When my mom hit menopause, she was faced with an important decision: hormone supplements or potentially “suffering and living with it.” Her doctor recommended hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) with medications containing progesterone and oestrogen. And initially, with her first prescription, she did get on it. But while she was on HRT, she said that she never felt quite right.
And then there was all this research about long-term HRT increasing the likelihood of breast cancer. So she stopped taking her supplements and started experiencing the symptoms of menopause: sleep difficulties, night sweats, hot flashes, and general irritability.
Soon, however, she read about the power of the papaya fruit for menopausal women. She had heard about soy, but she never thought she’d drink enough soymilk or eat enough soy products to counter the symptoms. With papaya, however, she felt that she had a natural, nutritional supplement that could offer her a third alternative to dealing with menopause.
Even within a week of eating freshly cut papayas or adding them in homemade smoothies, she felt healthier and less irritable. She soon stopped experiencing menopausal symptoms completely. To this day, she continues to eat papayas once a week or at least every other week, and even more often, when they are in season.
Papaya is such a delicious fruit overall, so I encourage you to try some today. The health benefits are enormous (scroll down to “Who’s done the research” to read more.).
WARNING: Pregnant women should not eat papaya. It is not just “a folk remedy for contraception and abortion.” Research on pregnant mice (see last research bullet) has shown that papaya, especially in its unripened form, does affect the foetus. However, fully ripe papaya is not considered dangerous.
How to cook/eat papaya: Although I’ve never eaten cooked papaya before, is used to tenderize meat. As mentioned above, my mother and I like to eat ripe and freshly cut papaya by itself or blended in a smoothie. For some reason, papayas go great in smoothies. Maybe it’s because they are mushy, like bananas. When the papaya is just ripe, it is quite sweet, especially towards the bottom of the fruit.
Where to find it: You can find fresh papayas at your local grocery store. Choosing the right papaya is the fun part. My mother and I prefer Mexican papayas over Hawaiian papayas. The former is more elongated, while the latter is more round. To pick a good Mexican papaya, look for the lengthier one; they usually have more meat to them, whereas the rounder Mexican papayas have more empty space inside and more seeds.
When choosing papayas, it’s good to know when you want to eat them. If you want to eat right away, pick a papaya with golden colors and soft to the touch, but not bruised nor shriveled, of course. If you wish to eat it later in the week, pick one that is more intermediate in color, between green and golden. When you bring it home, don’t store it in the refrigerator. Allow it to complete it’s golden color and soften; then you’ll know when it’s ready to eat.
What else: So what makes the papaya a great solution to cure your menopausal blues? It’s the phytoestrogen! Read on, to learn more about this funky hormone…
Who’s done the research:
• Papaya, for example, contains phytoestrogen, which can be added to your diet to help increase estrogen in your body…Phytoestrogens are similar but not identical to the estrogen produced by the body. Phytoestrogens are plant-derived compounds, and are more natural than the prescribed drugs on the market. – Senzon, Sandra & E. Chronimed Zack. Reversing Gum Disease Naturally: A Holistic Home Care Program. 2003:29-30.
• In various societies, older women traditionally eat certain foods to remedy menopausal side effects. In the South Seas, for example, women of menopausal age eat papaya, which contains phytoestrogens, once a day. Studies are beginning to show that these plant compounds can be helpful in menopause. Traditional diets in Japan also are rich in phytoestrogens. Studies of Japanese women with traditional Japanese diets show that these women’s bodies contain levels of plant estrogens up to 1,000 times the level found in Western women, according to Dr. [Fredi] Kronenberg. “It may be that the reason these women don’t have hot flashes is that they are eating a lot of weakly estrogenic substances all the time. These women also have a lower incidence of breast cancer, and one of the reasons suggested for this is that there are other things in the plant foods that are anticarcinogenic.” In these studies, the higher estrogen levels were associated with intake of soybeans, soy products such as tofu and miso, and boiled beans.” “As much as 50% of the Japanese diet contains phytoestrogenic foods, whereas Westerners eat 10% or less,” Dr. [Susan] Lark points out. “We really have very little dietary support as far as suppression of hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.” – Goldberg, Burton, et al. Alternative medicine: the definitive guide. 2002: 962-63.
• Traditional western medicine often limits women with menopausal symptoms to two choices; (1) hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) with medications containing progesterone and oestrogen, or; (2) suffer in silence and “live with it”. Dietary modifications and nutritional supplements offer a third alternative. A number of foods and herbs are sources of natural plant oestrogens. These herbs and foods are known as Phytoestrogens and can be very helpful in the treatment of menopausal symptoms. Foods containing natural oestrogens include alfalfa, almonds, anise seed, apples, barley beets, cabbage, carrots, chickpeas, clover, corn, cucumbers, fennel, flaxseeds, garlic, green beans, green squash, hops, liquorice, oats, papaya, parsley, peas, plums, potatoes, pumpkin, red beans, red clover, rhubarb, rice, rye, sage, sesame seeds, soybean, soy bean sprouts, split peas, squash, sunflower seeds, walnuts, wheat and yams. A medical review of over 600 studies concluded that phytoestrogens exhibit physiological changes in humans and oestrogenic changes in postmenopausal women. The data was so encouraging that the authors suggested further research be conducted to assess the role of phytoestrogens in cancer prevention. – Murkies AL, Wilcox G, Davis SR. Clinical review 92: Phytoestrogens. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1998 Feb; 83(2):297-30.
