Also known as drumstick tree, horse radish tree or ben oil tree, moringa (Moringa oleifera Lam.) is an extraordinary plant that has a long history of use in India, not only as food but also as medicine. In Ayurveda, the original Indian system of healing, moringa leaves have been used medicinally to relieve everything from anemia and skin problems to inflammatory conditions and heart disease. In recent times, moringa has also garnered a lot of interest from health enthusiasts in the West, and some have even described moringa as a superfood thanks to its high nutritional value and purported health benefits. Moringa powder made from dried and ground moringa tree leaves, specifically, has become a popular dietary supplement among Westerners searching for natural ways to regain health and fight chronic diseases.
Benefits of Moringa Powder
In this article, we examine some of the most interesting potential health advantages of moringa leaves and offer a review of studies that seem to compliment the traditional medicinal uses of moringa. It is important to bear in mind, however, that scientific research on the health advantages of moringa powder is still in its infancy, and that more studies – especially human studies – are still needed before any definite conclusions can be made about the medicinal properties of Moringa oleifera.
Antiviral and Antibacterial Effects
Research published in the November 2003 edition of the journal Antiviral Research found that a moringa extract was as effective as the anti-viral and anti-herpes drug Acyclovir at delaying the development of skin lesions in mice infected with HSV-1 (herpes simplex type 1) which causes cold sores in humans. In another study, aqueous and ethanolic moringa leaf extracts exerted anti-bacterial effects against Staphylococcus aureus. Also referred to as Staph A, Staphylococcus aureus is a common root cause of skin infections (such as pimples, boils, impetigo, and cellulitis folliculitis), food poisoning, and respiratory diseases (such as sinusitis). Skin colonization with Staph A is also common in people with atopic eczema, with over 90% of eczema sufferers carrying Staph A on their skin.
A study () on laboratory animals published in The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology discovered that moringa leaf extract had significant anti-inflammatory activities, though not in the same magnitude as indomethacin, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). In another experiment, administration of moringa leaf extract to Wistar rats was associated with a dose-dependent decrease in carrageenan-induced paw inflammation. In another study, undertaken by Iranian scientists and published in the February 2011 issue of the Journal of Chinese Integrative Medicine, Moringa oleifera root and leaf extracts reduced pain and improved function in laboratory animals with arthritic joints. Also anecdotal reports suggest that moringa leaf powder may offer advantages to people struggling with rheumatoid arthritis. However, at this point, well-controlled clinical trials are still necessary to validate the use of moringa powder as an anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic agent.
Potential as an Anti-Cancer Supplement
A tissue culture study that appeared in the June 2011 edition of the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology found that moringa leaf extract was good at hindering the growth and reproduction of human cancer cells, leading the researchers to conclude that moringa leaf shows potential as a natural anti-cancer agent. These results are in line with a more recent study which found that moringa leaf extract was effective at inhibiting tumor cell growth, inducing apoptosis and reducing the level of internal reactive oxygen species (ROS) in human lung cancer cells as well as a number of other kinds of cancer cells.
In Ayurvedic medicine, Moringa oleifera is often used as healing herb to treat diabetes. Intrigued by this traditional medicinal use of moringa, a group of researchers from India set to investigate the hypoglycemic and anti-diabetic effects of moringa leaf extract in diabetic rats. The extract proved to be effective at lowering high blood glucose levels as well as at eliminating sugar and protein in the urine, two indications of uncontrolled diabetes. Their findings were published in the June 2009 issue of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.
Effects on Body Weight
In an animal study published in the June 2015 publication of the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, a group of laboratory mice were fed a very-high-fat diet supplemented with 5% moringa concentrate delivering 66 mg/kg/d of moringa isothiocyanates. The mice in the control group were fed an identical diet but did not get the isothiocyanate-rich moringa extract. The results were promising: weighed against the mice in the control group, the mice that received the moringa supplement experienced reduced weight gain, improved glucose tolerance and insulin signaling. In another animal study, oral administration of an extract derived from moringa leaf powder led to a significant reduction in body weight, total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL levels in obese rats that were fed a high fat diet. The extract used in this study was derived from moringa leaves that were air-dried for two weeks, then converted into moringa powder, and finally used for the preparation of a methanol-based moringa extract.
Practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine who endorse the health benefits of moringa powder have used moringa leaves to relieve cardiovascular difficulties for years, and now there seems to be at least some evidence to aid this traditional medicinal use of Moringa oleifera in India. In one study, published in the March 1994 issue of Phytotherapy Research, a moringa leaf extract caused a dose-dependent fall in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in anaesthetized rats. In another study, published in the January 2000 issue of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, administration of moringa leaf extract to rats on a high fat diet decreased diet-induced increases in serum, liver, and kidney cholesterol levels. The result on the serum cholesterol levels was statistically significant. The researchers concluded that moringa leaves have hypocholesterolemic (cholesterol-lowering) activity and that there appears to be a pharmacological basis for the traditional use of moringa leaves as a cholesterol-lowering agent in India. Both elevated cholesterol levels and hypertension (high blood pressure) are risk factors for heart disease.
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