Antioxidant rich Moringa has many benefits
Moringa oleifera, also known as the drumstick tree, kelor tree, and horseradish tree in certain regions, is an incredibly versatile plant species for the claims made about its supposed medicinal properties (1, 8, 14, 16, 18, 45).
Originating in Northern India, its naturalization and use have also extended into the subtropics of Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, even reaching as far as the Caribbean and Guatemala.
The implementation of M. oleifera has been present for hundreds of years as a key ingredient in Ayurvedic medicine, as well as other traditional medicinal practices.
Though millions already reliably use moringa for treatment on a regular basis, it has only been a singular topic of scientific inquiry in the last few decades.
Scientific evidence demonstrates the myriad alleviating effects of M. oleifera, particularly toward cardiovascular disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal distress and other conditions that are harmful to the body.
Check out these 10 research-supported health benefits of M.oleifera. Included afterward are some recipes to start enjoying these benefits straight away!
1. Moringa Is Rich In Nutrients And Bioactive Compounds
Of the plant family Moringaceae, Moringa is a tree that is resistant to drought, grows fairly quickly, and has many parts that are widespread in their uses and applications.
The roots, leaves, stem bark, gum, flowers, seeds, and pods (or “drumsticks”) of M.oleifera all have demonstrated efficacy in health remedies (8).
Globally, the edible and therefore more commonly cultivated parts are the flowers, leaves, roots, and pods.
The flowers and leaves contain adequate amounts of essential amino and fatty acids, making them a good source of protein, while the pods are low in fat content and high in fiber (25).
The crude protein contained within Moringa is roughly around 50%, while the percentage of digestible protein from the crude protein is around 30%. The remaining composition is mostly water and nontoxic ash (3, 5, 21).
Potassium, β-carotene (a precursor of vitamin A), vitamin C, and vitamin E are also found in M.oleifera leaves, with some studies suggesting the leaves have higher values than bananas, carrots, and oranges overall (6, 10).
Along with mineral concentrations of iron, zinc, copper, and calcium, Moringa contains flavonoids and phenols, phytochemicals (or plant-based compounds) that also assist healthy body functionality in humans (1, 3, 5, 6, 25).
For example, one particular study found M. oleifera leaves and seeds from Sheda, Nigeria had overall higher concentrations of iron, calcium, and magnesium than those from Kuje, Nigeria (21).
This variation also extends into the scientific process, where the different modes of analysis can produce different responses from M. oleifera, such as whether or not researchers choose ethanol or aqueous extraction to source its critical components.
Despite the healthful composition of Moringa, the body already struggles to absorb essential nutrients from food sources since they are processed into structurally different byproducts before and after ingestion.
Therefore, regularly and moderately consuming moringa, or any food materials that contain it, is recommended, as occasional consumption may not reap enough of the desired benefits (31).
Moringa should also not be the only source of nutrients in an average human diet if one plans to use it.
Moringa oleifera alone already provides a profound supply of dietary supplementation for good health practices.
When implementing moringa into a diet, some care may be necessary for determining the source of the powders and tablets provided by Western manufacturers.
The same awareness should also be at play when using actual physical parts of the plant for recipes, ensuring the selection of the most edible and necessary parts of one’s desired intake.
2. Moringa Has A High Concentration Of Antioxidants That May Fight Free Radicals In The Oxidation Process
With a composition high enough to equal or exceed the amounts found in vegetables and fruits in most diets (6), moringa holds a wide variety of flavonoid compounds such as rutin, kaempferol myricetin, quercetin, and isorhamnetin (5).
In the oxidation process, free oxygen radicals (ion molecules with unpaired valence electrons) bind to the electrons of protein-structuring fatty acids; these reactive oxidative species then make themselves stable while destabilizing the ionic charges of the fatty acids (9, 44).
Because fatty acids need a stable charge to maintain the structure of cell membranes, encountering free radicals causes the protective layer of cells to erode through oxidation and causes adverse effects to an organism.
Diseases linked to oxidation include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and other health conditions like the ones listed in this article (48).
Flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol, however, slow the oxidation process by “scavenging” and binding to free peroxyl, diphenyl, and superoxyl radicals with their unique structural components (4, 9, 17, 44).
The flavonoids also have multiple uses, meaning they can continue binding on to additional free radicals after their initial bond and remain just as functional (30).
