What Are the Health Benefits of Pawpaw?

Pawpaw, a member of the Asimina family, grows throughout North America. The leaves and fruit of this tree have provided medicine and food to Native Americans for centuries. According to a 2008 review in the "Journal of Natural Products," pawpaw extracts are one of the most potent herbal products discovered 13. These supplements have a broad range of health benefits, but they can also cause allergic reactions. Speak with a healthcare professional before using pawpaw.

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Fights Cancer

Polynesians and Europeans have different cancer rates. The lower incidence of cancer in the islanders may relate to their superior diet, according to a 1999 report in "Food and Chemical Toxicology." The Polynesian diet consists of many cancer-inhibiting foods including pawpaw. An investigation published in the 2010 edition of the "Journal of Natural Products" evaluated the cancer-fighting ability of extracts taken from the Asimina tree 1. The researchers exposed tumor cells to raw pawpaw extracts during a single testing session. This exposure prevented cellular communication within the cancerous cells causing them to die off. A specific chemical within pawpaw -- acetogenin -- was particularly effective at suppressing cancer.

Kills Parasites

Ancient farmers used pawpaw as a natural pesticide, according to a 2003 dissertation. Extracts taken from Asimina bark kills mosquitoes and beetles. An experiment described in the 1992 volume of the "Journal of Economic Entomology" looked at the effect of pawpaw on brine shrimp larvae. Scientists often use these small crustaceans to measure the pesticidal ability of common chemicals. In the study, the authors exposed the larvae to pawpaw extracts during a single testing session. This treatment killed the juvenile shrimp in large quantities. Extracts taken from small Asimina twigs proved most effective. As pawpaw is not toxic to humans, the twigs could provide an inexpensive, renewable and safe way to process foods.

Lowers Blood Sugar

The prevalence of diabetes has reached epidemic levels. Eating more vegetables and fruits decreases your risk of acquiring diabetes. The antioxidant properties of healthy foods likely underlies this beneficial effect. A study reviewed in the 2005 edition of the "Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy" assessed the impact of pawpaw on symptoms of diabetes. Laboratory animals received Asimina extracts or no treatment for a week. Assays, taken after the animals consumed their usual meals, revealed that pawpaw helped keep the animals' blood sugar down. It also lowered their cholesterol count.

Treats Lice Infestations

Lice infestations remain common in many parts of the world. These parasites have become resistant to some conventional medications. Natural treatments are preferred to synthetic compounds due to concerns about toxicity, according to a 2011 review in "Planta Medica." Asimina extracts should provide an effective and safe solution to infestation given the parasite-killing ability of pawpaw. A clinical trial presented in the 2002 volume of "Phytomedicine" tested this hypothesis. Patients experiencing a lice infestation received a home-made shampoo containing pawpaw extracts. Preliminary work showed this treatment mostly effective, and a final study showed it to be 100 percent successful.