Papaya enzyme supplements have been marketed as a natural remedy for acid reflux, a condition that may lead to esophagitis, the inflammation of the passage that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. However, clinical research has not confirmed that papaya enzymes can prevent acid reflux or protect the esophagus against exposure to digestive fluids. While papaya enzymes may not relieve the pain and inflammation of esophagitis, the beta carotene in this tropical fruit might prevent damage to the esophageal lining, reducing the risk of complications from acid reflux. Ask your doctor before trying any natural remedies, especially if you have health problems or take other medicines.

Acid reflux, the flow of digestive fluids from the stomach back to the food tube, is a common cause of esophagitis. Chronic exposure to stomach acids can irritate the esophagus lining, causing pain ulceration, bleeding and difficulty swallowing. Acidic stomach contents can eventually scar the esophageal tissue, constricting the tube and compromising your ability to eat and drink. Over time, digestive acids can promote harmful cellular changes in the esophageal tissues, a condition called Barrett’s esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus may increase your risk of esophageal cancer, MayoClinic.com states.

Known for its bright orange fruit, the papaya plant thrives in warm tropical and subtropical regions. Papaya contains papain, an enzyme used commercially to produce meat tenderizers, cosmetic products and beer. Although the use of papain as a topical product for wounds is being investigated, clinical research has not confirmed that oral papaya enzyme supplements can prevent acid reflux, esophagitis or other digestive ailments. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies papain as generally safe when used as food, but this enzyme has not been approved for medicinal purposes.

Papaya enzymes may not prevent acid reflux, but the authors of a clinical review published in the December 2010 issue of “Nutrition Research Reviews” found that eating foods rich in beta carotene may reduce the risk of esophageal damage from refluxed digestive fluids. Papaya and other orange and yellow fruits and vegetables contain beta carotene, a plant pigment that your body converts to retinol, a form of vitamin A, during digestion. Vitamin A protects the mucous tissues that line the interior of your digestive, respiratory and urinary tracts. In their review of clinical studies, Ai Kubo and co-authors found that a diet rich in beta carotene may protect the esophageal lining from refluxed digestive acids and lower the risk of Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal adenocarcinoma.