My desire to learn more about moringa (Moringa oleifera) was sparked by a reader who commented on an article I had written several years ago about the plant. The gentleman, who lives in the Philippines where moringa trees are abundant, said they consider the plant to be “nature’s multivitamins.” Here in the states and other countries, moringa is increasingly being viewed and marketed as a superfood and a super supplement.
Do these accolades have any scientific basis? I’m not one to insist that a natural remedy is not effective if there are no scientific studies to back up the claims. However, I do like to examine what is being discussed and written/published, whether it be scientific or anecdotal, about a nutrient or product before I make a decision about using it. Therefore, here is a peek at what I discovered.
What is Moringa oleifera?
The Moringa oleifera tree, which is native to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, is also known as the drumstick tree, horseradish tree, and several other names. Its long history of dietary and medicinal use among various cultures led to it being cultivated in the Pacific Islands, Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
One reason Moringa oleifera can be said to live up to the nutritional praises is the high nutrient levels found in the tree. All parts of this noble plant are edible, including the leaves, nuts, fruit, bark, seeds, and roots. According to a recent article in altenergymag.com concerning the upcoming 3rd Global Moringa Meet, these tree parts are good sources of vitamins A and C, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folic acid, beta-carotene, calcium, iron, and protein (amino acids). The leaves are especially healthful, boasting high levels of beta-carotene, vitamin C, iron, potassium, and protein. An added bonus is that moringa is one of the few plants that provides all the essential amino acids.
In fact, some experts consider moringa to be “an essential plant in meeting global food security” with an ability to “sustain the livelihoods of many millions of people.” Basically, the moringa tree can provide critically needed nutrition to millions of malnourished people. Some aid organizations promote the use of moringa to help meet the nutritional needs of the individuals they serve.
How do people enjoy moringa? The pods can be cooked or eaten raw while the leaves may be cooked like spinach or dried to be used in various recipes, like soups and salads. Moringa oleifera flowers are said to be like mushrooms, and oil can be pressed from the seeds.
In the latter case, moringa oil may play a significant role in the energy sector, as its oils are being eyed as biodiesel. The fact that moringa trees require little water and can thrive in less-than-ideal soil contribute to its viability as an income stream for people who live in poor areas where the trees can prosper.
Moringa supplements are the most convenient way for many people to enjoy the magic of this natural remedy. Supplements are widely available both in natural food and nutrition stores and online.
Moringa oleifera and medical uses
Anecdotally, people report that moringa helps boost energy levels, aids sleep problems, relieves cold and flu symptoms, and improves mood. In the scientific realm, both animal and human studies have indicated that moringa has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer properties and may be helpful in managing blood sugar levels in young and old people with diabetes. Limited research also suggests moringa may help lower cholesterol (at least in rats), making it a potential candidate for dealing with cardiovascular disease.
Some recent anticancer research utilizing moringa found that the remedy had a positive impact on ovarian cancer cells. For example, an April 2014 study reported that extracts prepared of moringa leaves greatly inhibited the growth of cancer cells, promoted apoptosis (cell death), and other activities that suggested that the treatment of cancer cells with moringa resulted in a significant reduction in the spread and invasion of cancer cells. Moringa oleifera extract also demonstrated potential as an anticancer option for various types of the disease.
Another recent report (March 2014) explained that moringa “leaves, gums, roots, flowers as well as kernels have been unanimously utilizing for managing tissue tenderness, cardiovascular and liver maladies, normalize blood glucose and cholesterol.” They also commented on the “profound antimicrobial, hypoglycemic and antitubercular activities” of the plant.
The authors of a Phytotherapy Research article noted that, in addition to the benefits already named, moringa has antitumor, antipyretic (fever-fighting), antiepileptic, antiulcer, antispasmodic, diuretic, antibacterial, and antifungal activities. People throughout South Asia especially revere moringa for treatment of ailments that can benefit from these features.
No recommended dose of Moringa oleifera has been established. However, individuals commonly take about 450 milligrams twice daily standardized to contain 15 percent saponins, although higher doses are also used.
Some precautions have been raised about the use of Moringa oleifera roots, which may contain a toxin that can cause paralysis and death. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid all forms of this natural supplement.
Anwar F et al. Moringa oleifera: a food plant with multiple medicinal uses. Phytotherapy Research 2007 Jan; 21(1): 17-25
Hussain S et al. Review: an exposition of medicinal preponderance of Moringa oleifera (Lank). Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 2014 Mar; 27(2): 397-403
Jung IL. Soluble extract from Moringa oleifera leaves with a new anticancer activity. PLoS One 2014 Apr 18; 9(4): e95492