Moringa: Benefits, Nutrition, and Risks

Moringa: Benefits, Nutrition, and Risks

Moringa (Moringa oleifera)—also referred to as the drumstick, horseradish, or ben oil tree—is a medicinal and nutrient-rich plant native to India. It’s also common in other subtropical climates, including Florida. The Moringa tree is sometimes called the “tree of life” for its supposed ability to reduce pain and the risk of heart disease, ulcers, and other chronic health conditions.

In traditional medicine, people use almost all parts of the tree, including the leaves, bark, roots, and sap.

The moringa plant has grown in popularity in the United States as a leaf powder, supplement, and skincare ingredient.

Antioxidants help counteract oxidative stress. Chronic oxidative stress is the imbalance of the amount of antioxidants and free radicals in your cells. It is linked to the development of chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

The moringa tree is full of phenolic compounds, which are molecules with anti-inflammatory properties. Flavonoids, phenolics, and carotenoids are phenolic compounds in parts of the moringa tree. Researchers have found phenolic compounds like flavonoids may promote immune health, prevent chronic disease, and fight inflammation. 

One review found that the moringa plant can help address malnutrition, which occurs when you don’t get enough or too many nutrients or energy. Moringa leaves and seeds contain vitamins, minerals, and fats that help prevent malnutrition. The plant is also rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, and fiber.

A small study found that moringa leaf powder increased the body mass index (BMI) among people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) undergoing antiretroviral therapy. BMI is a biased and outdated metric that uses weight and height to make assumptions about body fat and health. However, these study results suggest that moringa can improve the nutritional intake and status of some people with HIV. More research is needed.

In one small study, people with diabetes who took 20 grams of moringa leaf powder a day found that the supplement had a small effect on their blood sugar control. However, there is not enough research to know for sure how effective moringa is at controlling blood sugar.

Moringa may help to relieve menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and anxiety. Menopause happens when menstruation and ovulation stop, which typically happens between the ages of 45-55.

According to a small study, moringa may help decrease the severity of hot flashes because of the plant’s effect on oxidative stress. When there is an imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals in your body, you may experience hot flashes. Oxidative stress can also increase night sweats. The participants saw small improvements in the amount of antioxidants in their bodies, which might be associated with a decrease in the severity of their menopause symptoms.

Moringa has been increasing in popularity as a skincare ingredient. According to research, moringa extracts have anti-aging properties for your skin. Creams containing at least 3% extract from moringa leaves help improve your skin’s smoothness.

Studies found that moringa cream also improves skin elasticity. High amounts of vitamins C and E in the moringa plant aid in revitalizing your skin to get that glow you may want. However, more research is needed to know how much of an effect moringa cream may have on your skin over time.

Research suggests that moringa oil may also treat eczema and inflammation on your skin. Most of these benefits are thanks to its abundant antioxidant profile, which reduces inflammation and prevents cellular damage.

Moringa seeds are also used in skin products to help with scarring, acne, and pigmentation. Its vitamins and minerals have anti-aging properties and benefit skin elasticity.

Moringa leaves and pods are commonly eaten in recipes in parts of India and Africa, but the powdered form is more common in the U.S. Each 2-teaspoon serving (4 grams) of moringa powder has the following nutrients:

  • Calories: 15
  • Fat: 0 grams (g)
  • Sodium: 0 milligrams (mg)
  • Carbohydrates: 2 g
  • Fiber: 1 g, or 4% of the daily value (DV)
  • Added sugars: 0 g
  • Protein: 1 g
  • Iron: 4.8 mg, or 25% of the DV
  • Calcium: 100 mg, or 8% of the DV

Moringa seeds have a much higher fat and protein content than the powdered form of moringa. The seeds are full of monounsaturated fat, which can benefit your overall heart health.

You can find the moringa plant in capsule, tablet, or powdered form. In addition to taking it as a supplement on its own, moringa may also be added to other supplements to reduce inflammation in your body. The antioxidant benefits in moringa plants make it ideal as a supplement. Still, research on the benefits of moringa supplements in humans is extremely limited.

While eating moringa leaves and seeds is generally safe, some people experience side effects from consuming the plant. It’s important to be mindful of how much moringa you consume as a supplement or powder. Researchers have found that ingesting too much moringa can cause digestive complications like diarrhea. Taking a high dose of 70 grams or more of moringa in supplement or powder form can put you at risk for toxicity.

Be cautious of what part of the moringa tree you consume. Moringa root and root bark contain alkaloids (natural compounds that protect plants) that can be toxic. Ingesting toxic amounts of alkaloids can cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and, in extreme cases, paralysis.

Eating only the leaves, fruit, and seeds of the plant can lower your chances of experiencing harmful side effects. Be mindful of the foods and medications you take while consuming the moringa plant. Drugs you may want to avoid while ingesting it include:

  • Antidiabetic drugs
  • Cytochrome P450 3A4 substrates, drugs used to treat HIV
  • Levoxyl (levothyroxine) to treat hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Viramune (nevirapine) to treat HIV
  • P-glycoprotein substrates, drugs used to treat heart conditions like arrhythmia and angina, as well as HIV

Taking moringa as a supplement or powder may also be unsafe for people who are pregnant. Some research suggests that moringa helps with milk production, but there is not enough research to confirm its effectiveness.

People with hypothyroidism should also use caution since moringa might reduce thyroid hormone levels.

The moringa plant has an earthy flavor that can be delicious in sweet or savory dishes. Here are some options for adding moringa to your diet:

  • Add moringa powder to soups and stews
  • Blend moringa powder into oatmeal or smoothies
  • Eat moringa pods when they’re immature for a tender texture
  • Use moringa powder in your favorite pasta recipe
  • Make tea with moringa leaves

Moringa trees have become popular for their various health benefits. The plant is commonly consumed as a powder, supplement, or as pods growing from the tree. In each of its forms, moringa may help prevent inflammation, lower blood sugar, and improve the appearance of the skin. However, there is not enough research to know how effective moringa is.

More human studies need to be completed to fully understand the effect of moringa on the body. Consult a healthcare provider or dietitian before making moringa or any other supplement part of your diet or supplement routine.

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