Moringa oleifera is a tree originating in Northern India; nearly every part of it, including leaves and pods, have been used medicinally for thousands of years.
This small tree goes by several names, such as ben oil tree, drumstick tree and horseradish tree. Pods and leaves are often consumed in parts of India and Africa, and preparations can be made from bark, flowers, sap and roots. (1)
In the Western locations, the most common dietary supplement from moringa oleifera is dried leaves sold in capsules or powder form.
Research on the medicinal properties and potential health benefits of using moringa oleifera is still limited, and more information may come to light as further studies are conducted.
Let’s take a look at what researchers have found after analyzing the effects of moringa oleifera on test participants.
Eating a cup of chopped leaves, which have a spicy flavor similar to horseradish, provides 2 grams of protein, along with nearly a fifth of the RDA for vitamin B6. You’ll also get respectable amounts of these other micronutrients: vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin A (as beta carotene), vitamin C, iron and magnesium. (2)
The pods have a different nutritional profile, with lower amounts of the micronutrients mentioned above, with the exception of vitamin C. Raw pods are an abundant source, delivering 157% of the daily requirement for this important vitamin. (3)
People who live in developing countries often struggle to get the nutrients they need for good health when food supplies can be erratic as well as limited in variety. For this group, moringa oleifera can fill in some of these gaps.
The only downside to eating leaves of this tree is the high levels of anti-nutrients, which can interfere with absorption of vitamins, minerals and proteins in the digestive system. (4)
Using capsules filled with moringa oleifera powder won’t add up to a significant boost in the amount of nutrients in your diet. But if you’re eating a well-balanced diet, getting enough of the nutrients mentioned above shouldn’t be a concern.
Here are 5 reasons to consider adding moringa oleifera to your health plan:
- Rich Source of Antioxidants
One of the reasons we hear so much about the importance of including foods rich in antioxidants in the diet is because these compounds help decrease the damaging effects of free radicals in the body.
When there are high levels of free radicals circulating in our systems, oxidative stress increases, which results in a higher risk of developing various chronic disorders, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. (5, 6)
Besides the antioxidants mentioned above (vitamins A and C), moringa oleifera leaves are also a good source of chlorogenic acid and quercetin. (7)
Quercetin has been shown to help in lowering blood pressure, which could potentially reduce the risk of developing heart disease. (8)
Chlorogenic acid is a compound also found in coffee and known for its positive effects on controlling blood sugar. (9)
One study with women taking a teaspoon and a half of moringa oleifera powder each morning for 12 weeks showed blood levels of antioxidants improved significantly over the trial period. (10)
Moringa oleifera may also have potential use as a natural preservative; shelf life on certain foods can be extended due to the antioxidant content. (11)
- Reduce Chances of Developing Diabetes
High blood sugar levels are associated with diabetes, a growing problem in the modern world. Keeping blood sugar in normal ranges is vital for good health, and moringa oleifera has been tested for its effects on blood sugar.
Most studies were done with animals, and the quality of the few human studies has been questioned. (12)
A small three-month study had 30 women taking 7 grams of moringa oleifera leaf powder daily, and blood sugar levels dropped by 13.5% over the course of the trial. (13)
Six diabetics took a much larger dose of moringa oleifera powder (50 grams) with a meal, which reduced the rise in blood sugar levels by more than 20%. (14)
- Tame Inflammation
Moringa oleifera leaves appear to be among those plant compounds that can help the body scale back on inflammatory activity, along with foods like pomegranate and turmeric. (17)
This potential benefit has not yet been studied in humans, but lab results using animals and test tubes look promising.
- Drop Cholesterol Levels
High levels of blood cholesterol have long been associated with a higher risk of developing heart disease; controlling cholesterol may play an important role in decreasing those risks.
Oats, almonds and flaxseed have all been shown to help lower blood cholesterol readings, and moringa oleifera has performed well in both animal and human studies monitoring cholesterol levels. (18)
- Protection Against Arsenic Poisoning
This can be problematic in areas of the world where water contaminated with arsenic is used to grow crops; rice, which is a staple in certain regions, is a common source of arsenic exposure. (21)
Studies indicate that laboratory animals gained some protection against arsenic toxicity through feeding on moringa oleifera leaves and seeds, but more studies are required to confirm and refine these results. (22)
While the nutritional benefits of moringa oleifera may be most important to people in developing countries where essential nutrients are missing from typical diets, the medicinal qualities have potential for treating certain modern disorders.
Ongoing research will reveal more about the effects of including moringa oleifera as a food or supplement; various online sellers provide products in supplement form, and it’s also possible to buy dried leaves that can be reconstituted.
Summary: Moringa oleifera is a good source of micronutrients, including antioxidants that can help reduce oxidative stress; adding it to your health plan may also result in improvement of various markers like chronic inflammation and high cholesterol readings, and potentially lead to a reduction in risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.