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!
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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 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.
- 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.
- UTILIZATION OF RED BETEL LEAF (Piper crocatum) AS HEALTHY FOOD AND DRINK TO REDUCE BLOOD SUGAR LEVEL IN DIABETES MELLITUS PATIENTS, Academia.
- 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 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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