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Moringa: Health Benefits and Applications

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

The moringa tree (Moringa oleifera), also called horseradish tree or drumstick tree, is well-known for many of its medicinal properties and environmental attributes. A deciduous tree, Moringa oleifera is commonly grown in partially dry, tropical, and subtropical areas. India is the leading producer, yet Moringa oleifera can also be found in Central America, Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Since Moringa oleifera cannot tolerate cold climates, it best thrives in these tropical and subtropical areas. Although the plant can survive in a variety of soil conditions, it prefers slightly acidic sandy or loamy soil. If over-watered, the roots of the plant easily rot, therefore the soil must be well-drained. The plant is commonly harvested for its leaves and fruits.


moringa seeds and leaves

Moringa oleifera is well known for its source of proteins, vitamins, amino acids, quercetin, and zeatin, found in various parts of the plant [1]. These compounds have been shown to act as cardiac and circulatory stimulants, have antitumor, neuroprotective, and anti-inflammatory properties, lower cholesterol, and act as an anti-inflammatory, antiulcer, and anti-bacterial agents [1].


Health Benefits of Moringa

Moringa's health benefits, found in its leaves, fruit, seeds, and roots, include:


1. Cardiovascular health

The diuretic properties, combined with lipid and blood pressure lowering elements, allow this plant to be used in treating cardiovascular diseases [2]. The main constituents used to treat cardiovascular disorders are found in the fluid of the plant’s leaves. The fluid was found to consist of nitrile, mustard oil glycosides, and thiocarbamate glycosides [2]. These acetylated glycosides that have an effect on cardiovascular disease are uncommonly found in the environment.


2. Lowers cholesterol

The fruit has been shown to also lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and phospholipids. In one study, hypercholesteremic rabbits fed the moringa fruit had reduced liver, heart, and aorta lipid profiles and elevated fecal cholesterol [2].


3. Antioxidants and nutrients

Moringa is a rich source of calcium, vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin C, iron, and vitamin E, in addition to micronutrients such as selenium, potassium, and zinc. Additionally, Moringa contains essential fatty acids, particularly oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat like olive oil. Its zeatin improves bioavailability of various nutrients, enhancing absorption. Its quercetin has antioxidant properties, stabilizing free radicals [3].


moringa leaves benefits and nutritional components

4. Neuroprotection

Zeatin concentrations have been found to be thousands of times higher in moringa than in most other plants studied so far. Zeatin administered to mice can effectively protect them against neurodegeneration and amyloid- and chemically-induced memory loss. It's also purported to be a nootropic that enhances memory by modifying monoamine neurotransmitter activity [4]. Isothiocyanate from moringa seeds also protected human neuronal cells against oxidative stress-induced cytotoxicity and apoptosis [5].


5. Antimicrobial and antiviral

The roots of Moringa oleifera have both anti-bacterial and antifungal properties. The anti-microbial agent found in the roots is pterygospermin [1]. This compound has antibacterial and fungicidal properties. 4-a-L-rhamnosyloxy benzyl isothiocyanate is another compound found in the roots that demonstrates antimicrobial and fungicidal properties [2]. It has shown to have substantial inhibitory effects against Epstein-Barr virus.


6. Anti-cancer and antitumor

A crude extract of Moringa oleifera leaves possesses a high concentration of different bioactive phytoconstituents such as beta-sitosterol, which can reduce the growth of certain cancer cells, such as prostate and colon cancer cells [2]. This compound has also had antitumor properties when paired with 4-(a-L-rhamnosyloxy) benzyl carbamate [2].


7. Anti-diabetic

Beta-sitosterol, as well as thiocarbamate and nitrile derivatives found in Moringa have been shown to normalize blood glucose by promoting insulin activity. However, caution should be taken, because it can interact with prescription diabetes medications.


8. Protects against ulcers

The leaves and roots of Moringa oleifera have been described to have a methanol fraction that showed antiulcerogenic results in rats [2]. They showed that the antiulcer property this plant possesses is distributed throughout the plant.


9. Protects liver

The plant has also shown to have hepatoprotective effects, which is believed to be a result of the presence of quercetin distributed throughout the plant [2].


10. Water purification and environmental protection

Moringa seeds have been used in wastewater treatment [2]. The seeds act as coagulants which results in particulates attaching to the seeds. The purified water can then be poured out and boiled. It is cheaper and at least as efficient as alum, a prevalent water coagulation method.


Conclusion

moringa tree

It is evident the Moringa oleifera plant has proven to be very beneficial to human health and the environment. The many compounds found in Moringa oleifera have been utilized for their numerous properties. The medicinal aspects of the plant are becoming widely used throughout the world, and the leaves, seeds, and nutriceuticals are now available in regions where Moringa doesn’t grow. Moringa oleifera leaves and fruits are used daily in a variety of ways to promote health.


References

  1. Makkar, H., & Becker, K. (1996). Nutrional value and antinutritional components of whole and ethanol extracted Moringa oleifera leaves. Animal Feed Science and Technology, 63(1-4), 211-228. doi:10.1016/s0377-8401(96)01023-1

  2. Anwar, F., Latif, S., Ashraf, M., & Gilani, A. H. (2006). Moringa oleifera: a food plant with multiple medicinal uses. Phytotherapy Research, 21(1), 17-25. doi:10.1002/ptr.2023

  3. Ay, Muhammet et al. “Chapter 32 – Quercetin.” Nutraceuticals Efficacy, Safety, and Toxicity, by Ramesh C. Gupta, Academic Press, 2016, pp. 447-452.

  4. Obulesu, M, and Dowlathabad Muralidhara Rao. “Effect of plant extracts on Alzheimer's disease: An insight into therapeutic avenues.” Journal of neurosciences in rural practice vol. 2,1 (2011): 56-61. doi:10.4103/0976-3147.80102

  5. Jaafaru, Mohammed Sani et al. “Isothiocyanate from Moringa oleifera seeds mitigates hydrogen peroxide-induced cytotoxicity and preserved morphological features of human neuronal cells.” PloS one vol. 13,5 e0196403. 3 May. 2018, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0196403

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