Used in traditional herbal medicine for thousands of years, moringa oleifera is a tree native to northern India. Moringa is unique in that its seeds, pods, bark, leaves, nuts, tubers, roots and flowers are all edible. It’s used as both a vegetable and a medicinal herb and has the following health benefits:
- Anti-inflammatory, anti fungal and antiviral properties
- May reduce blood sugar and cholesterol
- Offers would healing properties
- Supports brain health and mood
- Boosts heart health
- Protects against arsenic toxicity
- Fights against diseases like cancer and diabetes
Moringa has been used in the ancient Indian medical system, Ayurveda, for upwards of 4,000 years. It has a variety of nicknames that highlight its many different characteristics. You may hear it called “Drumstick Tree” because of its long, slender pods or “Horseradish Tree” because of how its roots taste. Occasionally it is known by “Ben Oil Tree”, “Miracle Tree” or “Tree of Life” due to its cultural and economic importance.
There are 13 different varieties of moringa. Moringa oleifera is the most common of all the species. It is a tall, fast-growing tree native to Northern India. However, it does grow in Africa, Asia and South America, preferring tropical and subtropical climates.
You could think of moringa as a multi-purpose tree because interestingly enough, all of its many parts, from roots to bark, are edible. The leaves are used fresh or dried and ground into powder. The seed pods are eaten raw or cooked. The cake from the seed is used to purify water, while its sweet oil is used for cooking. The seeds themselves are prepared in a variety of ways —green, powdered, roasted, steeped in tea or used for dishes like curry. In the culinary world, some use moringa leaves to wrap around food to preserve quality and reduce bacteria contamination. That’s because moringa has antibacterial, antioxidant and protease inhibiting properties.
Moringa actually has a wide variety of important antioxidants, antibiotics and nutrients that include vitamins and minerals. It also contains essential amino acids, carotenoids and other nutraceutical properties that are making it increasingly popular in the natural supplement world.
Studies indicate that its leaf extracts have the greatest antioxidant activity. Five different human studies using powdered moringa leaves showed that it had anti-diabetic effects. These findings were confirmed in animal studies as well. The chlorogenic acid in the leaves may help to moderate blood sugar levels after meals.
Another powerful antioxidant found in the leaves, quercetin, may help lower blood pressure. Studies involving the powder form showed that women who consumed 7 grams a day for three months had significantly increased blood antioxidant levels.
Moringa leaves are highly nutritious. Some developing countries are finding it to be beneficial for people who are lacking in essential nutrients. It’s a great source of iron, calcium and fiber. Because every single part of the tree can be used — leaves, seeds, bark, roots, sap, pods, and flowers, it can provide many people lacking nutrition with helpful vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Arsenic contamination of water, food, and especially rice, is a problem in many parts of the world. Long term exposure to arsenic can increase the risk of heart disease and cancer. Several animal studies have shown the seeds and leaves of moringa help to protect against the effects of arsenic toxicity. More studies are needed to know if it would have the same effect on humans.
Inflammation in the body contributes to many chronic diseases. Research indicates that moringa’s bioactive compounds suppress inflammatory proteins and enzymes. Its roots, leaves and fruits all inhibit the production of inflammatory cytokines and nitric oxide.
Although the results of many studies on moringa are very promising, it should be noted that the majority of research has been conducted on animals. More human studies are needed to determine the full effect moringa may have.
Moringa leaves are a great source of vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients. Compared to kale, it contains 2 times the protein, 4 times the iron, 3 times the calcium, and 2.5 times the fiber.
Here is what you’ll find in one cup, or 21 grams, of fresh, chopped moringa leaves:
Protein: 2 grams
Vitamin B6: 19% of the RDA
Vitamin C: 12% of the RDA
Iron: 11% of the RDA
Riboflavin (B2): 11% of the RDA
Vitamin A (from beta-carotene): 9% of the RDA
Magnesium: 8% of the RDA
The pods are lower in vitamins and minerals than the leaves, but exceptionally high in vitamin C. One cup of fresh pods has 157% of the daily requirement.
