From helping manage diabetes and dental infections to reducing the effects of cancer, the purported benefits of betel leaves are surely impressive. These leaves are available in over 100 varieties and have applications in Indian and Chinese medicine (1), (2).
In this article, we delve deep into betel leaves, their benefits, their potential side effects, and how their intake is associated with oral and throat cancers. So, let us get started!
In This Article
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.
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).
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
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).
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).
The benefits of betel leaves are numerous. Their tannin content may help manage diabetes. They can also promote dental health, and their antioxidants accelerate wound healing. Betel leaves may also reduce the risk of cancer. However, over-usage may trigger a few undesirable side effects like addiction and a negative impact on fetal development and the central nervous system. Hence, caution is advised.
- Betel Leaf: The Neglected Green Gold of India, Journal of Human Ecology, CiteSeerX, The Pennsylvania State University.
- Betel leaf: Revisiting the benefits of an ancient Indian herb, South Asian Journal of Cancer, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- The effect of red betel leaves (Piper crocatum Ruiz and Pav.) on blood sugar and insulin expression levels in rat (Rattus norvegicus domesticus) models of diabetes mellitus
- Antihyperglycemic activity of Piper betle leaf on streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats., Journal of Medicinal Food, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- To Strengthen the Teeth and Harden the Gums-Teeth blackening as medical practice in Asia, Micronesia and Melanesia, 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 the proliferation of fibroblasts and reducing 11 ꞵ hydroxysteriod dehydrogenase-1 expression in diabetic rat, Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Effects of Consumption of Thamboolam (Conventional Betel Chewing) in Traditional Siddha Medicine, 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
- Betel nut chewing during pregnancy, Madang province, Papua New Guinea, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Elsevier, Academia.