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Papaya leaf juice for dengue: some science and a recipe

It is a bitter concoction so add some honey

SAMAA | - Posted: Nov 8, 2021 | Last Updated: 3 weeks ago
Editing & Writing | A Correspondent
Posted: Nov 8, 2021 | Last Updated: 3 weeks ago

The papaya tree grows well in Karachi.

I just visited a friend who got dengue. The symptoms she described were horrifying. She showed me her hands, where a bumpy rash had broken out. “The diahorrea is so bad, it’s like water,” she said. “It hurts to go to the bathroom.” She couldn’t eat for the 12 days she had constant fever. Her appetite died.
“There were like cuts in my mouth,” she said.
I recommended dhania ka paani or soaked cilantro leaf in water.
“Imagine,” she said. “One mosquito did this to me.”

Her misery had prompted her to scrounge around on the internet. She learnt that more people have died at the hand of mosquitos globally than from any other creature. They are called bloodsuckers for a reason. They kill people with malaria, dengue, West Nile, yellow fever, Zika, chikungunya, and lymphatic filariasis. In the last three decades, dengue numbers have risen 30 times globally and about 3 billion people live in areas with a risk of dengue.

On Sunday, we received reports from Lahore that five more people had died of dengue fever, according to the Punjab health department. So far, the total number of cases in the city has passes the 10,000 mark, with 414 new cases Sunday.

What are the symptoms of dengue?

You can get high fever, a rash, backache and pain behind the eyes. In severe cases, people get vomiting, pain in the abdomen, red spots, and bleeding.  Three types of Dengue infection levels:
Dengue Fever (DF)
Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever (DHF)
Dengue Shock Syndrome (DSS)
When you get dengue, your platelet counts or PLT fall because the virus affects your bone marrow. Platelets or thrombocytes are “small, colorless cell fragments in our blood that form clots and stop or prevent bleeding”.

Why do people recommend papaya leaf juice for dengue patients?

People say that the juice of the Papaya leaf helps raise platelet counts. Ayurvedic literature says that the papaya leaf extract has “haemostatic” properties or can prevent or stop bleeding.
I trawled through Google Scholar to try to see how much of the science had investigated the link between the papaya leaf and its ability to boost platelet counts for dengue patients.
An Indonesian study found that the juice helped patients recover faster. A Sri Lankan study also reported positive results. A Malaysian study also found that it increased platelets. Some papers said that while it seemed to work, and people strongly believed in this home remedy, more scientific studies were needed.

So how do the researchers think it works? One study found that the leaf extract restrained a breakdown of the red blood cell in dengue patients. The researchers felt that the papaya leaf juice had properties which were likely to stabilize blood cell membranes and prevent them from being destroyed. They speculated that this was because of flavonoids (specific molecules in plants with antioxidant properties) in the papaya leaves. This property may be useful in patients with dengue infection where the leaf extracts could possibly prevent platelet lysis or cell breakdown because plasma or outer membrane is damaged.

How can you make papaya leaf juice at home?

Papaya trees grow in abundance in Karachi. You just need to take five leaves, wash and chop them (take off the stems). Then put them in boiling water, till the water turns green. Add honey or something else to sweeten as the concoction is bitter.

Papaya juice
The free papaya juice bottles that the company distributed in Lahore while it was able to get the papaya leaf supplies. They called it a goodwill gesture, but it was a smart marketing move too.

I called up GreenO juices to ask if they had papaya leaf juice on the menu. They said they didn’t, which I found surprising. They had, however, been distributing about 400 small seven-ounce bottles of the juice for free in Lahore daily as a “goodwill gesture,” according to GM Operations Zahid Sohail. It was a good cheap way to do brand marketing and CSR. I asked why it wasn’t put on the menu given that there was demand.

According to Zahid Sohail, they had trouble sourcing papaya leaves in Lahore, where it grows in some farms outside the city. It cost about Rs350 per kg. “Demand went up five weeks ago,” he said. “But then it was a challenge to keep up supply.” He tried getting the leaves from Karachi but flights would be delayed. He said papaya grows more abundantly in Karachi as the plant likes the coastal climate.

We checked for prices and a delivery site, Sabzmiphal.com said that one leaf costs Rs150 and if you get more than five leaves, you get a 10% discount. That sounded a bit strange to me, but when I called my fruit and vegetable seller in Delhi Colony, he said they didn’t sell the papaya leaf. It grows in houses and people just take it from there, he said.

So, the cheapest way to get papaya leaves is probably to ask a friend whose house has the plant. Or you can just get a gardener to help you plant a papaya tree. Some inquiries from my maali yielded this information. “The hybrid short ones grow faster than the desi ones,” he said. “You can go to a nursery and buy them.” But the best thing, he said was to just buy a papaya, scrape out its seeds, dry them in the sun for three days and then plant them. “That plant will grow quickly, like a month or two,” he said.

Why do we even have mosquitos?

One last lingering question my friend and I had was what purpose on earth did these damn mosquitoes serve? As it turns out, mosquitos do have a role to play in our ecosystem. First of all, there are about 35,000 types of mosquitos and one major thing they do is help with the pollination of flowers. Second, mosquitos are part of the aquatic food chain. They are also food for birds, bats, frogs and insects and when they die, they become plant food. Mosquito babies or larvae eat algae and microbes that decompose rotting plants.

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