutrient absorption. If you have a hard time gaining muscle mass, then this tactic may just help push you over the edge and get you to the level of muscle mass gains you’re looking for.
What Foods Contain It?
Papain is naturally occurring in the papaya fruit, and is also present as an isolated enzyme in various supplement preparations and medications.
How Much Of It Do You Need?
There is such a wide variety in the blends of digestive enzyme supplements that it is impossible to give a generic requirement. Papain is not required by the body, but simply serves as an enzymatic aid to digestion frequently added to supplements and certain medications. As such, it is best to follow the dosing instructions on the packaging of the supplement or medication you are taking.
Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Much Of It?
Some individuals may be allergic to the papaya fruit . If that is the case, there is a good chance they will also be allergic to papain. It’s important to bear this in mind if you’re considering papain supplementation, as it can cause anaphylactic shock in a person allergic to the enzyme.
In individuals with no allergy, taking pure papain in large amounts can cause irritation to the tissue linings of the mouth, throat, and esophagus. This irritation is similar to the mouth pain caused by eating too much pineapple–a reaction resulting from the exposure of the tissues to bromelin, another enzyme that is found in pineapples.
Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Little Of It?
Papain is not an enzyme that is a cofactor for any reaction in the body. Meaning that while it can help with certain bodily functions, it is not absolutely required and if you do not ingest any, your bodily functions will continue as normal. If you are supplementing with papain and take lower than the suggested dose, you may fail to see the desired results due to the decreased dose.
Papain is one of those ingredients in modern products–both as medication and supplement–that shows the true healing powers nature can possess. It is due to discoveries such as that of this enzyme in the skin of an unassuming tropical fruit that scientists are constantly looking to Mother Nature for way to keep us healthy and fit.
References: Wikipedia. Papain. Wikipedia, 2017.  Dr. Group, Edward. The Health Benefits of Papain. Global Healing Center, 2015.  WEbMD. Papain: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, And Warnings. WebMD, 2016.