Unripe or raw papaya is a popular ingredient, especially in dishes like a fresh Thai salad. However, is this “green” unripe papaya safe to consume during pregnancy? Why or why not?
Unripe green papaya is rich in latex and a chemical called papain, which can cause adverse effects in pregnant women, including uterine contractions that may induce labor. Therefore, you should avoid consuming any form of unripe or raw papaya during your pregnancy.
It is essential to understand the safety implications of eating unripe or raw papaya during healthy pregnancy and why it is not advised. So let’s talk about it!
Is Unripe Papaya Bad for Pregnancy? Why?
Unripe papaya fruit has a green peel that distinguishes it from the orange or yellow ripe fruit. However, unripe, semi-ripe, and raw papaya contain a significant amount of latex, which holds a chemical called papain.
Papain is a chemical that can potentially damage the esophagus when consumed (source: National Library of Medicine & U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Papain functions to break down macronutrients, including protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
There is no research supporting the use of papain for medicinal purposes. Additionally, papain in unripe green papaya is especially dangerous for pregnant women because it can have toxic effects on the fetus and may cause congenital disabilities.
A research study was published in the British Journal of Nutrition that evaluated the effects of unripe papaya consumption on rats. Pregnant rats who received a blended mixture of unripe papaya experienced a significant increase in uterine contractions, while the rats receiving the ripe papaya blend did not.
Therefore, this study showed that raw papaya resulted in increased uterine contractions that are unsafe during pregnancy, since they might cause early labor. This effect is primarily due to the latex content in unripe or raw papaya.
In contrast, ripe papaya does not contain any latex, since the latex amount becomes negligible as the fruit ripens.
It is vital to note that even semi-ripe papaya contains enough latex to warrant avoiding it during your pregnancy. Therefore, ensure your papaya is completely ripened before eating it. Once ripe, papaya can be safe AND nutritious – see our article on ripe papaya during pregnancy here.
Additionally, per the National Library of Medicine & the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, those with a latex allergy are also likely allergic to unripe papaya. These individuals should avoid unripe or raw papaya, even outside of pregnancy.
Is Unripe Papaya in Food Safe (Like Thai Salad)?
A Thai salad is a popular Asian dish containing fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. The fruit is commonly mango, grapefruit, or papaya. A Thai salad is often topped with shrimp, chicken, or another protein source with a lemon or coconut sauce. Yum!
Unfortunately, Thai salad also typically contains under-ripe papaya. Therefore, it should be avoided during pregnancy due to the increased risk of uterine contractions and preterm labor. For more on this, see our article on Thai food when pregnant.
No research has been conducted to determine if cooking papaya can decrease the amount of latex and papain in unripe papaya. Therefore, out of an abundance of caution, avoid consuming unripe papaya, even if it has been cooked.
However, if you prepare the Thai salad yourself at home, it is safe to consume during pregnancy if the papaya is entirely ripe.
How Much Unripe Papaya Can Cause Abortion or Miscarriage?
Based on the current research published in this area, there is not a specific fixed amount of unripe papaya that can increase the risk of abortion or miscarriage when consumed during pregnancy. This may be due to the ethical liability of conducting research studies on pregnant women.
Therefore, no amount of unripe papaya can be considered safe during pregnancy.
In a rat study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, researchers discovered that papaya latex could affect the gestation cycle during any stage of pregnancy. To be safe, avoid papaya during all trimesters of pregnancy.
I Accidentally Ate Raw or Unripe Papaya: What Should I Do?
If you accidentally ate raw or unripe papaya, do not panic, as it is unlikely to be harmful. However, if you are very worried, feel free to reach out to your physician to be sure.
However, it is crucial to monitor for any physical symptoms that may occur.
The following symptoms may be signs of preterm labor (source: Mayo Clinic):
- Sensations of contractions or tightening of the abdomen
- Backache that is low, dull, and constant
- Pelvic pressure
- Vaginal spotting/bleeding or change in the type of discharge
- Any fluid ruptures, whether a gush or a trickle
If you notice any of these symptoms, seek medical care immediately.
I hope you found this article helpful and learned some new facts surrounding consuming unripe or raw papaya during pregnancy.