What Are The Benefits And Side Effects Of Betel Leaves?

by Swathi Handoo

With over 100 varieties, betel leaf finds its place in Indian and Chinese medicine. Its leaf extract contains compounds that can help manage diabetes, dental infections, and side effects of cancer (1), (2).

This article lists out the benefits and side effects of betel leaf. You will also find studies analyzing the relationship between betel leaf intake and cancer. Read on!

Betel Leaf: In Detail

Betel leaf is also referred to as ‘Green Gold.’ It is an ancient asset of Indian medicine (Ayurveda), and its use in India dates back to 400 BC.

Piper betle or betel leaf belongs to the Piperaceae family (the Black pepper family). There are about 100 varieties of betel vine in the world, of which about 40 are found in India. According to folk medicine, betel leaf can help in the treatment of headache, itching, mastitis, cuts, abrasions, constipation, and injuries (1), (2).

Its essential oil possesses antibacterial, antiprotozoal, and antifungal properties (1). 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 leaves may lower blood glucose levels. They contain active molecules called tannins that have antidiabetic properties. Betel alkaloids can 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.

In India, eating paan (betel quid) after meals is a common practice. Rat studies have proven that this practice can lower the biomarkers of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) (3), (4).

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 (5), (6).

However, betel leaf also releases catecholamines that interact with the compounds 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 may be effective in treating such sensitive cases (7).

Betel leaf 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 its extract to wounded rats increased the rate of wound healing. It boosted the content of hydroxyproline, a major component of collagen in these rats. Higher collagen content facilitates rapid wound repair and tissue regeneration (7).

4. May Reduce Cough And Congestion

According to traditional medicine, betel leaves can relieve cough. These leaves are soaked in mustard oil, warmed, and applied to the chest to ease 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. Its essential oils are thought to play a vital 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 (1).

Betel leaf exhibits antioxidant, antimutagenic, and anticancer properties. The betel phytochemicals are responsible for these properties. This means betel quids may not be cancer-causing at a non-addictive level of consumption (unless you make them with tobacco). Tobacco quids are linked to oral cancer (1).

In fact, 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, unlike common cancer drugs and relevant therapeutic procedures (1).

More On Paan!

  • Indian scriptures consider betel leaf to be auspicious and significant. This leaf is used to make paan or betel quid (1). Paan is made with areca nut pieces, slaked lime, and several kinds of mouth fresheners wrapped in a fresh betel leaf.
  • Paan is an excellent mouth freshener. You can spot it at weddings, pujas (ceremonies and rituals), and shraadh (religious rites after cremation). It is often served to the guests after a meal as a mark of respect and tradition (1).
  • Betel leaf holds a lot of significance in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Burma, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, South Africa, and Thailand (1).
  • Chewing on paan may induce a sense of well-being, alertness, increased heartbeat, and mild euphoria.
  • Betel leaf by itself may not contain nicotine. Only when you add tobacco to the quids does nicotine come into play.
  • Diabetic rat studies show that betel leaf extracts may trigger body-weight loss. However, no human trials are vouching for this fact yet.

That’s how betel phytochemicals protect your organ systems. However, there’s a lot written about the side effects of betel leaf as well. 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 have a betel quid. These chemical interactions may 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)
  • Can have a negative impact on pregnancy, childbirth, and fetal development
  • Linked to addiction and withdrawal issues

Moreover, a definite daily intake limit for betel leaves has not been scientifically established yet.

Due to these hazardous effects, the World Health Organization (WHO) has publicly stated that betel quid products are a health threat to those consuming them (12).

In Summary

The deep green 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. Hence, consult your healthcare provider before having this leaf.

13 sources

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Swathi Handoo

Swathi holds a Master’s degree in Biotechnology and has worked in places where actual science and research happen. Blending her love for writing with science, Swathi writes for Health and Wellness and simplifies complex topics for readers from all walks of life.And on the days she doesn’t write, she learns and performs Kathak, sings Carnatic music compositions, makes plans to travel, and obsesses over cleanliness.
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