Intestinal parasites can cause significant illness and are most common in underdeveloped countries. Even though it’s very uncommon in the US, if you heard of a hack that could help you if you have a parasite, it’s understandable that you might want to look into it.
On TikTok, people have been eating papaya seeds to see if they can get rid of any intestinal parasites in their digestive system. While it may seem wild to eat papaya seeds to try to pass parasitic worms, this isn’t totally out of left field. Here’s what you need to know, plus why experts say you shouldn’t try this at home.
Experts don’t recommend it. “This has not been shown to be effective outside of a clinical trial setting,” said Amesh A. Adalja, MD, infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. According to Dr. Adaja, there is data that suggests that “certain foods have compounds in them that might have the ability to kill certain parasites and cause them to be expelled from your body, but there’s no definitive data to suggest you should alter your diet to make it anti-parasitic.”
There’s also this to consider: It’s really uncommon for someone in the US to develop intestinal parasites. “The average—or unaverage—American person doesn’t have any parasites,” said William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “Doctors in the US are not taking care of patients who have intestinal parasites unless those are people who recently came from the developing world.”
Dr. Schaffner called the idea of eating papaya seeds to kill a potential intestinal parasite, “a treatment in search of an illness which doesn’t exist.” Dr. Schaffner added, “I would not endorse this.”
While there’s plenty of health content on TikTok that’s completely made up, this one has a little basis in science. Research has shown that papaya seeds may kill some forms of parasites—but the research is not robust.
A study published in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies used corn flour that was fortified with ground papaya seeds to prepare porridge for the school lunch of 326 children in Africa. After two months, the papaya seed porridge reduced the presence of parasites in the children’s stool by 63.9%. The researchers concluded that papaya seed had a positive effect on reducing one type of parasite in children. The scientific evidence is so weak that the TikTok idea that papaya seeds treat intestinal parasites is unfounded.
So, you technically can eat papaya seeds—but it’s unclear whether you actually should, and not only because of their spicy, pepper-like flavor.
It is possible to feel sick after eating papaya seeds, according to Gina Keatley, a certified dietitian practicing in New York City. In particular, swallowing a bunch of seeds could upset your stomach.
There’s really no nutritional value to this either. “Swallowing the seeds whole will not allow your body to access any nutrients other than insoluble fiber,” Keatley said. Insoluble fiber allows food to pass quickly through the digestive system.
Again, this is really not something you need to stress about. But, just in case you’re wondering, you might experience the following if you have an intestinal parasite, like tapeworms:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
People on TikTok were claiming to have seen parasites in their stool but Dr. Schaffner was doubtful. “You can’t, as a layperson, look at your stool and say, ‘That’s a parasite,'” Dr. Schaffner said. “That’s a notoriously incorrect assumption. Many parasites are too small to see.” The exception, Dr. Schaffner said, is a type of intestinal worm called ascaris. “They’re as large as your pinky and there’s no mistaking them,” Dr. Schaffner said.
If you are concerned about intestinal parasites, the best thing to do is to see your healthcare provider. They may want to run a few tests, including analyzing your stool, to see if there are any signs that you have an intestinal parasite. Just know that you probably don’t. “Most infectious disease doctors have taken care of patients who thought they had intestinal parasites and didn’t,” Dr. Adalja said.
If you do, in fact, have some kind of intestinal parasite, Dr. Adalja said it will be treated with an anti-worm medication such as ivermectin or albendazole.
Overall, there’s no reason to stress about your risk of developing an intestinal parasite. “This is not a major public health problem in the U.S.,” Dr. Adalja said. So if you recently added papaya to your shopping cart for this purpose, feel free to put it back—or just eat the flesh of the fruit.
Read the full article here