Given the hype about Moringa I thought I’d give it a go and had a teaspoon of the green leaf powder, which tastes a bit like wheatgrass juice, followed half an hour later, by a cup of Moringa tea. To my surprise, I noticed a definite energy boost within minutes and, having taken it in the evening, noticed that I was energized and alert until late into the evening. I’ve since been adding it, as a powder of the pure leaf, into my morning Get Up & Go smoothie, as well as drinking Moringa tea from the leaf. While there are also beneficial effects reported from the root and seed pods, which has a liquorice-like taste, most of the research has been done on the leaf powder or concentrated extracts from these leaves.
As with any new discovery there’s a current lack of human trials (five in total showing positive effects on aspects of diabetes, heart disease and asthma) but a plethora of animal and cell studies that all point in the right direction1. Also, safety studies show no harmful effects.
Moringa is a very rich source of a wide variety of polyphenols, flavonoids, glucosinolates, and alkaloids and there is much discussion as to which compounds in Moringa explain its effects. It may be that the natural combination is best. There’s a good fully referenced review of its health benefits available on-line for those wanting to dig deeper, published last year.
Energy and performance effects
Given that Moringa contains no caffeine I was surprised to notice a subtle energy boost. Of course, any nutrient-rich food or supplement can give an energy boost if a person is sub-optimally nourished but that was unlikely to explain what I was experiencing. In hunting for a possible explanation I found a study testing its effects on sexual activity on stressed rats. The study in question definitely showed enhanced sexual performance but why? The researchers found that Moringa had the effect of reducing cortisol, the stress hormone, increasing testosterone and also inhibiting enzymes that breakdown serotonin and dopamine, which could explain the energy and mood boost many people report.2
Dopamine and serotonin are the main ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters and if the body produces less cortisol it can produce more testosterone and DHEA, the good adrenal hormone, instead.
I’ve been adding a teaspoon (about 5 grams) to my smoothie and/or having two cups of Moringa tea a day. This dose seems to be the high end of the level required for a clinical health effect. Some people start with less – about half a teaspoon – 2 to 3 grams.
Helpful for diabetics
Take diabetes protection, for example. In animal studies Moringa is highly beneficial against diabetes. Studies have reported the best effects at a dose of 50-100mg per kg body weight. If you weigh 60kg that’s 6 grams a day, or a heaped teaspoon. In one study diabetic rats had a reduction in glycosylated haemoglobin (HbA1c), which is my favourite measure because it gives a long-term measure of blood sugar peaks, from 7.8% to 6.15% in four weeks.
HbA1c literally measures what percentage of red blood cells are sugar coated/damaged. In us humans, a level above 7% indicates diabetes while 5.5% or below is ideal. Since haemoglobin (red blood cells) live for 3 months it takes time to normalise HbA1c, hence this kind of reduction is pretty impressive. Fasting blood sugar levels almost halved in the Moringa fed animals versus placebo and markers of inflammation (IL-6) also significantly reduced. So too did total IgG levels, which is the main marker for food intolerance.3
It may also help weight loss. One study which fed animals a very high fat diet to induce weight gain and fatty liver disease found that Moringa prevented weight gain and fatty liver disease, also lowering insulin, leptin and cholesterol levels, as well as markers of inflammation (IL-6, TNFa). The researchers identified isothiocyanate as the main ingredient in Moringa to explain these benefits. Isothiocyanates are found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage and have potent anti-cancer properties.4
Talking of cancer I was struck by two studies testing the effects of Moringa on human cancer cells. The first looked at the effects on lung cancer cells. Quoting the authors it ‘greatly induced apoptosis, inhibited tumor cell growth, and lowered the level of internal reactive oxygen species (ROS) in human lung cancer cells as well as other several types of cancer cells, suggesting that the treatment of cancer cells with Moringa significantly reduced cancer cell proliferation and invasion. Additionally, the Moringa extract showed greater cytotoxicity for tumor cells than for normal cells, strongly suggesting that it could potentially be an ideal anticancer therapeutic candidate specific to cancer cells.’ It also down regulated (switched off) oncogenes which are genes that promote cancer cell growth. They concluded that ‘it may be a new promising candidate for a natural anticancer drug.’5
