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No evidence pawpaw leaves fast or ‘permanent’ cure for ulcers

A Facebook page called “Dr Jones Medical Solutions” proposes an unusual treatment for ulcers. 

“Get fresh pawpaw leaves and wash very well. Put in a pot with clean drinking water and boil for 20 minutes and  allow to cool. Take half a glass every night before bed time and sleep like a baby,” a post on the page advises.

It says this is a “permanent cure for ulcers” and will be “effective within a week”. 

The pawpaw or papaya is a large tropical plant, thought to be native to Mexico and Central America. Its fruit is a popular food in many countries. 

But is drinking an infusion of pawpaw leaves sound medical advice? We checked. 

What are ulcers?

Ulcers are open sores that appear on the lining of the stomach or oesophagus, a muscular tube that connects your mouth to your stomach. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, a US non-profit medical research centre, ulcers are often caused by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori and regular use of certain pain relievers and other drugs. 

Symptoms of ulcers include burning stomach pain, feeling bloated, heartburn and nausea. 

Ulcers_false

No evidence supports claim

Dr Tim Forgan is a senior lecturer at the faculty of medicine and health sciences at Stellenbosch University near Cape Town, South Africa.  He is also a surgical gastroenterologist, a doctor who diagnoses and treats diseases in the digestive system.  

Forgan told Africa Check that pawpaw leaves are known to have some anti-inflammatory properties. But there have been no studies conducted on humans that show they cure ulcers. 

“The main causes of ulcers are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, a Helicobacter pylori infection, as well as smoking and alcohol intake,” explained Forgan.

Ulcers can spread, be deadly

Dr Jeanne Lubbe, also a gastroenterologist at Stellenbosch University, agreed there was no medical evidence to support the claim. She told Africa Check that ulcers could be deadly. 

“The risk when ulcers are present, is that they can bleed, or spread through the wall of the stomach and cause the stomach contents, food and acid, to leak out. Or they can cause narrowing of the stomach so that food cannot pass,” said Lubbe. 

According to Forgan, “ulcers can also cause swelling in the stomach outlet which causes a gastric outlet obstruction, chronic ulcers, and inflammation that increases your risk of getting gastric cancer”. 

Treatment for ulcers

Passing black stool, vomiting blood, or having persistent nausea and stomach pain can be signs of an ulcer. Forgan advised anyone with these symptoms to consult a doctor for medical advice. 

You might need a gastroscopy. This is when a thin, flexible tube with a camera is put down your throat to investigate or diagnose a health complaint. The doctor would then determine what medication and treatment plan you needed. 

“There is a lot of evidence that shows that a month's course of antibiotics together with an acid-lowering tablet can cure ulcers,” said Lubbe.

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