Carica papaya — also simply known as papaya or pawpaw — is a type of tropical, fruit-bearing tree native to Mexico and northern regions of South America.
Today, papaya is one of the most widely cultivated crops in the world. Its fruit, seeds, and leaves are frequently utilized in a variety of culinary and folk medicine practices.
Papaya leaf contains unique plant compounds that have demonstrated broad pharmacological potential in test-tube and animal studies.
Although human research is lacking, many papaya leaf preparations, such as teas, extracts, tablets, and juices, are often used to treat illnesses and promote health in numerous ways.
Here are 7 emerging benefits and uses of papaya leaf.
1. May treat symptoms related to dengue fever
One of the most prominent medicinal benefits of papaya leaf is its potential to treat certain symptoms associated with dengue fever.
Dengue is a mosquito-borne virus that can be transmitted to humans and cause flu-like symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and skin rashes (1Trusted Source).
Severe cases can also result in reduced platelet levels in the blood. Low platelet levels can contribute to an increased risk of bleeding and are potentially fatal if left untreated (1Trusted Source).
While there’s currently no cure for dengue, several treatments are available for managing its symptoms — one of which is papaya leaf.
Three human studies that included several hundred people with dengue found that papaya leaf extract significantly increased blood platelet levels (2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source).
What’s more, the papaya leaf therapy had very few associated side effects and was found to be much more cost effective than conventional treatments.
SUMMARYStudies have found that papaya leaf extract can improve blood platelet levels in people with dengue fever.
2. May promote balanced blood sugar
Papaya leaf is often used in Mexican folk medicine as a natural therapy for treating diabetes and improving blood sugar control (5Trusted Source).
Studies in mice with diabetes have found papaya leaf extract to have potent antioxidant and blood-sugar-lowering effects. This is attributed to papaya leaf’s ability to protect insulin-producing cells in the pancreas from damage and premature death (5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source).
Still, no scientific evidence indicates that the same or similar effects may occur in humans.
More research is needed to determine whether papaya leaf can be used to help manage high blood sugar levels in humans.
SUMMARYPapaya leaf is used in traditional medicine practices to treat diabetes and high blood sugar levels. While animal studies have shown that papaya leaf has a blood-sugar-lowering effect, no human studies support its use for this purpose.
3. May support digestive function
Papaya leaf teas and extracts are often used as an alternative therapy to alleviate uncomfortable digestive symptoms, such as gas, bloating, and heartburn.
Papaya leaf contains fiber — a nutrient that supports healthy digestive function — and a unique compound called papain (7Trusted Source).
Papain is well known for its ability to break down large proteins into smaller, easier-to-digest proteins and amino acids. It’s even used as a meat tenderizer in culinary practices.
One study found that the supplemental use of a papain powder sourced from papaya fruit reduced negative digestive symptoms, including constipation and heartburn, in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (8Trusted Source).
No scientific studies have specifically evaluated papaya leaf’s ability to treat similar types of digestive disturbances.
Most of the evidence favoring its use for this purpose is limited to anecdotal reports, and there’s no guarantee it’ll improve your digestive function in any way.
SUMMARYThe nutrients and compounds in papaya leaf may alleviate digestive disturbances, but research is lacking.
4. May have anti-inflammatory effects
Various papaya leaf preparations are frequently used to remedy a broad range of internal and external inflammatory conditions, including skin rashes, muscle aches, and joint pain.
Papaya leaf contains various nutrients and plant compounds with potential anti-inflammatory benefits, such as papain, flavonoids, and vitamin E (7Trusted Source, 9, 10Trusted Source).
One study found that papaya leaf extract significantly reduced inflammation and swelling in the paws of rats with arthritis (11Trusted Source).
Yet, no human studies have confirmed these results.
Thus, at this point, scientific evidence is insufficient to determine whether papaya leaf can treat acute or chronic inflammation in humans.
SUMMARYPapaya leaf contains compounds with potential anti-inflammatory effects, but no human studies support its ability to treat inflammatory conditions.
5. May support hair growth
Topical applications of papaya leaf masks and juices are often used to improve hair growth and scalp health, but evidence to support its efficacy for these purposes is extremely limited.