Their effectiveness lies in their structure, which contains at the very least “an o-diphenol group in ring B, a 2-3 double bond conjugated with the 4-oxo function, and hydroxyl groups in positions 3 and 5” (30).
These antioxidants and their particular elements protect cell membranes from degradation and lower the risk of acute and chronic diseases throughout the body.
There is also an association with the antioxidant enzymes, superoxide dismutase and catalase, which are known to protect cellular membranes from free radicals when the enzymes are at high levels in the body.
Due to their individual structures, the antioxidative flavonoids in M. oleifera, quercetin and kaempferol, may protect the body from the oxidation processes responsible for most chronic or acute conditions.
3. Moringa May Regulate Tumor Growth, Supposedly Preventing Or Treating Cancer
Some studies tentatively link the use of Moringa oleifera to cancer prevention, and possibly cancer treatment.
A healthy human body typically maintains a balance (or homeostasis) between the cells it sheds (a process known as apoptosis) and the cells it reproduces over time (a process known as proliferation).
High apoptosis and low proliferation means many cells, especially healthy ones, are prematurely programmed to die off, which accelerates cellular and molecular degradation.
Low apoptosis and high proliferation of cells mean far too many cells that should have been shed remain concentrated in a single area, leading to the formation of tumors if there is no regulation.
When human tumor cells struggle with low apoptosis and high proliferation, there is a greater likelihood of benign or malignant tumor formation, marking this as a potential catalyst for cancer.
Rebalancing proliferation with apoptosis may reverse the progression of tumors and potentially prevent or limit the damage from cancer.
In testing moringa leaf extract on isolated human tumor cells, researchers found the extract maintained a similar rate of anti-proliferation when compared to the chemotherapy medication, cisplatin (10).
Another study conducted on two leukemia variants and a hepatocarcinoma found that the leaf extract “killed” the density of cancerous cells by more than 70% (23).
In this way, the regulation of tumors is possible through anti-proliferation and dependent on the dosage concentrations of the leaf extract.
Additionally, the antioxidative property of the extract also seemingly plays a role in triggering necessary apoptosis in the tumor cells.
Although the exact mechanisms of their role in cancer is still under scientific review, the flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol and their antioxidative properties were seemingly implicated in these cancer studies (10, 23, 53).
Various other compounds said to possess antitumor activity, such as carbamates, isothiocyanates, niazimicin, and glycerol was also present in M. oleifera, making it fairly potent against Epstein-Barr virus (37).
With more rigorous research, ingesting moringa could seemingly be a natural and less toxic alternative to certain cancer medications currently on the market.
Moringa can potentially restrict increased rates of tumor production in cells, controlling the mechanisms responsible for the onset of cancer.
By maintaining similar values to chemotherapy medication, the leaf extract of Moringa also appears to be a plant-based alternative to synthetic treatment with less harmful side effects.
4. Moringa May Regulate Blood Glucose Levels, Possibly Alleviating And Treating Diabetes
According to the World Health Organization, diabetes is a chronic condition steadily on the rise around the world, increasing by about 314 million diagnoses between 1980 and 2014 alone.
With diabetes, not only is there an increased risk of going into diabetic shock or having high blood pressure, there is also a greater likelihood of an early death.
It is typical for diabetic individuals to experience elevated levels of glucose, or sugar, in the blood, due to a relative lack or absence of insulin, a hormone responsible for regulating glucose (9, 38, 43, 54).
Free radical oxidation negatively impacts both the production and the effectiveness of insulin (9, 43), binding to insulin molecules and altering their structures until they can no longer maintain their processing of glucose in the blood.
Researchers have found, however, that the antioxidative properties of moringa correlate with a dip in blood glucose and elevated insulin activity, suggesting the relevance of anti-diabetic claims.
For example, one study tested moringa extract on diabetic and control-group rats and discovered an effect comparable to the anti-diabetic medicine, glibenclamide.
Test subjects treated with Moringa extract experienced drops in glucose, with greater effects at higher dose concentrations, matching the rate of the glibenclamide control cases (38).
Diabetes-induced complications like osteoporosis were also affected with Moringa use, causing increases in osteoblast efficiency (cells needed to form new bone) and decreases in osteoclast efficiency (cells needed to break down bone) (38). This potentially strengthens bone and reverses the decreases in bone density that characterize osteoporosis.
Another study using moringa pod extract on rats suggests flavonoids may directly reduce glucose levels by either stimulating insulin productivity or acting as an insulin substitute (9).
