You may not have heard about moringa yet, but it probably won’t be long until you do. In 2008, it was highlighted as the “mystery plant” in the National Institutes of Health Record for its “potential to help reverse multiple major environmental problems and provide for many unmet human needs.” And in 2012, Dr. Oz featured the plant on his site and TV show as a natural way to reenergize your day. These days, it’s being used in “detox teas,” like Lyfe Tea, which, among other things, claims to eliminate fat, improve focus, help with physical endurance, help control weight, and rid the body of toxins.
Native to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, moringa oleifera is gaining more popularity in the U.S. in 2018. But its benefits aren’t news to other parts of the globe. The NIH Record reports that moringa is known by over a hundred different names—among them “drumstick tree,” “ben tree,” and “horseradish tree”—in various languages around the world. The leaves, seeds, and fruits can be consumed, and it’s very easy to grow, even in areas with damaged soil or affected by drought.
The Nutritional Benefits
The leaves are the most nutritious part, boasting protein, iron, all the amino acids, “seven times the vitamin C of oranges, four times the calcium of milk, and twice the protein of yogurt,” according to the NIH. This stacked nutritional profile is responsible for its purported “energy boost.” Oil from the plant can be used for cooking and the leaves can be used to make tea or a milk substitute. Moringa can also be used to purify water. This makes it an excellent resource in areas where large portions of the population are malnourished.
But what does this mean for those of us who do have access to clean water and nutritious foods? Recent studies on the medicinal properties of moringa confirm uses that have been practiced for centuries, among them “remarkable wound healing properties, which can be attributed to the antibacterial and antioxidant activities.” The plant also appears to be useful in regulating sugars in people with diabetes. Other uses being studied include protecting the liver, boosting immunity, reducing hypertension, and maintaining healthy skin.
Possible Side Effects
Research has suggested that the plant is safe for human use, but there are potential side effects to consuming the root and bark, including uterus contractions, thus potentially causing miscarriage in pregnant women or preventing implantation of an embryo. Taken in large doses, the leaves can have a laxative effect.
The majority of the studies completed to date were done in test tubes or on animals, mostly rodents. When considering the results of a study, it's important to note which part of the plant was used and how it was obtained, as different parts may have different effects on the body. A review of research in Phytotherapy Research reports, “Little effort to standardize extracts and to employ standardized extracts appears to have been made, and as a consequence, it is difficult to relate, compare, and contrast the results of one study with another.”
Tips for Taking Moringa
Because the plant is recognized as an herbal supplement and not a drug, there isn’t a universally recommended dose. Some research suggests 29 milligrams per kilogram of body weight as the optimal dose, though that may differ, depending on the benefits you’re seeking to gain from consuming it. It's wise to start with a small amount and increase the dose as necessary (especially considering the laxative effect). Moringa can also be used topically, for skin conditions like athlete’s foot and dandruff.
Typically, moringa is sold in powder or capsule form in the U.S., to improve shelf life when it’s shipped from Asia or Africa. It’s also sold as dried leaves, which can be used to make tea. As interest in the plant grows and more moringa products make it onto store shelves, seek out the purest form available, one free from synthetic fillers and cleaned with purified water.
As with any supplement, check with your health care provider before introducing moringa into your diet. Until we know how moringa produces the “miraculous” health benefits it claims, we won’t know for sure what else it might be doing in humans. With a balanced diet and moderate exercise, let’s not forget that our bodies are miraculous in themselves!