Social media platform TikTok has had its share of health trends go viral, including the consumption of chlorophyll water for general well-being, charred oranges to regain COVID-related loss of smell and nutmeg to get high.
Now, people are eating papaya seeds with the hopes of ridding their bodies of parasites. Many users claim worm-shaped structures can be seen lodged in their poop hours after downing spoonfuls of the crunchy seeds.
While papaya seeds are high in fiber and contain loads of nutrients, experts say consuming too much can cause stomach problems. What’s more, the little research done on the seeds’ parasite-removing properties doesn’t support TikTokers’ claims that the trend is removing tiny worms that are silently calling their bodies home.
Most parasites, gastrointestinal experts say, aren’t visible to the human eye. Not to mention, people living in countries such as the U.S. aren’t exposed to contaminated environments that often cause people in tropical, third-world countries to contract intestinal bugs.
“The average — or unaverage — American person doesn’t have any parasites,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Tennessee, told Health. “Doctors in the U.S. are not taking care of patients who have intestinal parasites, unless those are people who recently came from the developing world.”
“I would not endorse this … treatment in search of an illness which doesn’t exist,” Schaffner added. “You can’t, as a lay person, look at your stool and say, ‘That’s a parasite.’ That’s a notoriously incorrect assumption. Many parasites are too small to see.”
Yet one user, whose first video on the topic received more than 5.3 million views, said she pooped a total of two parasites that “looked like a worm shape” and were gray in color after eating half a papaya worth of seeds.
“That tastes like dry erase marker and that was absolutely disgusting,” @ramenasaidwow said in one of her videos.
So, what are those worm-like bodies people on TikTok claim to see in their poop?
They are “likely a mucous cast,” according to TikTok user @gutgalz, whose profile notes she’s a gastroenterology nurse practitioner. “These are approximately 90 percent human DNA when tested. And while I’m not saying that there can’t be alternatives to anti-parasitic medication, there have only been several small-scale studies that have shown any effect with papaya seeds.”
One of the only studies to test papaya seeds’ ability to remove intestinal parasites was done in 2007 on a group of 60 children from Nigeria who had evidence of parasites in their poop. Those who ate air-dried seeds were more likely (about 77 percent) to have their stool cleared of parasites than those who ate a honey placebo (about 17 percent).
However, scientists haven’t conducted additional studies on the topic or included people of other races and ethnicities.
“This has not been shown to be effective outside of a clinical trial setting,” infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Health. “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.”
Eating too much can cause more harm than good, too.
@ramenasaidwow said she “did not feel good at all” after consuming the seeds, and experienced nausea, heartburn, lack of appetite and headaches.
Dr. Nitin Ahuja, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of clinical medicine at Penn Medicine, told Prevention that eating large amounts of the seeds can “overstimulate” the gut, leading to an upset stomach.
But Ahuja does recommend patients with digestive disorders in his clinic to eat papaya.
Papaya seeds are high in polyphenols and flavonoids, two compounds that act as antioxidants that can prevent or slow cell death, according to Healthline. They also contain healthy fats and loads of fiber that can help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as promote health bowel movements.
The takeaway: Before you swallow a bunch of papaya seeds to fix an undiagnosed parasite problem, speak with your doctor to determine if a stool test may be necessary to address any digestive issues.