Here’s the lowdown on a plant that has been praised for its many and varied health benefits for thousands of years.
So far, scientists have only investigated a fraction of the many reputed health benefits.
Here are some health benefits that are supported by scientific research:
Moringa oleifera is a fairly large tree that is native to North India. It has a variety of names, such as drumstick tree, horse radish tree, or ben oil tree.
Almost all parts of the Moringa tree can be eaten or used as ingredients in traditional herbal medicines.
The leaves and pods are commonly eaten in parts of India and Africa.
One cup of fresh, chopped leaves contains:
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin C
- Riboflavin (B2)
- Vitamin A (from beta-carotene)
Compared to the leaves, the pods are generally lower in vitamins and minerals, but they are exceptionally rich in vitamin C. One cup of fresh, sliced pods (100 grams) contains 157 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin C.
Rich in antioxidants
Antioxidants are compounds that act against free radicals in our bodies.
High levels of free radicals cause oxidative stress, which may contribute to chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Heart disease and type 2 diabetes
Several antioxidant plant compounds such as isothiocyanates have been found in the leaves of Moringa oleifera. In addition to vitamin C and beta-carotene, these include:
- Quercetin: a powerful antioxidant that may help lower blood pressure.
- Chlorogenic acid: also found in high amounts in coffee which may help moderate blood sugar levels after meals. High blood sugar is the main characteristic of diabetes. Over time, high blood sugar raises the risk of many serious health problems, including heart disease.
Sustained inflammation may be involved in cancer
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to infection or injury. Sustained inflammation is believed to be involved in many chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer.
Moringa leaves, pods and seeds have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties which may also be due to isothiocyanates.
Moringa can lower cholesterol
High amounts of cholesterol in the blood have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Both animal and human studies have shown that Moringa oleifera may have cholesterol-lowering effects.
On the downside
- Moringa leaves may also contain high levels of antinutrients which can reduce the absorption of minerals and protein.
- Taking Moringa oleifera as a supplement in capsules won’t supply large amounts of nutrients.
- The amounts are negligible compared to what you are already getting if you eat a balanced, real food-based diet.
Feeding programmes and malnutrition
Moringa oleifera is an important food source in some parts of the world. Because it can be grown cheaply and easily, and the leaves retain lots of vitamins and minerals when dried, it is used in India and Africa in feeding programmes to fight malnutrition. The immature green pods (drumsticks) are prepared similarly to green beans, while the seeds are removed from more mature pods and cooked like peas or roasted like nuts. The leaves are cooked and used like spinach, and they are also dried and powdered for use as a condiment. The seed cake remaining after oil extraction is used as a fertilizer and also to purify well water and to remove salt from seawater.