Potential Benefits and Dangers of Moringa
Moringa is one of the most nutrient-dense plants. Its leaves are rich in vitamins, minerals, amino acids, proteins, and antioxidants. This superfood may help fight diabetes, improve nutrient deficiencies, boost milk production, and enhance cognitive function. Read on to find out all that Moringa is good for and if you should start using it.
What Is Moringa?
Moringa (Moringa Oleifera) is a tropical tree native to the Himalayan mountains and India. It’s also known by many names around the world – some call it Drumstick tree, Horseradish tree, or Munga, while in the Philippines it’s known as Malunggay [R].
Moringa is an important part of Ayurvedic traditional medicine. According to Ayurveda, moringa can prevent 300 diseases. In Ancient Egypt, it was used in cosmetic products to nourish the skin [R].
Almost all part of the plant can be used – the bark, leaves, seeds, flowers, roots, and immature pods – but the leaves are most common. Rich in antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, moringa leaves carry many nutritional and health benefits. They are traditionally used to boost nutrition and prevent nutrient deficiencies, for malaria, typhoid fever, high blood pressure, and diabetes [R].
The seeds and roots of moringa also used for their ability to fight bacteria and fungi and purify water [R].
It wasn’t until recently that its use started to spread outside of Asia and scientists got curious about the benefits. Now moringa is being called the “miracle tree” and “mother’s best friend” [R].
Moringa leaf powder can be found in most western health food stores. It has become increasingly popular and gained the status of a superfood due to these praised health benefits. Only a fraction of these has been confirmed in human studies, though. The rest rely on traditional use or have been confirmed only in animal studies [R].
- 9 x the Provitamin A of carrots (up to 40 mg)
- 15 x the Potassium of bananas
- 17 x the Calcium of milk
- 12 x the Vitamin C of oranges, higher in fresh leaves (200 mg) and highest in freeze-dried leaves
- 25 x the Iron of spinach
- Vitamin E (about 100 mg)
- B vitamins: B1, B2, and B3
- Essential amino acids and proteins
However, moringa also contains oxalates and anti-nutrients, which may hinder the amount of these nutrients that the body can take up and use [R].
Mechanism of Action
The very high number of bioactive compounds in moringa might explain its wide-ranging benefits. Overall, moring acts in the body by [R]:
- Enhancing nutrition, preventing vitamin, mineral, and nutrient deficiencies [R].
- Fighting free radicals and increasing antioxidants [R].
- Reducing inflammation and inflammatory substances (such as TNF-alpha, IL-6 and IL-8).
- Anti-diabetic, by reducing blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and other fats [R].
- Heart-protecting and fat-burning, by increasing fat break-down and preventing new fats from being made and stored in the body[R].
- Boosting milk production by increasing prolactin levels in the blood [R].
- Fighting cancer, by reducing the growth of cancer cells and triggering their death [R, R].
Health Benefits of Moringa
1) Moringa Fights Diabetes
Moringa may help lower blood sugar while decreasing glucose intolerance. Moringa leaf tablets reduced both blood glucose and HbA1C, a long-term marker of glucose levels, in 60 people with type 2 diabetes. They took moringa for up to 3 months [R].
Moringa reduced blood glucose in another study of people with diabetes on a high-carb diet. And high-dose moring leaf powder (4 g/day) increased insulin production in 10 healthy subjects after just one day. The lower doses (2 g and less) had a much weaker effect [R, R].
In one study of 90 older women (RCT), Moringa leaves reduced blood sugar levels. Moringa powder (7 g/day) was combined with amaranth leaves powder for 3 months [R].
Moringa reduced blood glucose in 17 people with diabetes, while not affecting 10 non-diabetics. A very high dose of 20 g of moringa powder per day was added to meals in this study for only 2 days [R].
However, in a study of 32 people with type 2 diabetes (RCT), moringa did not reduce blood sugar after 4 weeks [R].
Based on the evidence, moringa may help people with type 2 diabetes by reducing blood sugars and increasing insulin production or insulin sensitivity. Moringa had to be used for at least 3 months and at 4 – 7 g of the dried leaves daily.
Moringa has a bitter taste and higher doses can be unpleasant to consume. Plus, they have not been proven safe.
More studies would need to confirm Moringa’s safety and effectiveness in people with type 2 diabetes [R].
