Moringa (Moringa oleifera), also known as the ‘Drumstick tree’ or ‘Ben oil tree’, is a widely cultivated shrub native to the sub-Himalayan mountains of northern India. It’s now cultivated in many tropical and subtropical regions of the world, where its fruit and leaves are consumed as food, being an affordable and readily available source of major essential nutrients. Besides being used daily as food by people of these regions, moringa is widely known and praised for its health benefits, and has earned the name ‘Miracle tree’ for its numerous healing abilities. A true superfood, although moringa was first discovered thousands of years ago, only recently did it hit the spotlight in the holistic health market.
Almost every part of the moringa tree is used for medicinal, functional food preparations and nutraceuticals, including the roots, leaves, flowers, green pods and seeds. It’s a plant with multiple biological activities including liver-protective, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. This review will focus predominantly on the leaves, being the source of the moringa powder used in Joya’s products.
In traditional medicine, the leaves are used to treat numerous ailments, including malaria, typhoid fever, parasitic diseases, arthritis, swelling, cuts, skin diseases, hypertension, diabetes and more, and they are also used to induce lactation. In Ayurvedic medicine, the leaf is used to treat paralysis, nervous debility and other nerve disorders, and as discussed further below, research also suggests cognitive-enhancing and neuroprotective roles.
Moringa leaves have been shown to be a rich source of antioxidant compounds, including phenolics, flavonoids and tannins, and vitamins A, C and E in numerous cellular and molecular studies. (1, 2, 3, 4) Antioxidants have been shown to help protect against various metabolic diseases, heart disease, brain disorders and age-related syndromes, as they help the body combat cellular damage caused by free radicals (reactive chemicals containing oxygen).
In one animal model study, moringa leaf extract (MLE) was found to have high antioxidant activity on normal and diabetic rats, suggesting that regular dietary intake of moringa leaves through diet may help protect healthy as well as diabetic patients against oxidative damage. In an animal model of hypercholesterol-fed rabbits, MLE significantly lowered cholesterol levels and reduced arterial plaque formation, suggesting that moringa has therapeutic potential for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.
In cell models, moringa has also been found to have cancer-fighting properties, leading researchers to suggest that it might be beneficial as a medicinal plant for alternative novel anticancer drugs and nutraceutical products. From the body of research to date, it has been proposed that the main mechanism for moringa’s anticancer activity is by preventing cell proliferation by causing cell death. (5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
Moringa contains over 90 nutritional compounds, including proteins, fats, carbohydrates and fibre. It is so nutrient-dense, that it’s been proposed as a food that can help alleviate malnutrition and hunger in third world countries. The leaves are made up of 25% protein by weight and contain all nine essential amino acids. They are also rich in vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc, vitamin C, E and B-vitamins, and are a source of carotenoids including beta-carotene.
Animal model studies suggest that Moringa leaves can be used as a significant source of iron, because of their significantly higher bioavailability in comparison to ferric citrate in overcoming iron deficiency.
Moringa leaf is traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat paralysis, nervous debility and other nerve disorders. Evidence also suggests the nootropic (aka cognitive enhancing) as well as neuroprotective roles of moringa leaf in animal testing. In a shock avoidance test, moringa leaf extract (MLE) was found to improve memory without any cognitive deficit. MLE was also found to protect against brain damage and oxidative stress in an animal model of ischemic stroke, and in an animal model of age-related dementia, it was found to improve spatial memory and neurodegeneration. In light of the key role of oxidative stress in age-related dementia, researchers have proposed that moringa’s neuroprotective effects might be tied to its potent antioxidant properties.
In cellular studies, MLE was found to promote neuronal growth and protect neurons from naturally occurring cell death, suggesting its potential effect on nervous system health.