I believe that normal cells become cancer cells when they are damaged and can no longer produce energy efficiently. The main source of damage is from oxidants, which are like the exhaust fumes from cellular energy production. So, it was interesting to find a study reporting that Moringa is very high in the polyphenol rutin and this protects pancreatic b-cells – they are the cells that produce insulin - from oxidant-induced cell death.6
One study has tested Moringa’s effects against human pancreatic cells, which are among the most aggressive and hard to treat with chemotherapy. One of the reasons this is thought to be is that pancreatic cancer cells produce a pro-inflammatory agent called NF-Kb. The study authors tested the effects of exposing the cancer cells to both chemotherapy and Moringa and found that ‘Moringa Oleifera leaf extract inhibits the growth of pancreatic cancer cells, the cells’ NF-κB signalling pathway, and increases the efficacy of chemotherapy in human pancreatic cancer cells’.7
One useful measure to put the antioxidant property of a food into perspective is the ORAC score. This measures a food’s ability to quench oxidants (Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity). I like to achieve 10,000 ORACs a day. Having at least 6,000 ORACs a day is consistent with the longest living populations across the world. Moringa has an ORAC of 1,576 per gram. So if you have 5 grams, a teaspoon, that’s an ORAC of 7,880.8 A cup of blueberries, or a whole fresh artichoke, is 6,552.
Good for Asthma
High ORAC foods tend to be anti-inflammatory as well but one of the most interesting food-based anti-inflammatory agents are isothiocyanates. These polyphenol compounds, found in high levels in Moringa, have been shown to be anti-inflammatory9, and therefore of interest across a wide range of diseases, including arthritis and asthma.
There’s no clinical trial yet on arthritis but the results of a clinical trial on twenty asthmatic patients is very promising. In this study they were given 3 grams of the seed, not leaf, for three weeks. The most used marker of inflammation is your blood level of ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate). This was ‘significantly reduced’ and ‘significant improvement’ was also observed in symptom score and severity of asthmatic attacks. Treatment with the drug for 3 weeks produced significant improvement in forced vital capacity, forced expiratory volume in one second, and peak expiratory flow rate values. None of the patients showed any adverse effects with Moringa..’ 10 This study can be criticised because there was no control group so there could be a ‘placebo’ effect. However, it’s unlikely that this would change hard measures of lung function and blood levels of inflammatory markers.
Moringa also has widespread anti-microbial effects against viruses, fungi and bacteria. In Africa it is being used to help purify water and an aqueous solution is used for hand-washing. It has also been traditionally used against stomach ulcers, now known to most often be caused by an infection with helicobacter pylori. There is a study underway at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa to test its effects on HIV and to support HIV+ patients with Moringa as a source of nutrients.
We need more human clinical trials on Moringa and, as they come in I’ll be updating this report. But there is ample evidence now that Moringa is a rich source of so many nutrients, and has a wide range of positive health effects and, for this reason, I am adding it to my list of super foods.
Moringa tea, with lemon and ginger, is available from HOLFORDirect.com.
- SJ Hobbs and MJ Hartman, Phytother Res. 2015
- T Prabsattroo et al, J Zhejiang Univ Sci B. 2015
- AL Al-Maki and HA El Rabey, Biomed Res Int. 2015
- C Waterman et al, Mol Nutr Food Res. 2015
- IL Jung, PLoS One. 2014
- S Habtemariam, Nat Prod Commun. 2015
- L Berkovich and Gideon Earon, BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013
- TB Turner et al, J Agric Food Chem. 2015
- C Waterman et al, Phytochemistry. 2014
- A Babita and A Mehta, Indian J Pharmacol. 2008