2) Moringa May Boost Weight Loss
Moringa does also appear to have fat-burning and weight-loss benefits, but only based on animal and cell studies.
Moringa lowered blood sugar and improved insulin resistance in several studies on mice or rats with diabetes. It could prevent diabetes and weight gain even in rats fed a high-fat diet. It worked by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation. Fermented Moringa had an even stronger effect in one of the studies [R, R, R].
3) Moringa Stimulates Milk Production
Moringa is traditionally used by breastfeeding women to increase milk production and to boost nutrition, especially in the Phillipenes [R].
According to a review of 6 human studies, moringa does improve milk production by boosting prolactin, if taken for at least 7 days. After 4 weeks, the babies of women who consumed moringa could gain more weight. Moringa was safe, with no adverse effects [R].
4) Moringa Supports the Muscles and May Enhance Endurance
Moringa is a great source of plant-based protein. Its dried leaves contain 20 – 30% of protein, which rivals that of eggs. They also contain 19 amino acids, including lysine and sulfur amino acids [R, R, R].
Sports supplements that boost the production of nitric oxide are used to enhance exercise endurance and fitness. Fitnox, a blend of moringa, black ginger, and pomegranate increased nitric oxide levels in 24 healthy volunteers after a single dose. The same supplement was not toxic in rats long-term [R].
5) Moringa May Improve Asthma
Powdered moringa seed kernels (3 g/day) reduced asthma symptoms in one study of 20 people after 3 weeks. It improved lung function and airway flow with no adverse effects [R].
Moringa may be better for Th2-dominant people.
6) Moringa Protects the Skin from Aging
A cream with 3% Moringa leaf extract enhanced skin revitalization reduced skin aging in one human study. It improved skin volume, texture, and smoothness while reducing skin roughness, scaliness, and wrinkles [R].
7) Moringa May Boost Vitamin A Levels
Moringa is rich in provitamin A. In a study of 103 Vitamin-A-deficient children, moringa leaf powder slightly increased vitamin A levels after 6 weeks (RCT) [R].
One study in children showed that the carotenoids in Moringa leaves can achieve about 30% of the effects of active vitamin A, making it a good plant-based source of provitamin A [R].
8) Moringa May Reverse Nutritional Deficiencies
Since moringa is rich in nutrients, it may be especially useful for people with chronic diseases who are prone to nutritional deficiencies and have trouble gaining weight. In one study of 60 HIV patients (RCT) undergoing drug therapy, moringa improved the nutritional intake and status after 6 months [R].
In animal studies, the leaves improved the nutritional status and helped with weight gain [R].
It’s being used more and more by international organizations and in developing countries as a cheap, safe, and healthy way to combat malnutrition. But malnutrition is also quite common in the US, especially in older people [R, R].
9) Moringa Protects the Heart
In 2 studies and a total of 80 people, moringa leaves reduced total, LDL, and VLDL cholesterol, while increasing HDL cholesterol. The dose was 5 – 8 g/day for up to 8 weeks. By keeping blood lipids in check, moringa may help prevent heart disease and reduce complications [R].
Moringa could also normalize blood lipids in several animal studies. Aside from the effects confirmed in humans, moringa could also reduce triglycerides in animals, even when they were fed a high-fat diet. It could protect the blood vessels and prevent their hardening and clogging [R].
Moringa leaf extract strongly reduced high blood pressure and heart rate in rats and in heart tissue studies. Sulforaphane-like compounds (isothiocyanate glycosides) were responsible for this activity [R].
10) Moringa May Improve Anemia
Moringa leaves are very high in iron, but it’s unknown how much of this plant-based iron the body can take in.
One study suggests moringa is a good source of bioavailable iron. In rats, Moringa leaf was superior to iron pills (ferric citrate) for overcoming iron deficiency [R].
11) Moringa Is An Antiseptic
Moringa leaves can be used as a natural antiseptic in hand sanitizers or as an alternative to industrial soap. The powdered leaves had the same effects as soap in one study of 15 people, protecting from bacteria [R].
12) Moringa May Fight Cancer
Moringa acts on cancer cells by preventing their division and causing cells to kill themselves (apoptosis) rather than killing them directly (necrosis) [R].
Moringa extracts increased the effects of chemotherapy drugs in cell studies [R].