M. oleifera potentially assists in the treatment and management of elevated blood glucose levels, Type I and Type II diabetes, and complications from diabetes.
Though these studies only conducted testing on nonhuman subjects, they suggest the antioxidative properties may also be responsible for stimulating or substituting insulin production.
Moringa Drumsticks (pods)
Moringa seeds grow inside the lengthy pods
5. Moringa May Also Protect Against Hypertension And The Risk Of Cardiovascular Disease
As one of the global leading causes of death, cardiovascular disease remains a tremendous public health concern.
Hypertension, high cholesterol, and atherosclerosis are physiological responses to a diet lacking proper nutrition and are precursors to cardiovascular diseases, such as angina and myocardial infarction (31, 54).
Extreme oxidation can cause plaque to form and line the arterial walls of blood vessels (dyslipidemia or atherosclerosis), “hardening” blood vessels and restricting blood flow to and from the heart and throughout the body (31 ,54).
Additionally, the plaque chunks can solidify, break off, travel toward the brain, and cut off the oxygen supply, a process emblematic of a severely debilitating or lethal ischemic stroke.
The flavonoids gained from fruits, vegetables, and the dietary supplementation of M. oleifera, however, may combat the preconditions for cardiovascular disease and prevent unnecessary damage to the heart and the body.
Potentially contributing to this effect are the glycoside compounds niazimin A, niazimin B, niazicin A, and niazicin B, which may possess hypotensive (blood pressure lowering) properties that act as a balance for hypertension (35, 49, 58).
The nutritional contents of Moringa also go a long way in preventing the onset of hypertension and atherosclerosis as well, reducing cardiovascular disease risk overall.
The concentrations of potassium, iron, and sodium in Moringa (3) improve lipid cellular membranes, increase red blood cell production, and do not allow for the presence of high amounts of sodium in the blood, respectively (1, 3, 6).
M. oleifera has an adequate nutritional and chemical compound supply capable of providing enough proper nutrition to prevent hypertension and the mechanisms responsible for cardiovascular disease.
6. Moringa May Possess Anti-Inflammatory Properties
When the body sustains an injury or infection, inflammation is a multifaceted, protective response from the immune system.
There are both acute and chronic types of inflammation: in acute inflammation, the body responds quickly to the injury site (several minutes or hours), consuming infection-causing bacteria and repairing affected tissues; in chronic inflammation, it takes several months or even several years for the body to respond to a more complex injury.
Although necessary in most physical and biological cases, inflammation becomes problematic when it is unable to stop on its own, or it is chronic and the body does not easily respond to treatment.
Maladies such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and asthma are more likely to occur if inflammation carries on for too long without suitable medical attention (55).
Moringa, however, has been used in traditional medicine for its supposed ability to reduce inflammation in the body and prevent long-term negative effects.
Several studies on induced inflammation in rats correlated anti-inflammatory inhibition with moringa seed extract at high concentrations after several hours, providing some support for traditional health claims (40, 50, 57).
The seeds also demonstrated anti-arthritic effects as well, showing a significant reduction of arthritic markers in comparison to the diseased control group (57).
The flower and leaf infusions of Moringa closely followed the seeds in terms of their efficacy against inflammation, but only at slightly higher concentrations than the seed extract (40).
A contributing factor for reducing inflammation seemingly comes from isothiocyanate compounds in Moringa, such as 4(α-L-rhamnosyloxy) benzyl isothiocyanate, that inhibits genetic markers for inflammation, like tumor-necrotic factor α (TNF-α) from the immune system (55, 57).
Despite the usefulness of both acute and chronic inflammation, they also result in the increased likelihood and longevity of certain medical conditions as humans age.
Isothiocyanates and antioxidants in Moringa, however, are potentially responsible for limiting inflammation overactivity, avoiding the chronic or severe health conditions likely to occur without intervention.
7. Moringa Carries Antimicrobial Properties
Exposure to fungal and bacterial pathogens increases the risk of developing chronic or life-threatening complications.
Although the previously mentioned mechanics of inflammation try to kill these pathogens off before they spread on or inside the body, they are sometimes unsuccessful.
When the pathogens are susceptible to antimicrobial treatment, however, the spread and longevity of these microbes lessen, assisting the immune system and benefitting the overall health of an organism.
Multiple studies on isolated bacteria and fungi that were Gram positive or gram negative were shown to experience noticeable inhibition or complete death when treated with M. oleifera leaf extract (13, 39, 51).