Some research suggests that high levels of oxidative stress in the body may contribute to hair loss. Eating antioxidant-rich foods may help alleviate oxidative stress and subsequently improve hair growth (12Trusted Source).
Papaya leaf contains several compounds with antioxidant properties, such as flavonoids and vitamin E (10Trusted Source).
Proponents of using papaya leaf to improve hair growth often cite its rich supply of antioxidants. However, there’s no significant evidence that the topical application of papaya leaves can benefit the hair growth process.
Certain types of dandruff are caused by an overgrowth of a fungus called Malassezia, which can impede hair growth (13Trusted Source).
Papaya leaf has demonstrated antifungal properties in test-tube studies, so it’s often thought to support hair and scalp health by inhibiting the growth of dandruff-causing fungus (14Trusted Source).
However, papaya leaf has not been specifically tested against Malassezia, so there’s no guarantee it’ll have beneficial effects.
SUMMARYPapaya leaf is often used topically to encourage hair growth and support scalp health, but there’s no scientific evidence to support its use for this purpose.
6. May promote healthy skin
Papaya leaf is frequently consumed orally or applied topically as a way to maintain soft, clear, and youthful-looking skin.
A protein-dissolving enzyme in papaya leaf called papain can be used topically as an exfoliant to remove dead skin cells and potentially reduce the occurrence of clogged pores, ingrown hairs, and acne.
Moreover, papaya leaf enzymes have been used to promote wound healing, and one study found they minimized the appearance of scar tissue in rabbits (15Trusted Source, 16Trusted Source).
SUMMARYEnzymes in papaya leaf can act as an exfoliant to remove dead skin cells, prevent acne, and potentially minimize the appearance of scars.
7. May have anticancer properties
Papaya leaf has been used in traditional medicine practices to prevent and treat certain types of cancer, but modern research is still lacking.
Papaya leaf extract has demonstrated a powerful ability to inhibit the growth of prostate and breast cancer cells in test-tube studies, but neither animal nor human experiments have replicated these results (17Trusted Source, 18Trusted Source).
Although consuming papaya leaves and other antioxidant-rich foods may play a role in cancer prevention, they have not been proven to have any curative abilities (19Trusted Source).
SUMMARYTest-tube studies have found that papaya leaf extract inhibits the growth of cancer cells, but human studies are lacking.
Although more research is needed to prove many of the purported benefits of papaya leaf, it has a pretty good safety record.
A 2014 animal study found that papaya leaf had no toxic effects even at very large doses, and human studies have reported very few negative side effects (20Trusted Source).
That said, if you’re allergic to papaya, you should not consume papaya leaves in any form. Moreover, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should consult your healthcare provider prior to consuming any papaya leaf preparations.
Although papaya leaf itself is generally considered safe for most people, it’s important that you only choose the highest quality products if you’re purchasing it in supplement form.
Nutritional and herbal supplements are not closely regulated in some countries, including the United States.
Supplement manufacturers do not have to prove the safety or efficacy of their products before they’re sold. As such, they may contain contaminants or other potentially harmful ingredients that aren’t listed on the label.
To avoid any unintended negative consequences, opt for supplements that have been tested for purity by a third-party organization, such as NSF or US Pharmacopoeia.
There’s currently not enough evidence to make precise dosage recommendations for each of the possible uses of papaya leaf.
However, taking three doses of up to 1 ounce (30 mL) of papaya leaf extract per day is considered safe and effective for the treatment of dengue fever (21Trusted Source).
If you’re unsure how much papaya leaf you should consume, consult a qualified healthcare provider.
SUMMARYPapaya leaf is safe for most people to consume, but if you’re not growing it yourself, it’s important to choose the highest quality supplements that have been third-party tested.
The bottom line
Papaya is one of the most widely cultivated plants in the world, and its fruit, seeds, and leaves are used for a variety of culinary and medicinal purposes.
Papaya leaf is often consumed as an extract, tea, or juice and has been found to treat symptoms related to dengue fever.
Other common uses include reducing inflammation, improving blood sugar control, supporting skin and hair health, and preventing cancer.
However, there’s not enough evidence available to determine whether it’s effective for any of these purposes.
Papaya leaf is generally considered safe, but it should be avoided if you’re allergic to it.
Always consult your healthcare provider prior to adding any herbal supplements to your health and wellness routine.