In most western countries, the leaves are dried and sold in either powder or capsule form. But in countries were moringa is grown, it is often eaten in its freshest, green state.
There is one thing to keep in mind about moringa leaves. They may contain a high level of antinutrients, which can reduce the absorption of protein and minerals.
When it comes to skin health, moringa can play a variety of different roles. First, studies have shown the both the leaves and an extract of the seeds may help to heal wounds. When applied topically, moringa can accelerate the wound healing process due to its anticoagulant properties.
Moringa can also be helpful in the anti-aging process. One study showed what happened when a facial cream with the leaves of moringa oleifera at 3% was applied twice daily for three months during the winter. The skin had more color consistency and less fine wrinkling in addition to higher hydration. Another study showed that a topical cream that contained extract of moringa helped to both revitalize skin and reduce the signs of aging.
Moringa oil can be used as a natural astringent. It has anti-bacterial properties and can help act as a drying agent for oily skin by killing surface bacteria and absorbing dirt and oil. Topical application of moringa oil may also be able to help acne and other related skin conditions.
Although these results are promising, more research is needed to help determine the full effect moringa may have on the aging process.
The liver helps our bodies in a variety of ways. It is probably most known for detoxifying blood and producing bile. But it also metabolizes fat and fructose, as well as processing a variety of different nutrients.
Because moringa has a high level of polyphenols, it acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory for the liver. It helps to activate the liver’s filtration ability and combat the free radicals that can lead to disease.
In a study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, moringa was shown to reverse oxidation in the liver, help with fibrosis and protect against liver damage. Moringa oil was shown to help normalize the liver enzymes and increase protein content.
In simple terms, you can think of moringa powder as helping to cleanse and balance the liver, while promoting healthy metabolism.
Although moringa isn’t a stimulant, it can give you a subtle boost of natural energy without making you feel jittery. This is mainly because of the nutritional qualities of the supplement, but in particular, the vitamin B content. Vitamin B helps the body process food for energy. Moringa leaves are rich in coenzymes like NADH. They increase energy production in cells as well as improving concentration and heightening senses.
Moringa can be made into a naturally energizing tea. It provides a mental boost, but it doesn’t contain caffeine. Therefore it doesn’t have the side effects of insomnia or the jitters.
Because moringa is high in vitamins C and E, iron and zinc, it is great at supporting brain function. It tends to increase serotonin levels and is known to help with concentration, memory and overall mood. Moringa has potent antioxidants that support cognitive function as well as neuro-enhancing properties. The vitamins C and E that were mentioned earlier, help stop neurons from degenerating and feeling the effects of oxidation. The extract helps to normalize neurotransmitters that play an important role in memory and mood, as well as overall mental health. People suffering from depression and other mental conditions may benefit from the many vitamins and antioxidants that moringa has to offer.
The Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice published research that suggest moringa may be a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s. More research needs to be conducted to determine its full effect. Other studies looked at dementia, which affects over 35 million people around the world.
Moringa oleifera was tested to see if it could help, given its antioxidant and nootropic activities. And because of the large role oxidative stress plays in age-related dementia. When male rats were given moringa leaves extract at varying doses over a 14 week period, the results showed it to be a potential neuroprotectant. It also had memory enhancing results. Oxidative stress was decreased and cholinergic function was enhanced.
More research is needed to know the ultimate effect moringa could have on brain health.
Moringa is loaded with powerful antioxidants that can aid in preventing cardiac damage as well as maintaining heart health. Those antioxidants help to fight free radicals that the body produces as a reaction to environmental stresses and other pressures.
Inflammation in the body is the earmark of many diseases, including heart disease. Fortunately, the anti-inflammatory effects of moringa are an advantage. Moringa has been shown to reduce inflammation in artery walls. Without inflammation, cholesterol would not be able to accumulate and could move freely throughout the body.
Studies done on both animals and humans are showing that moringa oleifera can help to lower cholesterol, a big factor in the risk of heart disease. It removed plaque in the arteries of rabbits by a whopping 86%. In another study on laboratory rats, moringa significantly improved the heart’s pumping efficiency.
