Did you know that betel leaf has a good side to it too?
Betel leaf is also called known as nagaballi, nagurvel, sompatra, tamalapaku, tambul, or vettilai. It is an integral part of Indian and African traditions. With over 100 varieties, betel leaf finds its place in Indian and Chinese medicine. Its leaf extract contains compounds that ward off cancer, diabetes, and dental infections (1), (2).
This article lists out the benefits of betel leaf. You will also find snippets related to betel leaf and cancer. Read on!
Table Of Contents
Betel Leaf: What Is It? How Does It Look?
Betel leaf is also referred to as the ‘Green Gold.’ It is an ancient asset of Indian medicine (Ayurveda). Its use in India dates back to 400 B.C.
The ancient scriptures explain the significance of these leaves in social, religious, and cultural aspects. According to folk medicine, betel leaf can help in the treatment of headache, itching, mastitis, cuts, abrasions, constipation, and injuries effectively (1).
Its essential oil possesses antibacterial, antiprotozoal, and antifungal properties. Scroll down to the next section to find out more about the benefits of betel leaf.
How Does Betel Leaf Benefit Your Health?
Contrary to popular belief, betel leaf offers several health benefits. It has a positive effect on blood glucose control, dental health, wound healing, and viral infections.
1. May Help Manage Diabetes
Red betel leaf can lower blood glucose levels. It contains active molecules called tannins that have antidiabetic properties. The betel alkaloids lower blood glucose levels by inhibiting glucose absorption in the intestine (3).
This leaf also contains a variety of polyphenols that have excellent antioxidant potential. These molecules protect the pancreatic cells from free radical damage.
Regulated doses of this leaf extract also controlled weight loss in animals with diabetes. Therefore, it can be presumed that betel leaf has a positive influence on glucose metabolism and diabetes.
2. May Promote Dental Health
Like tattoos, teeth blackening was a craze in southeast Asia. It was done using plant extracts and minerals. This procedure is said to be good for your teeth. It can prevent oral infections and painful dental procedures (5).
Betel vine is one of the plants linked to teeth blackening. A betel quid made with areca nut, slaked lime, and betel leaves has similar properties. This leaf also strengthens your teeth. However, betel leaf also releases catecholamines that interact with the compunds released by areca nut and slaked lime. This, in turn, can cause oral and throat cancers (5), (6).
3. Accelerates Wound Healing
High oxidative stress, i.e., free radicals in your body can delay wound healing. Delayed wound healing is one of the critical complications seen in type 1 diabetes. Herbal extracts of betel leaf are found to be effective in treating such sensitive cases (7).
Betel leaf is a classic remedy for wounds. It contains polyphenols that have antioxidant properties. They boost the activity of the free radical-scavenging enzymes in your body, like superoxide dismutase and catalase (7).
Applying betel leaf extract to wounded rats increased the rate of wound healing. It boosted the content of hydroxyproline – a major component of collagen in these rats. Ultimately, higher collagen content facilitated rapid wound repair and tissue regeneration (7).
4. Reduces Cough And Congestion
According to traditional medicine, betel leaf can relieve cough. These leaves are soaked in mustard oil, warmed, and applied to the chest to relieve congestion in the lungs (8).
Betel leaf juice with honey can be given to children to get rid of phlegm and wet cough, thanks to its warm and spicy flavor. Literature suggests that this plant can treat bronchitis too. The essential oils in the leaf play an important role in this property (8), (9).
5. May Help Combat Cancer
This leaf contains a high amount of a carcinogen called safrole. However, it gets metabolized to dihydroxychavicol and eugenol. Both of these compounds are excreted via urine.
Above all, betel leaf exhibits antioxidant, antimutagenic, and anticancer properties (1).
The betel phytochemicals are responsible for these properties. This means betel quids are not cancer-causing (unless you make them with tobacco). Tobacco quids are linked to oral cancer (1).
The compounds in betel leaf – hydroxychavicol and chlorogenic acid – counter the carcinogens from tobacco. They can selectively kill the cancerous cells without affecting the healthy cells. Surprisingly, such selective cell killing is missing in the currently available cancer treatment (1).
That’s how the betel phytochemicals protect your organ systems.
But, we need to talk about the elephant in the room!
There’s a lot written about the side effects of betel leaf as well. In fact, many studies paint this plant in a poor light. Scroll down to the next section to find out more.
What Are The Side Effects Of Betel Leaf?
When you chew a betel leaf, it releases certain active chemicals like catecholamines. These chemicals interact with other secretions of areca nut and slaked lime if you having a betel quid. These chemical interactions cause serious side effects (10), (11), (12), (13):
- May have psychoactive properties
- Affect your central nervous system (CNS)
- Cause mouth and esophageal (food pipe) cancer
- Disturb your oral microbiome (the good microbes in your mouth)
- Negative impact on pregnancy, childbirth, and fetal development
- Linked to addiction and withdrawal issues
Due to these hazardous effects, the World Health Organization (WHO) publicly stated that betel quid products are a health threat to those consuming them (12).
The Bottom Line
The deep green-colored betel leaf is a popular mouth freshener in Asian and African countries. It has social, cultural, and cultural significance in these societies. Eating it in small quantities may be beneficial for your teeth, skin, immunity, lungs, and pancreas.
However, there is significant research pointing to the harmful effects of this leaf on your health. Betel leaf quids with/without tobacco are associated with cancer and other chronic ailments. So, consult your healthcare provider before having this leaf.
Leave your feedback, queries, and suggestions about betel leaf in the comments section below.
- “Betel Leaf: The Neglected Green Gold of India” Journal of Human Ecology.
- “Betel leaf: Revisiting the benefits of an ancient Indian herb” South Asian Journal of Cancer, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- “UTILIZATION OF RED BETEL LEAF (Piper crocatum) AS HEALTHY FOOD…” Academia.
- “Antihyperglycemic activity of Piper betle leaf on streptozotocin…” Journal of Medicinal Food, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- “To Strengthen the Teeth and Harden the Gums…” Ethnobotany Research and Applications, ScholarSpace, University of Hawai’i at Manoa.
- “EFFECT OF BETEL CHEWING ON THE ORAL MUCOSA” University of Ceylon
- “Piper betel leaves induces wound healing activity via proliferation of…” Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- “Effects of Consumption of Thamboolam (Conventional Betel Chewing) in…” Academia.
- “BIBLIOMETRIC ANALYSIS OF RESEARCH LITERATURE ON PIPER BETLE” BIBLIOMETRIC ANALYSIS OF RESEARCH LITERATURE ON PIPER BETLE, Digital Commons@University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
- “Effects of Betel chewing on the central and autonomic nervous systems.” Journal of Biomedical Science, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- “Paan, bidi and shisha” Health A to Z, National Health Service.
- “Impact of Chewing Betel Nut on the Oral Microbiome” INDIGO Repository, The University of Illinois at Chicago.
- “Betel nut chewing during pregnancy, Madang province, Papua New Guinea” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Elsevier, Academia.
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