Papain is an enzyme found in papaya, but it’s also available in other forms. Limited research suggests it may offer some health benefits, like improved digestion.

Papain is a proteolytic enzyme extracted from the raw fruit of the papaya plant. Proteolytic enzymes help break proteins down into smaller protein fragments called peptides and amino acids. This is why papain is a popular ingredient in meat tenderizer.

You can get papain from eating raw papaya. Papain is also available in topical, chewable, and capsule forms. You can purchase papain-only supplements or supplements that pair papain with other enzymes, such as bromelain.

Read on to learn how to use papain for its health benefits, as well as some of the science-based evidence surrounding this enzyme.

Papain may help relieve sore throat symptoms, such as swelling, pain, and redness. According to very dated research cited in a 2019 review on 100 people with pharyngitis or tonsillitis, throat lozenges containing 2 milligrams (mg) of papain, 5 mg of lysozyme, and 200 international units (IU) of bacitracin helped relieve sore throat symptoms better than a placebo.

It’s not known if the beneficial effects are due to papain itself, the other ingredients, or the specific combination of ingredients. Recent scientific research is lacking, however.

Learn more: Natural remedies for sore throat.

How to use

While it’s not clear if papain will help, if you want to try it, chew a lozenge containing papain at the first sign of sore throat. Don’t exceed the manufacturer’s recommended dosage.

Research suggests papain may help reduce inflammation and pain related to dental surgery, swelling related to joint conditions like bursitis, as well as neuropathic pain such as fibromyalgia.

That said, not all this research was conducted on humans, and more study is needed to verify these findings.

Learn more: 9 herbs and spices that fight inflammation and 5 surprising natural pain relievers.

How to use

If you’re interested in trying papain, talk with your doctor first. Your doctor can recommend the best approach for treating wounds, pain, or swelling after an injury or surgery.

Papain supplements can interact with certain medications, so don’t skip consulting your doctor.

Papain may also ease digestive symptoms like constipation and bloating. These symptoms can be related to digestive conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can also cause symptoms like acid reflux or heartburn.

For example, research suggests that eating papaya can help improve digestion and reduce GERD symptoms like heartburn.

Another 2023 animal study suggests that papain, along with another enzyme called bromelain, can help reduce stomach inflammation. That said, more research on humans is needed.

Learn more: and how to treat indigestion at home.

How to use

Include papaya in your diet regularly. In addition, caricol, or papaya extract in supplement form, is available online as a packet. Add one packet of water or juice after meals, up to three times daily or as directed by your doctor.

Papain itself has been used for improving digestion, but there is no reliable evidence that it works for this use in people.

Research also suggests that papain may be used as a natural remedy for skin ulcers, wounds, and other skin conditions.

For example, a 2017 animal study found a gel containing 3% papain led to better wound healing in rats than a placebo gel. Another 2019 animal study confirmed these findings.

Papain is also being studied in various ways as an ingredient in human wound dressing applications. For example, a 2017 study found that using dressings containing papain helped lower the amount of dying tissue, reduce the incidence of infection, and lower hospitalization time in people with diabetic foot ulcers.

Another 2023 study compared different types of wound dressings for ulcers and also found greater effectiveness in various formulations containing papain extract.

Despite these positive findings, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered companies to stop marketing unapproved topical papain products due to some people experiencing a life threatening allergic reaction upon use. You should talk with your doctor about your individual risk of allergic reaction before use.

Learn more: How to treat a wound naturally.

How to use

Papain salves and creams are available online and in some natural health stores. Use as directed under your doctor’s supervision. If you’ve had an allergic reaction to papaya or latex, don’t use these products. If you’re not sure, talk with your doctor about doing a patch test.

Learn more: How to do a patch test.

There is some animal research to suggest papain can help reduce the progression of weight gain by lowering the accumulation of body fat and blood fat.

Similar findings were found in a study of papaya juice. That said, human research is needed to verify these findings.

How to use

There is no research evidence to suggest an optimal way to consume papain for weight loss. That said, you can get papain naturally by taking a ripe papaya, cutting it in half, scooping out the seeds, and eating the inside.

Papain supplements, or taking high doses of papain, may cause:

People who are allergic to latex or papaya shouldn’t use papain. Topical papain may cause allergic reactions, blisters, and skin irritation.

Papain may lower blood sugar. Use with caution if you have diabetes, hypoglycemia, or the use of medications or natural remedies that lower blood sugar.

Papain may increase your bleeding risk. Don’t use papain if you take blood thinners or have a blood clotting disorder. Stop taking papain two weeks prior to surgery.

Pregnant or nursing females assigned at birth (FAABs), or those planning to become pregnant, shouldn’t use papain supplements. That’s because eating papaya may cause fetal poisoning or birth defects when consumed in large amounts.

Note that eating ripe papaya is considered safe. It’s only if you eat unripe papaya that you can be exposed to papain.

What does papain do for the body?

Papain is a popular folk remedy to reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling. It has also been used to improve digestion and is being studied in other areas, such as its ability to help heal wounds.

Is papain good for acid reflux?

Research suggests that eating papaya may help reduce GERD symptoms such as acid reflux.

What does papain do to the skin?

Putting papaya on your skin or hair, which contains papain, may offer several benefits. These include minimizing wrinkles, helping reduce acne flares, conditioning your hair, and reducing dandruff. That said, speak with your primary doctor or a dermatologist before trying papaya if you plan to try it on your skin or hair.

Learn more: Benefits of papaya for your skin and hair

Research suggests papain supplements may help digestion, relieve pain, and reduce inflammation. Even so, more study is needed to prove its effectiveness for most conditions.

Serious allergic reactions to papain are possible. Only purchase papain supplements from a trusted source.

Not all brands have the same amount of active ingredients. Not all supplements are manufactured using rigorous standards so it’s hard to know if you’re getting a high quality, pure, safe product.

Talk with your doctor or other health practitioner before using papain to confirm the proper dose and to determine if it’s a safe option for you.