Not all the tested pathogenic strains were inhibited by Moringa use (39, 51); however, this seemingly depended on the manner in which the moringa was processed and administered (i.e. aqueous extract vs. ethanolic extract, etc.).
Most susceptible to Moringa treatment was the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, which is responsible for MRSA infections that are resistant and not easily treated with common antibiotics.
Also susceptible was the fungus Aspergillus niger, which is both a typical food contaminant responsible for the appearance of black mold on vegetables and fruits and a source of fungal ear infections.
Though not all studied microbes were susceptible to Moringa administration, the flavonoids, pterygospermin, and isothiocyanates within M. oleifera may provide additional defenses to the immune system by limiting the longevity of pathogens in an organism.
With bacteria like Aspergillus niger susceptible to flavonoids in Moringa, this finding also lends credibility to the use of M. oleifera as a food preservative.
It is also worth noting that the combination of anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties from M. oleifera support its traditional use in balms and poultices for minor cuts, abrasions, and wound healing.
8. Gastrointestinal Conditions Can Be Treated With Moringa
From stomach pain to ulcers, traditional medicine uses M. oleifera to treat many gastrointestinal conditions.
Most extensively studied has been the effect of Moringa on medically-induced ulcers and intestinal spasms with nonhuman animal subjects.
Ulcers form when the mucus barrier protecting the stomach lining erodes, exposing the stomach wall to the naturally-occurring acid of the stomach.
NSAIDs, H. pylori bacteria, and tumors contribute to the erosion of the mucus barrier.
Meanwhile, spasmodic conditions like irritable bowel syndrome occur when the muscles of the intestines contract frequently and painfully.
When compared to anti-spasmodic and ulcer-preventing medications, however, M. oleifera appears to be just as effective without many of their side effects.
In one study, the use of M. oleifera leaf extract for treating induced ulcers in rats conferred some protection, with the protections exceeding 50% after a 300 mg/kg dose and reaching nearly 100% at a 400 mg/kg dose concentration (59).
Because Moringa already acts as a possible anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-tumor supplement, the combination of these properties helps prevent ulcer formation and the erosion of the mucus barrier.
The aforementioned glycosides from Moringa, niazimin A, niazimin B, niazicin A, and niazicin B also appear to have some responsibility in maintaining the rates of contractions during involuntary spasms.
Although testing for gastrointestinal conditions has not yet extended to human subjects, the use of moringa on animal subjects provides some support to traditional medicinal health claims.
9. Moringa May Alleviate Or Treat Epilepsy
Traditional medicine also hails Moringa for assisting the central nervous system, and aiding or possibly treating epilepsy and its symptoms.
While some epileptic occurrences are not immediately noticeable, like slight changes in behavior, others result in convulsions that can seriously incapacitate its sufferers (60).
Additionally, though there are factors for susceptibility to epilepsy, perfectly healthy individuals without any previous family or medical history of epilepsy are also at risk (60).
Exposure to various degrees of electric stimuli outside and within the body increase the likelihood of an epileptic response.
Typical treatment would address these moderate-to-severe conditions by targeting the neurotransmitters and metabolic pathways responsible for mediating electrical activity.
This can potentially limit or prevent the harm of particularly violent seizures during epileptic episodes.
Studies have sought to understand the effects of M.oleifera on epilepsy and other neurological conditions, typically using nonhuman rat subjects for testing.
One study discovered Moringa extract significantly reduced convulsions after implementing electrical shock, and completely prevented convulsions induced by ‘PTZ,’ similar to the anticonvulsant, diazepam (61).
Another study analyzed moringa through the context of neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine, for example, finding that an increase in the former and a decrease in the latter lowered stimulation in multiple parts of the brain (63).
The antioxidative properties of the flavonoids in M. oleifera are the suspected mediators of electrical activity in the central nervous system.
There are, however, many other factors implicated in specific neurological conditions, such as the inhibition of the GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) neurotransmitter from the brain, or the blockage of sodium or calcium channels (61).
The role of M. oleifera in these potential sources for seizures is still under exploration, but its chemical components may be responsible for removing or alleviating negative effects on GABA and the sodium and calcium channels.
The effects of moringa in alleviating epilepsy and associated seizures are promising, as they keep up with the anticonvulsant medication of the present market and provide further support to traditional claims.
10. The Liver Potentially Gains Protection Through The Use Of Moringa
An important aspect of safeguarding personal health is via the protection of the liver.
