What is Moringa?
Traditional cultures around the globe have been using plant medicines for thousands of years. In many cases, plants provide benefits for specific ailments or organs. But there are the few botanicals that offer such a rich array of phytonutrients that they can improve overall well-being. Moringa oleifera is one of these. In fact, moringa was named the Plant of the Year by the National Institute of Health in 2008! While the term “superfood” is attached to a number of foods, moringa is one that certainly deserves the name.
The moringa tree is originally native to India, where its use began over 4,000 years ago. It also goes by the names miracle tree, ben tree, and drumstick tree. More importantly than the name, however, is what it contains. The leaves, roots and bark hold an abundance of compounds. There are trace minerals that are often absent from the modern diet (as well as vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, calcium and antioxidants). Moringa extract also contains unique phytonutrients such as beta-sitosterol, quercetin, zeatin, kaempferol and caffeoylquinic acid. The combination of these compounds helps reduce risk of conditions like inflammation, heart disease, digestive problems and bacterial and fungal infections (x).
Asthma is a common chronic disease and can be a significant health risk. Some people outgrow their asthma symptoms after childhood while others continue to have symptoms their whole lives. Triggers of asthma attacks include particles in the air, vigorous activity or even daily stress. For those with asthma, the bronchi and trachea, which carry air to and from the lungs, become inflamed and thickly coated in mucus. Some people have asthma so severe that this reaction can be life-threatening.
There are several ways moringa helps to reduce asthma symptoms. The first is to decrease the histamine causing an inflammatory reaction. Cells release histamine in the body in response to allergens. This is what causes swelling. In the case of asthma, it causes too much swelling, so moringa’s ability to reduce histamine makes asthma more controllable (x).
Moringa may also improve lung function in those with asthma. In a study, powdered moringa seeds reduced inflammation and airway restriction to a “significant” degree in participants. They were able to take measurably deeper breaths with increased lung volume (x).
Decreased Arthritis Pain and Swelling
Nearly a fifth of the world’s adult population suffers from some level of arthritis in their joints, and it can begin as early as your twenties or teens. Arthritis can damage the joints that it affects, meaning that the pain and swelling can lead to degeneration and loss of function. This makes it hard to stay active, enjoy hobbies and maintain a job. The hallmark of arthritis is the inflammation of joints, and moringa extract targets this inflammation so joints can heal and bend more smoothly.
Reducing inflammation is one of the oldest and most common uses for moringa in traditional cultures, and modern science backs up its effectiveness. Animal studies show statistically significant decreases in swelling, similar to the effects of Ibuprofen. This is great news if you or a loved one suffers from arthritis pain (x, x).
Digestive problems happen to everyone from time to time. If you suffer from chronic gastritis, colitis, ulcers or other types of digestive conditions, moringa extract may help. Moringa extract is highly anti-inflammatory so it can soothe the stomach lining and the intestines to make digestion easier and far less painful. It helps to calm sensitivity and regulate the digestive process.
Moringa extract also helps regulate the immune reaction in the gut. This may be a way for some people to reduce their food allergy symptoms. It also provides antioxidants that can help heal these delicate tissues. This combination of actions suggests that moringa extract can be a great digestion booster that helps relieve pain and improve nutrient absorption from the foods you eat (x).
Potent Anti-Aging Therapy
As you age, inflammation and oxidative stress occur faster than your body can keep up, and this causes progressive damage to tissues and organs. This is a main culprit behind age-related degeneration. Moringa extract is a powerful scavenger of the free radicals that can cause damage to tissues due to its high amount of antioxidants. It’s also strongly anti-inflammatory, which can help keep all your body’s systems working better for longer (x, x).
Balances Blood Sugar
Those with diabetes or metabolic syndrome have to be especially careful of their blood sugar levels. Some foods can cause blood sugar to rise dangerously high only to fall to equally dangerous lows. This rollercoaster causes energy fluctuations through the day, food cravings, brain fog, weight gain and accelerated aging. A big factor in these diseases is that cells aren’t able to absorb the glucose from foods and turn it into energy (x).
Two compounds in moringa — chlorogenic acid and isothiocyanates — naturally help glucose enter the cells. This decreases the complications of diabetes and allows the body to process sugars more effectively, even after a very high carbohydrate meal (x).
A Boon for Beautiful Skin
Moringa extract isn’t just useful when it’s eaten or consumed in a drink. There are ways to apply it to the skin that can heal it and improve overall skin health.
Moringa extract works to combat bacteria and fungus that can infect skin and cause blemishes and irritation. It can successfully combat infections like athlete’s foot, can reduce acne and dandruff, and can soothe burns, bites, and wounds (x, x).
Applied to the face, a cream that includes moringa extract can reduce the look of fine lines and wrinkles and can even out skin tone. This can help you to look years younger and enjoy a fresher, more glowing look to your skin (x, x).
More About Moringa
The moringa tree grows quickly and can reach a height of 40 ft. In colder climates, the moringa tree flowers only once a year. In its more native warmer climates, it can flower twice, or even perpetually through the year. The leaves are small and oval-shaped and are a bright, vibrant green. There are 13 different species of moringa tree, but the one that’s most widely grown, and the one that has the most health benefits is the moringa oleifera.
While each part of the tree has its use, the leaves of the moringa hold the majority of its vitamins, minerals and healing compounds, and the seeds are close behind. Since it grows so quickly, it’s possible to harvest leaves and seeds multiple times per year. It’s a sustainable and renewable plant, so it’s as beneficial to the earth as it is to humans. The extract is created by drying the leaves and seeds then grinding them into a fine powder, which can then be used as a supplement or mixed in foods or drinks.
Moringa is only available fresh in its native regions in Asia, India and parts of Africa, though it’s rarely consumed in that form. Instead, traditional cultures make teas, drinks or medicinal applications.
Moringa Dosage and Side Effects
Side effects of moringa are very rare. It has a track record of being safely used for thousands of years, after all! Because studies are still lacking in modern scientific studies in humans, there’s no specific recommended dose.
Supplements can come in two forms — whole leaf or extracts. In human studies, 8 grams of whole leaf powder per day was safe for use up to 40 days. There haven’t been toxicity studies in humans with moringa extracts, but animal studies suggest that at least 400 mg of extract per day is safe (x).
Moringa has not been sufficiently studied in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. There is anecdotal evidence that it can increase breast milk supply, however. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare professional before using moringa extract.
Moringa supplements in either whole leaf or extract form can be mixed in water, juice or other beverages. It has an herbal flavor as many highly nutritious plant extracts do. If you don’t enjoy the herbal flavor, try adding it to a smoothie, or making a tea with lemon and honey. You can even add it to savory dishes like soups and stews. Moringa powder can be used to fill capsules as well and can be taken as any other supplement.
The Bottom Line
Moringa is one of the oldest plant supplements with a long history of use. Though modern scientific data is still emerging, the nutritional profile of the plant speaks for itself. With vitamins, minerals and powerful phytonutrients, moringa supports all around health. The research that is available suggests moringa can also have important applications in managing chronic health conditions like diabetes, asthma and arthritis.
It’s been recognized as a “plant of the year” because it has the potential to dramatically improve many conditions as well as positively impact the environment. Luckily, moringa is now accessible outside of the tropics and easy to incorporate into any dietary regimen.
By: Heather L. Makar