• Carica papaya promotes significant wound healing in diabetic rats and further evaluation of this activity in humans is suggested. – Nayak SB, et al. Wound healing activity of Carica papaya L. in experimentally induced diabetic rats. Indian J Exp Biol 45(8):739-43, Aug 2007.
• Carica papaya has antibacterial effects that could be useful in treating chronic skin ulcers to promote healing. – Dawkins G, et al. Antibacterial effects of Carica papaya fruit on common wound organisms. West Indian Med J 52(4):290-2, Dec 2003.
• The effect of vegetable and fruit consumption on breast cancer risk is controversial. We examined the association between vegetable and fruit intake and breast cancer risk in a hospital-based case-control study conducted in Guangdong, China. Four hundred and thirty-eight cases were frequency matched to 438 controls by age (5-year interval) and residence (rural/urban). Dietary intake was assessed by face-to-face interviews using a validated food frequency questionnaire. Consumption of individual vegetable and fruit groups such as dark green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, carrots and tomatoes, banana, watermelon/papaya/cantaloupe were all inversely and significantly related with breast cancer risk. An inverse association was also observed for vitamin A, carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and fiber intake. These data indicate that greater intake of vegetables and fruits is associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer among Chinese women residing in Guangdong. – Zhang CX, Ho SC, Chen YM, Fu JH, Cheng SZ, Lin FY. Greater vegetable and fruit intake is associated with a lower risk of breast cancer among Chinese women. Int J Cancer. 2009 Jul 1; 125(1):181-8.
• This study reports an ethnobotanical survey by means of semi-structured questionnaire of medicinal plants in five districts of Lagos State of Nigeria reputed for the treatment of diabetes. 100 respondents from the predominantly Yoruba tribe mostly males (76%) were knowledgeable in traditional treatment of diabetes. About half of the respondents with 20-30 years experience in treating diabetes used mainly herbs (96%) and have developed effective and easily recognised diagnostic tools. 92% of diabetic patients were usually out-patients aged 21-60 years. Diabetes trado-specialists (80%) rarely referred their patients but usually treated referred cases (96%). Fifty multi-component herbal recipes covered in the survey were mainly liquid preparations often administered without serious side effects (92%). The principal antidiabetic plants included Vernonia amygdalina, Bidens pilosa, Carica papaya, Citrus aurantiifolia, Ocimum gratissimum, Momordica charantia and Morinda lucida. Dietary recommendations also accompanied therapy. – Gbolade AA. Inventory of antidiabetic plants in selected districts of Lagos State, Nigeria. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009 Jan 12; 121(1):135-9.
• Many aspects of the pathology in beta-hemoglobinopathies (beta-thalassemia and sickle cell anemia) are mediated by oxidative stress. Fermented papaya preparation (FPP) was tested for its antioxidant effects. Results suggest that FPP, as a potent antioxidant, might alleviate symptoms associated with oxidative stress in severe forms of thalassemia. – Amer J, Goldfarb A, Rachmilewitz EA, Fibach E.
Fermented papaya preparation as redox regulator in blood cells of beta-thalassemic mice and patients. Phytother Res. 2008 Jun; 22(6):820-8.
• The traditional use of papaya to treat many diseases, especially skin conditions and its prohibition for consumption during pregnancy has prompted us to determine whether papaya extracts both from green and ripe fruits improve wound healing and also produce foetal toxicity. Aqueous extracts of green papaya epicarp (GPE) and ripe papaya epicarp (RPE) were applied on induced wounds on mice. GPE treatment induced complete healing in shorter periods (13 days) than that required while using RPE (17 days), sterile water (18 days) and Solcoseryl ointment (21 days). Extracts were to pregnant mice from day 10 and onwards after conception. 3 mice and 1 mice given RPE and misoprostol, an abortive drug, respectively experienced embryonic resorption while this effect was observed in none of the mice given GPE and water. The average body weight of live pups delivered by mice given GPE was significantly lower than those delivered by mice given water. In SDS-PAGE, proteins were distributed in three bands (Mr range approximately 8-29 kDa). Band intensity at Mr approximately 28-29 kDa was higher in GPE than in RPE. In contrast, band intensity at low Mr (approximately 8 kDa) was found to be higher in RPE than in GPE. Notably, the band corresponding to Mr approximately 23-25 kDa was absent in RPE. These differences in composition may have contributed to the different wound healing and abortive effects of green and ripe papaya. – Anuar NS, Zahari SS, Taib IA, Rahman MT. Effect of green and ripe Carica papaya epicarp extracts on wound healing and during pregnancy. Food Chem Toxicol. 2008 Jul; 46(7):2384-9.