Papaya Seeds: Are They Edible and Healthy

  • Julia Ambrozy Biomedical Science BSc 2020-2023 Global Health MSc 2023-2024

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Papaya (Carica papaya) is a popular fruit due to its nutrient density and tasty flavour.1 However, often people eat the flesh of the fruit but don’t eat the seeds. Many people do not know that the seeds of papaya are not only edible but boast an impressive nutritional profile. Papaya seeds contain: a range of vitamins,1 fibre,2 healthy fatty acids3 and antioxidants such as flavonoids and polyphenols, and have many potential health benefits.4 Though, there may be some things that you need to consider before deciding to start consuming them.

So let's take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of including papaya seeds in your diet and their impact on your health.

Papaya seeds nutritional value

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Papaya_-_longitudinal_section.jpg

There is a wide range of important nutrients in Papaya seeds.1

Fibre 

Fibre is a major component of papaya seeds. Increasing your fibre intake has been shown to cause a reduction in cholesterol and blood pressure.2,3 There is also an association between reduced risk of stroke and/or diabetes and high fibre intake.2,6 Having plenty of fibre in your diet may also help you to maintain a healthy weight.6, 7

Monounsaturated fatty acids 

High amounts of beneficial monounsaturated fatty acids are found in papaya seeds - for example oleic acid.3

Diets rich in monounsaturated fatty acids could be beneficial to people who have type 2 diabetes. One study they found that this type of diet could decrease very low density lipoprotein cholesterol by 7.5%, with patients meeting the treatment goal for diabetes.9

Antioxidants

Papaya contains health-boosting antioxidants. Flavonoids and polyphenols are two compounds that perform this antioxidant role in papaya seeds.4

They act to reduce oxidative stress, decreasing your chance of developing chronic disease and help protect the immune system by acting against free radicals which can cause disease in the body.4,10

Potential health benefits of papaya seeds

Papaya seeds have been associated with several health benefits which are largely due to the nutrients they contains.1,2,3,4

Anticancer properties 

Some research suggests Papaya seeds may have anticancer effects. A lab study showed that papaya seed extract protected against cancer development and had an anti-inflammatory effect.4,10,11

A lab based study showed that human colon cancer cell growth was reduced when cells were exposed to black papaya seeds.12

Another study demonstrated black papaya seed extracts to have a potent anticancer effect against some hepatocellular carcinoma (a type of liver cancer) in rats.13 

Though these results demonstrate the potential of papaya seeds in combating cancer, more studies are required to see whether papaya seeds affect the growth of cancer in humans.

Fighting infections

There is some evidence that certain parasites and fungi can be killed by papaya seeds.14,15

One lab based study demonstrated that papaya seeds exerted an antifungal effect against 3 specific fungal strains. This included Candida albicans which causes yeast infections in humans.14 

One study suggested that papaya seed extract may be able to prevent threadworm (pinworms) eggs hatching and may be able to kill the lava.15

Though evidence is currently relatively sparse, papaya seeds should not be relied upon to treat infections. More larger-scale studies are required to look at papaya seeds effectiveness against parasitic and fungal infections in humans.

Protecting the liver and kidney

Papaya seeds antioxidants also may potentially help to prevent damage to your organs such as the liver and kidneys.4,16,17 A few animal studies have demonstrated the benefits of papaya seeds on liver and kidney function.

Your liver is an important organ for breaking down substances in the body and filtering the blood.18 Whilst your kidneys remove excess fluid and waste both play an essential role in your health.19

Papaya seed extract may help to prevent damage to the kidneys, this was demonstrated in a rat study where rats were given a toxic medicine. Papaya’s antioxidants may act on the cellular level by blocking oxidative damage, therefore preserving the health of the kidneys.16

Papaya seeds have also been found to have a protective effect in liver health. In another study, rats were fed papaya seeds for 12 weeks and they were found to protect against damage to the liver.17

Promotes gut health

Seeds contain lots of fibre and papaya seeds are no exception.2,20

Adding more fibre to your diet may help to regulate your bowel movements as fibre is not digested in your gastrointestinal tract. It adds more weight to your stool as it moves through your intestine. It has been shown that adding more fibre to your diet increased how often bowel movements occurred in people suffering from constipation21,22.

Increasing the amount of fibre you eat may also promote digestive health in other ways as well. Studies demonstrate that additional dietary fibre may help to alleviate hemorrhoid symptoms,23 helping to aid treatment of peptic ulcers,24 and even have a protective effect against inflammatory bowel disease.25 

Protective effects on the brain

Some studies have suggested that papaya seeds may have neuroprotective effects on the brain.

In one such study, mice were given either papaya seed extract or pulp of papaya and both were found to have some beneficial neuroprotective effect yet the papaya pulp had greater effect.26

Papaya seeds also have a protective effect against oxidative stress, which may be useful for some neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s.26,27 However, there is a lack of studies conducted in humans so this isn't conclusive.

Skin benefits 

Papaya seeds contain bioactive compounds (BAC’s) like antioxidants and phenolic compounds giving them potential in cosmeceutical products. Particularly BAC’s that may aid wound healing.28

One animal study on Papaya seeds has found that papaya seeds promote wound healing in the skin of rats.29 Though there are few studies on this effect.

Things to consider

Whilst eating papaya seeds may have a range of beneficial effects, there are some possible health concerns associated with their consumption. 

Potentially reduce fertility

Animal studies have suggested that papaya seeds may decrease fertility.

One example of this was a study in which monkeys were given papaya seed extract in large doses which led to the development of azoospermia (no sperm found in the semen).30 Similar results were also observed in studies on rats,31,32 with reversal of the effect being seen in 30-45 days of ceasing treatment.32

Though the dose of papaya seed extracts given in these studies was far in excess of what the majority of people eat.30,31,32

However, these studies were only performed in animals and human studies would be required to confirm that the effects are the same.

Large servings could be harmful

Benzyl isothiocyanate is a compound found in a range of cruciferous vegetables and has also been found in papaya seeds.12,33 

Whilst this compound has shown to have potential cancer prevention properties according to some lab based studies, other research reports that larger servings may be harmful.12 

One rat study demonstrated that benzyl isothiocyanate can lead to significant DNA damage.34

Another rat study showed that it had a detrimental effect on cells in the bladder of rats.35

It is important to remember that these studies used highly concentrated benzyl isothiocyanate and were performed on animals.34,35 Therefore, more studies are needed on more realistic servings of papaya seeds in humans to evaluate these risks.

Allergic reactions

As with any food there is a possibility of an allergic reaction to papaya, in papaya this is often a response to the enzyme papain. It has been suggested that there is an association between this response and an allergy to natural latex rubber.36 In very rare instances there may be a life threatening reaction (anaphylaxis) in people who are allergic to papain.37

Summary

  • Papaya seeds contain lots of key nutrients like fibre, vitamins, antioxidants and monounsaturated fats.
  • Research has shown that papaya seeds may improve digestive health, have antiparasitic and antifungal effects, have a protective effect against cancer, kidney health, liver health, and skin health and have protective effects on the brain.
  • However, many studies are reliant on lab and animal studies so talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your health.
  • Some lab and animal studies have found that, in concentrated doses, papaya seeds could have damaging effects on DNA and cells and reduce fertility in people AMAB (assigned male at birth). 
  • There aren’t many human studies that demonstrate these same disadvantages in human health and the doses in these studies are typically very high.
  • Enjoying papaya seeds in moderation and limiting yourself to a couple of servings a day ensures these problems can be avoided.

References

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