Moringa Oleifera: A Superfood with 30+ Anti-Inflammatory Compounds
If any food lives up to the nickname “wonder tree”, it’s this plant.
Its leaves look like spinach, its pods look like green beans, but its nutritional profile makes it more powerful than both of those vegetables put together.
Need to bone up on calcium? This plant has four times more than milk.
It’s higher in vitamin C than oranges, higher in vitamin A than carrots, and higher in potassium than banana. It’s even a great plant-based source of protein, and appears to contain compounds that might lower cholesterol, kill germs, and fight cancer.
If this food is great, supplements of it will be even better, right?
Well, as is often the case, it’s not quite that simple.
A Tasty Staple…
Native to Himalayas, Moringa oleifera is now widely cultivated throughout Africa, India, Central and South America, and the Caribbean and Pacific Islands. This plant’s nutrient content has long made it a valuable food source: With 46 types of antioxidants, 36 kinds of anti-inflammatories, and a wealth of other beneficial compounds, the leaves, seeds, and seed pods have an honored place at the table in many of these regions.
For example, the plant’s immature green pods are prepared similarly to green beans, while the seeds are removed from more mature pods and cooked like peas or roasted like nuts. The leaves of the plant are used as greens in salads, cooked and used like spinach, dried and powdered for use as a condiment, and even pickled for seasoning. When cooked with vinegar, the roots – which are similar to those of horseradish – can even make a tasty hot sauce.
Moringa oleifera doesn’t just protect against malnutrition, however. It has also been used medicinally for millennia to treat a wide variety of health problems, including arthritis, heart disease, and fungal, viral, and bacterial infections. Indeed, ancient documents provide proof that the plant was used as a traditional treatment in India as early as 150 BC.
A Super Food Superstar…
Today, we know more about the science behind this plant’s potential benefits. See, laboratory research has uncovered a broad range of useful compounds in different parts of Moringa oleifera.1
The flowers contain antioxidant substances called flavonoids, such as quercetin, kaempferol, rhametin, isoquercitrin, and kaempferitrin. The plant’s root is rich in moringine, alkaloids that appear to have cardiac stimulant and hypertensive effects, as well as in pterygospermin, which acts as an antibacterial and antifungal. And the leaves are high in beta-sitosterol, a compound that has been shown to lower cholesterol.1
With an impressive amount of these and a slew of other potent substances, it stands to reason that Moringa oleifera isn’t just a nutritious “super food” but a powerful, all-natural supplement, as well.
So where does the research stand?
The Jury’s Still Out…
Well, when we consider laboratory and animal studies, the evidence for Moringa oleifera is intriguing. Such research suggests that supplements derived from the plant could impart a number of health benefits.
For example, one study, published in 2000, found that lab rats fed Moringa supplements had lower levels of LDL cholesterol, even if they ate a high-fat diet – a result probably due to the plant’s content of beta-sitosterol. A placebo supplement had no such effects.3,4
Another study of laboratory rats, published in 1996, looked at the potential anti-inflammatory effects of Moringa oleifera. Researchers found that rats given supplements of the plant had less acute and chronic inflammation than those given a placebo, with minimal side effects. More recently, a 2008 Malaysian study confirmed that Moringa oleifera appears to possess anti-inflammatory properties on par with those found in conventional pain medications.1
Other research suggests that supplements made from the plant, may help prevent gastrointestinal ulcers,1 kill a variety of germs (including E. coli and Salmonella),2 and fight ovarian cancer cells.5
But there’s a big problem.
Not one of these studies was performed in humans, let alone in a gold-standard clinical trial.
In other words, Moringa oleifera looks pretty impressive – in Petri dishes and lab rats. As for its effects in people?
We have no idea.
A Place on Your Plate…
To me, the evidence just isn’t there yet to recommend Moringa oleifa supplements. In fact, we know so little about them that there’s not even a suggested dosage or any information about possible interactions.
But can you receive the plant’s purported benefits by consuming it as a food?
It seems likely, but unfortunately Moringa oleifa isn’t widely available in the United States. You may be able to find the fresh or dried leaves, seeds, and seed pods at some specialty groceries or natural foods stores.
If you can track it down, this food can be a safe, healthy addition to your plate – just keep in mind that, as with many foods, the leaves can cause stomach upset, gas, bloating, and loose stools when consumed in high amounts.
Do take care not to eat this plant’s root: It’s been linked to low blood pressure, kidney and liver dysfunction, and irregular heart beat. Worse, the root contains alkoloid spirochin, a neurotoxin that could cause fatal paralysis.
For now, proceed with caution when it comes to Moringa oleifa supplements. If you’re looking for proven anti-inflammatories that may help better manage your cholesterol profile, consider trying fish oil or turmeric instead.
And keep your eyes peeled for news on Moringa oleifera supplements. I, for one, am looking forward to more testing and research done this “wonder tree” in the future.
Remember, keep an open mind to new ideas, but ALWAYS do your own homework… and combine that with common sense to figure out what’s best for YOU.
4Panda S, Kar A, Sharma P, et al. Cardioprotective potential of N,α-L-rhamnopyranosyl vincosamide, an indole alkaloid, isolated from the leaves of Moringa oleifera in isoproterenol induced cardiotoxic rats: in vivo and in vitro studies. Bioorg Med Chem Lett. 2013 Feb 15;23(4):959-62.
5Bose CK. Possible role of Moringa oleifera Lam. root in epithelial ovarian cancer. MedGenMed. 2007 Feb 6;9(1):26.
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