The liver is responsible for filtering blood and processing ingested food, medications, and various chemicals which are then spread throughout the rest of the body.
Though a crucial part of the healthy functionality, the liver is also unfortunately susceptible to many damaging conditions, including hepatitis A & C, cirrhosis, and fatty liver disease.
Consuming high levels of alcohol or avoiding precautions while taking hepatotoxic (hurtful to the liver) medications like NSAIDs, are some known stressors associated with these effects.
Without immediate medical attention, the continuity of these conditions can result in liver failure, leading to liver transplants or the possibility of mortality.
Once again, Moringa and its antioxidant properties may confer some advantages for assisting the liver, especially considering the particular role of radical oxidation in alcohol or drug-related strain on the body (66, 67).
Oxidative markers specifically associated with the liver, aspartate aminotransferase and aspartate-alanine aminotransferase also dropped considerably when compared to the controls without Moringa intervention.
Meanwhile, in these same studies, enzymatic markers associated with healing and repairing oxidative damage, superoxide dismutase and catalase, experienced increases in activity with Moringa administration (65, 66, 67, 68).
Seemingly, the implementation of Moringa results in counteracting overall damage on the liver.
M. oleifera affords some protection to the liver through its antioxidative properties, reducing the harmful effects of oxidation and preventing outright liver damage.
Caution Towards Overuse
As with all things, Moringa should be ingested as a dietary supplement in moderation.
Especially for first-time consumers of moringa, starting with lower doses and/or concentrations and gradually scaling up the doses over time is advisable.
In buying powders or capsules, follow the recommended preparations on the packaging, and for buying physical parts, take note of their place of origin if possible.
Since its absorption is not particularly high, M. oleifera should also not be used as a complete replacement for the nutritional benefits of a healthy diet or other supplements.
Several studies say anti-nutritive elements in Moringa are low and may not actually prevent essential nutrient absorption or cause discomfort (35, 47), but this can potentially change if precautions are not taken (16).
Moringa oleifera is a well-studied plant species whose hundreds of years of traditional use have been rigorously explored for decades.
In seeking the specifics of moringa’s versatility, researchers provide enough credibility to show just how dynamically it can improve the overall health of those who use it.
Although most of the studies referenced here have used non-human animal subjects, the results reveal that M.oleifera remained consistent in relieving or treating detrimental health conditions.
As a plant with antitumor, anticancer, antidiabetic, antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiulcer, and antiepileptic properties, it is clearly complex in its applications for curative purposes.
Rich in nutrients, antioxidants, and capable of aiding minor and severe maladies, Moringa remains a comprehensive, health-supporting food additive welcome to most diets.
Recipe #1: Moringa Soup
This recipe is ideal for taking advantage of the benefits of moringa and also keeping warm.
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- ½ onion, chopped
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 serrano pepper, chopped
- 3-4 moringa leaves
- Thoroughly clean the moringa leaves to remove any sand and grit. Set aside.
- Heat the chicken broth in a pot on medium heat and bring to a simmer.
- Place the celery, onion, carrot, serrano pepper, and moringa leaves in the broth. Reduce the heat to low.
- Let the mixture sit for another 25-30 minutes, or until the vegetable ingredients soften.
- Season to taste and serve.
Recipe #2: Moringa Tea
A simpler recipe, this is an easier way of regularly benefitting from Moringa, especially during the summer or the winter.
- Moringa, dried leaves or powder
- Make sure the leaves are thoroughly cleaned before steeping in heated (not boiling hot) water. Add more leaves or steep longer for a stronger effect.
- If using moringa powder, simply add 1 scoop for each 8 oz. Add more if desiring a stronger effect.
- After steeping for several minutes, add lemon slices to the water. Continue to steep for several more minutes.
- Drain the tea free of leaves.
- Use honey to sweeten tea to taste.
- For iced tea, let the tea cool before just adding ice.
Recipe #3: Moringa Smoothie
Another simple recipe, Moringa is a great additive to a healthy smoothie! The original recipe can be found here.
- 1 cup ice
- 1 cup plant-based milk
- 1 cup spinach
- ½ Tsp moringa leaf powder
- 1 banana, unpeeled
1 ½ cup chopped apples
- Add the ice,plant-based milk, spinach, moringa leaf, unpeeled banana, and chopped apples to a blender, blending on the highest setting.
- When all the ingredients are thoroughly blended, turn off the blender, pour the smoothie into a glass and serve.