Question: I have heard of people who have survived cancer (when the doctors told them there was nothing they could do and they were going to die) by eating pawpaw, have you looked into this?

  1. Pawpaw – which is also known as Papaya – has been used in traditional herbal medicines in lots of countries around the world. Scientists are doing experiments to purify out the active ingredients of pawpaw, and to find out what the molecules found in pawpaw do in the body. One research study showed that some of the purified ingredients of pawpaw had a strong effect on the immune system. But right now, eating pawpaw isn’t a recognized cure for cancer.

    Finding the active molecules in traditional medicines is a fantastic way to find new drugs. The best drug we have to fight malaria is actually from a Chinese herb – Artemisinin. So maybe finding out more about the active molecules in pawpaw will lead to new treatments too.


  2. Lots of researchers are looking into different natural products as possible medicines for all kinds of disease. In fact one of the most effective types of cancer drugs we have (Taxol) comes from a tree called the Pacific Yew. Plants are an especially good place to look for these chemicals, but the great barrier reef is also getting a lot of attention. I did some work a few years ago on a really powerful chemical found in the leaves of Avocado trees. Some very clever farmers noticed that cows and goats stopped making milk when they ate avocado leaves. Some chemists isolated the chemical that was causing the effect (called persin) and we thought maybe the chemical would be a good drug for breast cancer. Don’t worry, there’s none of this stuff in the avocado fruit.

    The problem with one person eating something and then saying it cured their disease is that we can’t be sure that the thing they ate actually caused them to get better and not something else. A really important part of science is to repeat experiments many times, and include control experiments so we can be sure of the cause of any effect we measure. There are a lot of people out there making a lot of money out of sick people claiming to cure cancer with special diets etc, and there really is no evidence that most of it works.