13) Moringa is an Antioxidant
Leaves and roots of Moringa contain strong antioxidants, according to animal and cellular studies.
The leaves are an especially rich source of antioxidants, which could protect animals against chronic diseases caused by oxidative stress. Leaf extracts reduced oxidative damage caused by a high-fat diet [R].
By its antioxidant action, Moringa prevented liver damage in mice and even restored their glutathione levels despite being exposed to toxic substances [R].
14) Moringa May Help with UTIs
In a study of 15 people with urinary tract infection (UTI), Moringa bark completely resolved symptoms in 65% of the participants, while about 13% reported some relief. This supports the traditional use of moringa for reducing inflammation and UTI symptoms [R].
15) Moringa May Help with Seizures
16) Moringa May Protect the Liver
Moringa could protect the liver in mice exposed to various toxins. It protected the liver from damage and helped to maintain normal liver function [R].
17) Moringa May Reduce Inflammation and IBS
Moringa root, bark, leaf, and flower extracts are anti-inflammatory [R].
Moringa could reduce important inflammatory markets in immune cells, such as TNF-alpha, IL-6, and IL-8. It could also reduce the activity of genes that worsen the inflammatory reaction [R].
In rats with gut inflammation, moringa seed extract reduced inflammation and swelling, ulcers, and overall gut damage [R].
18) Moringa Kills Microbes and Parasites
Leaves, roots, bark, and seeds could fight bacteria, fungi, and parasites in test tubes. The fresh leaves could kill bacteria causes hard-to-treat hospital infections (Pseudomonas aeruginosa) and skin infections (Staphylococcus aureus) [R].
19) Moringa May Protect the Brain
The antioxidants in leaves may have nootropic effects. They could improve cognition and reduce oxidative stress in rats with Alzheimer’s Disease [R].
In mice with Parkinson’s Disease, the isothiocyanate from the seeds reduced brain inflammation [R].
The leaf extract increased connections and branching among neurons in a study on cells, a process that leads to improved learning and memory [R].
20) Moringa May Reduce Depression
Moringa leaf extract could improve symptoms in mice with depression in combination with a low-dose antidepressant (fluoxetine). Moringa itself activates serotonin in the brain, similar to common antidepressants [R].
21) Moringa Helps the Body Detox
22) Moringa May Boost the Immune System
Moringa seems to balance the Th1/Th2 response and may be more beneficial for Th2-dominant people or those with a suppressed immune system. Moringa seeds reduced the Th2 response in animals with allergic asthma [R, R].
No major adverse effects were noted in clinical studies that used moringa leaf powder up to 20 g/day. Moringa was safe even at very high doses, but due to its bitter taste is unpleasant in larger amounts [R].
Moringa is traditionally used to abort pregnancies in the early stages. Pregnant women should avoid Moringa. The roots reduced fertility in animals and may trigger abortions [R].
Limitations and Caveats
Clinical studies are limited. Most of the research has been done in the past decade since moringa spread from the Indian sub-continent and began to be cultivated and researched in other parts of the world. Most of the studies were done in animals and on cells.
- In mice, moringa increased the levels of a drug used to treat tuberculosis (rifampicin) [R].
- Since moringa does affect the CYP450 enzymes through which most drugs are metabolized, other drug interactions are possible. Drugs that could be especially affected include statins, anti-seizure, and antifungal medications.
- Moringa also reduced blood sugar levels, which may dangerously reduce blood glucose levels in people with type II diabetes. Consult your doctor before consuming large amounts of moringa if you have diabetes and are anti-diabetes medication.
Moringa Powder and Supplements
Moringa is available as:
- Extracts or tinctures
- Fresh leaves or seeds
- Dried leaf powder, in bulk or in capsules
- Tea from the dried leaves
- Bark or root
- Hand and face cream
The leaves, either as dried powder or as extracts, have been most researched for their health benefits. Powder from the dried leaves and can be commonly found in health stores. Freeze-dried leaves have higher nutritional content than sun-dried leaves.
The dried leaf powder can be mixed into tea, smoothies, or meals.
- Moringa dosage can vary between 4 and 20 g per day of the dried leaves. Only one clinical study used the very high dose of 20g/day, which is hard to take in due to its bitter taste
- 4 – 10g/day of the dried leaves is the typical dosage
- Extracts are higher in bioactive compounds and can be taken in smaller amounts