Chymopapain is a proteolytic enzyme that comes from the latex of a tropical tree known as carica papaya. It is used in injections for herniated disks in the spine. The procedure, called chemonucleolysis, was first used in 1965, and effectively dissolves part of the spinal disc using the enzyme or the derivative product chymodiactin. Administered in an operating room during slipped disk treatment, the substance is delivered via injection once a local or general anesthetic is given to the patient. The compound dissolves part of the affected disc to relieve pressure on the nerve, as well as lessen the associated pain.
This treatment must be approved by a physician and conducted at a hospital because side effects from chymopapain are common and can be severe. Reactions such as an upset stomach, headache, back pain, dizziness, and back spasms are most often reported. It is also possible to experience leg pain and tingling, as well as numb feet and toes following the procedure. The presence of other allergies and illnesses can exacerbate the reaction to chymopapain, and severe reactions can include rash, difficulty breathing, and anaphylactic shock. One percent of all people that have the enzyme injected suffer anaphylaxis as a result.
There are other ways chymopapain can be introduced into the body. Any kind of papaya-based food, such as pineapple or beverages that include exotic fruits, can include compounds that are similar in composition. Compounds such as papain and caracain are closely related, so exposure to them can trigger the same reactions as when chymopapain is injected directly into the body. Sensitivity to papain increases the likelihood of an allergic reaction if the proteolytic enzyme is used.
It is important to tell a doctor if there any known allergies to papain or any papaya-based food or substance. Drugs that include chymopapain should be used with caution in pregnant women. It is also not known whether the medication transfers to breast milk, and it is strongly advised to discuss this with a physician before breast feeding.
Chymopapain is synthesized in the carica papaya tree’s latex when it is damaged, and the enzyme fully matures a few minutes later. Other substances that are found in papaya latex include chitinase and glycyl endopeptidase. The enzyme used for slipped disc treatment is so similar to papain that they share 126 identical amino acids. It is strongly advised to disclose whether a papaya allergy is present when considering herniated disc treatment with chymopapain.