Moringa (Moringa oleifera) is affectionately called “the miracle tree”. Moringa grows well in tropical conditions. It is a fast-growing reliable source of food despite living 6 months of the year in the dry season.
It is native to parts of Africa and Asia and may enhance the nutritional status of the population. Moringa tree consists of leaves, seeds, bark, roots, sap, and flowers. All parts of the tree are edible, however, the leaves have the greatest antioxidant activity. Moringa has also been used as food and medicine by the ancient Romans, Greeks and Egyptians for a long time, however, only a few of the health claims have been studied scientifically.
This article will discuss what the science says about moringa and health. But firstly, let’s look at the nutritional profile of moringa.
Nutritional Facts of Moringa
Moringa is highly nutritious. It contains bioactive compounds, such as phenolic acids, flavonoids, alkaloids, phytosterols, natural sugars, vitamins, minerals, and organic acids.
Health Benefits of Moringa
The following are the top 9 health benefits of moringa.
1. Improves and Prevents Malnutrition
Malnutrition is a condition where an individual may lack essential nutrients. They usually miss out on these nutrients by not having enough to eat, not eating a variety of food and/or absorb the nutrients in food.
Moringa is nutrient-rich and a readily available food resource that has the potential to improve the micronutrient quality of dietary intakes of at risk populations in developing countries.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants, children and the elderly would benefit from nutritious sources of such a food.
Moringa Oleifera leaf powder used in infant’s usual foods was well accepted (2).
2. Decreases the Risk of Developing Heart Disease
Heart disease is a disease that affects the heart. A study showed that moringa plant functions as an antioxidant and has lipid lowering and anti-plaque forming (anti-atherosclerotic) properties. There is therapeutic potential for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases (3).
Another study used rabbits to test the effects of Moringa (200mg/kg/day) on blood cholesterol. This intervention was compared to lovastatin medication (6mg/kg/day) for 120 days.
Both moringa and lovastatin were found to lower the serum cholesterol, phospholipid, triglyceride, VLDL, LDL, cholesterol to phospholipid ratio and atherogenic index, but were found to increase the HDL/HDL-total cholesterol ratio as compared to the control groups.
The rabbits showed that moringa has a blood lipid lowering effect (4).
3. Improves Blood Glucose Management
Poor blood glucose management is typical in people with diabetes. High blood glucose levels can cause health complications if not treated.
Rats with diabetes were used to understand the effect moringa had on blood glucose tolerance. Blood glucose levels decreased in rats compared to the control group. Interestingly, moringa significantly decreased stomach emptying in rats. The results showed that moringa improved glucose tolerance (5,6,7).
4. Improves Brain Health
Dementia is a degenerative disease which is on the rise. Moringa has been shown in an animal study to have potential as a memory enhancer and support brain health.
This work is beneficial in understanding the brain and treating medical conditions such as age-related dementia (8).
5. Improves Symptoms of Inflammatory Disease
The body’s natural response to infection or injury is to produce inflammation. Symptoms of inflammation are usually redness, warmth and swelling. Inflammation is the physiological response to protect the body against infection and heal tissue injury. Chronic inflammation can trigger various inflammatory associated medical conditions.
In 3 test tube studies, moringa was found to stop the secretion of inflammatory markers. These findings support the traditional use of moringa as a potential treatment for inflammation associated conditions (9,10,11).
6. Cancer Prevention
Moringa is showing promising signs in early studies as a cancer preventative. Cancer is a serious health condition in which abnormal cells grow and affect healthy organs of the body.
Glucosinolates, active compounds in moringa, could help to slow the process of the process of cancer development. Its role may include preventing cancer growth, anti-inflammatory process, stopping cancer cell growth and killing tumor cells.
More information is needed to understand the mechanisms of action related to this health benefit (12).
7. Skin Revitalization and Anti-aging
Skin is sensitive to ultra violet light. Ultra violet light is the key source of reactive oxygen species resulting in sunburn and premature aging.
A study tested the benefits of moringa on the skin. The treatment cream contained 3% of the concentrated extract of moringa leaves. The study showed positive results on skin parameters such as skin volume, texture parameters (energy, variance and contrast) and surface evaluation of the living skin, skin roughness, skin scaliness, skin smoothness, and skin wrinkles.
The results suggested that moringa cream enhances skin revitalization effect and supports anti-aging skin effects (13).
8. Improvement in Asthma Symptoms
Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition. Symptoms are related to difficulty breathing and poor lung function.
A 3-week study of 20 individuals with mild-to-moderate asthma was studied. The participants were given a 3g daily dose of finely powdered dried seed kernels. Respiratory function and symptoms were assessed using a spirometer prior to and at the end of the treatment.
Significant improvement was also observed in lung function and asthma symptoms. The results of the study show the usefulness of moringa in patients with bronchial asthma (14).
9. Protects the Liver
The liver is a large organ in the abdomen that is important for many metabolic processes.
A test tube study looked at rat livers and the effect of liver damage from carbon tetrachloride. Moringa promoted the recovery of the liver. It is expected that the antioxidant properties of moringa helped to protect the liver (15).
Potential Side Effect of Moringa
In the studies available, no adverse effects were reported in association with human studies, however, there has not been enough human studies to understand what part of the plant and how much is safe and the potential side effects (15).
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should consult their doctor if they plan on taking moringa.
Moringa is a plant that has been used for its health benefits for a long time. Currently, the science around moringa is limited to test tube and animal studies. There is some promising research of moringa in the area of malnutrition, heart disease, blood glucose management, brain health, inflammatory disease, cancer prevention, skin and anti-aging and asthma management.
Although scientific evidence shows promising signs of improving health, more good quality human studies are needed before moringa can be recommended as a food, supplement or medication to specifically treat certain medical conditions. Moringa is a nutritious reliable source of vegetables, which can be helpful to meet nutrition requirements.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Natalie Thompson, APD is a non-dieting Accredited Practicing Dietitian passionate about inspiring positive changes in eating and lifestyle behaviors to help improve health while nurturing relationships with food and body.
After graduating with a Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics and Bachelor of Human Nutrition, Natalie Thompson worked in clinical dietetics in the community and in residential aged care with a non-government organization servicing the older adult and disabled population and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. She also has her my own private practice.
Natalie Thompson has a Bachelor of Human Nutrition from University of Newcastle with a Master of Nutrition and Dietetics from Griffith University. You can connect with Natalie on LinkedIn