Moringa has a high potassium content which helps to decrease blood pressure and lower sodium levels in the body. Research has shown that it works similarly to some statin drugs and could be a possible alternative. Check with your health care provider to see if moringa could be a solution for you.
High blood sugar is the main characteristic of diabetes. Some early research is suggesting that the isothiocyanates in moringa help to stop the body from raising blood sugar. Only a few human studies have been done, but some of the results are promising.
A study in the Journal of Food Sciences revealed that when thirty women took 7 grams of moringa leaf powder every day day for 3 moths, they saw a reduction in their fasting blood sugar levels by an average of 13.5%. A smaller study of only 6 people with diabetes found that by adding 50 grams of moringa leaves to a meal, it reduced their blood sugar rise by 21%.
In the journal Bioscan, a study was published on people with type 2 diabetes. After 40 days of taking 8 grams of moringa powder daily, they saw a 28% decrease in blood fasting levels and a 26% decrease in post-meal blood glucose on average.
In animal research, moringa shows anti-diabetic properties as well. Some researchers think its due to its antioxidant content, but nothing has been confirmed. Its potency, based on the current limited evidence, shows that moringa is comparable to reference drugs.
Lastly, moringa contains a plant compound called terpenoids. A review published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention showed that terpenoids help to stimulate B cells which in turn trigger insulin production. If moringa allows the pancreas to secrete more insulin, it could be very beneficial for people with diabetes.
Moringa possesses several different qualities that may help in the prevention and development of cancer. Researchers believe the high level of antioxidants, essential amino acids, and nutrients that boost the immune system all play a role.
A study in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention showed that moringa leaf extract held the growth of cancer cells at bay, and also induced cell death in certain cancers.
In one study, moringa oleifera reduced the proliferation of melanoma. Another study showed that using a hot water extract of moringa leaves in vitro had anti-cancer effects against pancreatic cancer — but only at a very high concentration which might be tough for oral ingestion.
In an animal study, rats with colon cancer were given the pods of moringa leaves to eat for 2 weeks prior to toxicity and throughout the study. The results showed a reduction in colon tumors by an impressive 47%.
When it comes to preventing cancer from developing in the first place, moringa extracts have some compounds that may play a key role. In particular, niazimicin is one ingredient known to suppress the development of cancer cells. It is also believed that the many nutrients in moringa help to strengthen the immune system and may help combat the effects of chemotherapy.
Pure moringa extract isn’t likely to cause side effects in healthy people. However, some brands contain synthetic fillers, so try and find the highest, purist quality you can, or grow your own.
Pregnant or lactating women should avoid moringa powder. It may cause the uterus to contract when it’s not supposed to. In terms of children, it has not been proven safe, so best to keep it away from kids.
Consult your health care provider if you are taking any medication for hypertension, thyroid or diabetes and are considering moringa.
Moringa may interact with certain medications. Here are some to be particularly aware of:
- Levothyroxine is used to combat thyroid problems. Compounds in the moringa leaves my aid the thyroid function, but don’t take it in combination with other thyroid medication.
- Any medications that might be broken down by the liver. Moringa extract may decrease how quickly this happens, which could lead to side effects or complications.
- Diabetes medications are used to lower blood sugar, which moringa also does effectively. It is vital to ensure blood sugar levels do not get too low.
- Moringa has shown to be effective at lowering blood pressure. Taking moringa alongside other blood pressure medication may result in it becoming too low.
Moringa can be taken by mouth or used on the skin and seems to be well tolerated by most healthy individuals. It’s natural and free from chemical additives (when you buy a pure, quality brand).
The appropriate dose of moringa depends on several factors such as the user’s age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for moringa.
If you are taking it as a supplement, please follow dosage directions carefully. Some studies have shown that you can take up to 6 grams daily for up to 3 week at a time safely. However, consult your health care provider to determine what dose may be right for you. High dosages (around 3 – 4 times the highest recommended supplemental dose) appear to be associated with genotoxic damage. Even higher doses could cause organ damage.
General Information and Overview
Side Effects, Interactions and Dosing