Moringa: What’s the Evidence?
This is the first article in a new series I’m starting called “What’s the Evidence?”. Every couple of weeks, I’ll discuss natural remedies that are trendy right now, and whether or not the claims about them have good evidence to back them up.
There’s been a lot of hype about moringa on the internet. Moringa is native to India but now grows in places like Africa, South America and the Caribbean. It’s been called the “Miracle Tree” because it’s believed to treat a very wide range of health problems. It has been used for thousands of years by the ancient Indians, Greeks, Egyptians and Romans.
NUTRIENTS AND SPECIAL PROPERTIES
Many sources have reported that moringa is high in nutrients. It has a respectable amount of protein and vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium and iron. It contains good fats like oleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids. It also seems to have high antioxidant levels. It shows signs of anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial activity but it’s not clear how strong this activity is. It’s been used in cosmetics from past to present because of its nutrient content. However, what I’m more interested in is this: are these properties actually enough to improve health and reduce disease?
LIVER DISEASE AND ULCERS
Animal research has found that moringa protected against liver damage caused by medications. It also reduced liver fibrosis. Another animal study found that it protected from stomach ulcers induced by aspirin and other agents. Evidence on humans is sparse.
One of the few human studies of moringa was in regards to asthma. In this study, moringa improved asthma symptoms and lung function test results. However, the researchers did not compare moringa to a control group. This means that it’s not clear if the good results were due to moringa or the placebo effect.
The moringa studies on tumours and cancer are animal studies or cell studies rather than human studies. Some of these studies have been positive, but it’s not clear how moringa affects cancer in humans.
Here we have a few more human studies to look at. A trial in 1993 found that having moringa leaf with a meal led to less of a sugar spike in diabetics. This was in comparison to having bitter gourd or curry leaves with a meal.
In 2010, a small study of 46 unmedicated diabetics found that moringa leaf lowered fasting sugar levels.
In 2011, a study found that moringa lowered HbA1C levels in type two diabetics. However, it was only a 0.4% reduction and the quality of the study was poor.
A more recent trial in 2016 found that moringa leaf increased insulin production. However, the subjects in the study were already healthy non-diabetics. We don’t know if we would see an insulin boost in diabetics.
CHOLESTEROL AND TRIGLYCERIDES
In a 2010 study, 35 people with high cholesterol and high triglycerides were given either moringa leaf or a placebo. Moringa leaf did not lower triglycerides or bad cholesterol. There was a small drop in total cholesterol (1.6%) and a small increase in good cholesterol (6.3%). Interestingly, another study found more impressive drops in total cholesterol, bad cholesterol and triglycerides.
Moringa’s impact on health and disease is unclear. Most moringa studies are on animals or isolated cells rather than humans. The few human studies are often low in quality. If I didn’t mention a condition above it’s likely because the evidence was too weak to bring it up. Hopefully more promising evidence comes out in the future. If you feel like giving moringa a try based on all the history behind it, that’s totally up to you! As for myself, I’m going to wait on more evidence before recommending moringa.
Always choose your natural remedies wisely and get expert help when you need it.
Dr. Samantha Dass is currently a naturopathic doctor working at Holland Landing Health Centre in East Gwillimbury, Ontario, which services Holland Landing, Newmarket, Aurora, Keswick and Bradford areas. If you are interested in naturopathic services please contact Holland Landing Health Centre at 905-853-7900 or via e-mail at [email protected]