by Dr. Emily Splichal, DPM MS
We all know the benefit of eating fresh fruit as a source of vitamins and minerals, but did you know that some of our favorite fruits also contain powerful enzymes which may play a role in recovery and healing.
Two of the most well-known fruit-based enzymes include bromelain from pineapples and papain from papaya. In a prior article we highlighted the benefits of bromelain, therefore this article will focus specifically on the healing benefits of papain.
What is Papain?
Papain is a proteolytic enzyme extracted from the raw fruit of the papaya plant, specifically the latex or the milky substance that leaks from the peel of the papaya fruit when it is scratched or scored. Papain is a type of proteolytic enzymes referred to as a cysteine protease which can help break proteins down into smaller protein fragments.
Papain is a well-known ingredient in meat tenderizers but has also been used to reduce symptoms of constipation or diarrhea as well as to minimize symptoms of asthma and allergies.
From a health perspective there are two additional benefits of papain which this article will highlight.
Papain & Wound Healing
Wound healing is an important part of health and wellness and does not apply only to those with compromised immune systems. In addition, wound healing is not only external but all soft tissue injuries such as Achilles tendinitis or plantar fasciitis are technically a wound or injury that requires healing.
A critical step in wound healing is the removal of old or scarred tissue which is referred to as debridement. As the old tissue is debrided away it allows for the opportunity of new healthy cells to take its place.
Papain, with its enzymatic properties, is capable of breaking down a wide range of fibrous tissue with a 2010 study supporting that wounds cleansed with papain showed the least amount of tissue exudate and greatest epithelialization. Or simply stated, accelerated wound healing.
Due to its powerful enzymatic properties papain can be found in many wound cleaners and wound gels such as Accuzyme.
Papain & Muscle Recovery
Muscle recovery and reducing delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after a long run or a hard workout is important when optimizing performance in allowing a sufficient training load to achieve fitness goals.
High-intensity and eccentric exercises can cause tiny, microscopic tears in the muscle fibers, which triggers an inflammatory response. This tissue inflammation is often what is associated with delayed onset of soreness in the muscles.
Protease supplementation such as with papain has been shown to attenuate soft tissue injury resulting from intense exercise. A 2004 study by Miller et al. found that 4 days of proteolytic enzymes dramatically diminished muscles soreness after downhill running.
Curious to integrate papain into your recovery routine? Generally you will find papain in conjunction with other proteolytic enzymes such as bromelain and serrapeptidase. All three of these ingredients are included in StepStrong.
Hellebrekers, B. W., Trimbos-Kemper, T. C., Trimbos, J. B., Emeis, J. J., and Kooistra, T. Use of fibrinolytic agents in the prevention of postoperative adhesion formation. Fertil.Steril. 2000;74
Miller, P. C., Bailey, S. P., Barnes, M. E., Derr, S. J., and Hall, E. E. The effects of protease supplementation on skeletal muscle function and DOMS following downhill running. J Sports Sci 2004;22(4):365-372.