Betel leaf health benefits and side effects

Know in one minute about Betel leaf 

  • Promotes metabolism, reduces pain, inflammation, and protects the gastric system.
  • It helps to treat obesity, diabetes, thyroid disease, and malaria.
  • The leaves are also employed to care for the stoma, useful as a contraceptive, and lower your cholesterol level.
  • Betel leaf, due to its antimicrobial, antifungal as well as antioxidant properties are effective to heal skin disease, conjunctivitis, ulcer, and wounds.

Introduction

Betel leaf (Piper betle) is also known as “paan and Green Gold” belongs to the family Piperaceae. It is heart-shaped leaves with a strong, pungent, aromatic flavor, and widely consumed as a mouth freshener. Traditionally, the leaf of this plant has been used in the ancient Vedic literature, Atharved as early as 3000-2500 BC.  Betel leaf benefits are anti-cancer, antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, antiseptic, and many more. 

Geographical distribution

The betel plant is extensively grown in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, and East Africa

Nutritional value of betel leaf

Betel leaves are an excellent source of calcium, vitamin C, niacin, thiamine, carotene, riboflavin, and other compounds per 100 gm as follows (1).

Compound Amounts per 100 g.
Water  85-90 %
Energy  44 Kcal
Protein  3-3.5 %
Total lipid (fat)  0.4-1.0 % 
Minerals  2.3-3.3 %
Carbohydrate 0.5-6.10 %
Fiber, total dietary  2.3 %
Nicotinic acid 0.7 mg
Calcium 230 mg
Iron, Fe  7 mg
Phosphorus  40 mg
Potassium  3020 mg
Vitamin C 5 mg
Thiamin  70 µg
Riboflavin 30 µg
Iodine  3.4 µg
Vitamin A, IU 9600 IU

 

Health benefits of Betel leaf

1. Antioxidant properties

The high amount of antioxidant compounds like chevibetol, eugenol, and allylpyrocatechol. These compounds prevent lipid peroxidation and protect the DNA from harmful radioactive radiation (2).

The leaves of betel due to its high antioxidants are also effective in reducing the white patches of a vitiligo person (3).

2. Antimicrobial properties

Presence of phytosterols, hydroxychavicol, and eugenol in betel leaf show antibacterial activity especially for conjunctivitis treatment (4, 5). Betel leaf is more effective to fight against fungal infection caused by Candida albicans than Holy basil (tulsi) and fluconazole (an antifungal drug) (6).

3. Betel Leaf in Stoma Care

A stoma is an opening on the front of your stomach by surgery due to the problem in bowel movement. It allows waste (urine or feces) to be collected in a pouch (bag) on the outside of the body. To protect and cover these stomas, betel leaf can be used because it is non-irritant, non-allergic, affordable, and easy to handle in place of an Ostomy bag (7).

4. Contraceptive properties of betel leaves

It contains anti-fertility effects due to the presence of flavonoids and saponin. Therefore, this leaf is effective to reduce the estrogen hormone level and use as a contraceptive (8).

5. Improve digestion

Betel leaf helps in inducing salivation thus enhances the digestive enzymes. Along with this the leaves of betel also contain diastase (a starch digesting enzymes)(9)

6. Give relief from ulcer and wound

Alkaloids, saponins, tannins, and flavonoids, found in betel leaves are effective in the healing of ulcers of the stomach (10). Moreover, the topical application of this leaf helps to increase the hydroxyproline content in the wound tissue thus enhance the wound healing process (11).

7. Manage diabetes

Ingestion of betel leaves helps to reduce blood glucose levels and protect against body weight loss of the diabetic person (12).

8. Reduce pain and inflammation

Consumption of betel leaf is effective to reduce pain and improve tolerance to pain and helps to reduce inflammation. (13).

9. Treat obesity

Daily intake of betel leaves helps to increase the oxidation process in the body which inhibits body weight gain. It is also beneficial to decrease ‘bad cholesterol’ low-density lipoprotein (LDL) level and an increase in High-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol) level. Thus, betel leaf maintains the body weight without giving an effect on the appetite (14).

10. Anti-malarial properties

Betel leaf contains some antiplasmodial chemical compounds which show anti-malarial activity against Plasmodium berghei. (15).

11. Treat thyroid disease

Thyrotoxicosis is the condition in which excess thyroid hormone is produced in the body which also affects the liver and other organs. However, allylpyrocatechol found in betel leaf is effective to decrease the levels of serum thyroid hormones and increase thyroid-stimulating hormone and prevent liver damage (16).

Side effect of betel leaves

Research studies on animal models suggested that consuming betel leaves alone can be safe. However, validation in humans is still lacking. The long term effect of betel leaf is still unknown (17).

1. Increase the risk of oral cancer

A research study suggested that consumption of betel leaf with or without tobacco increased oral cancer risk. The risk of oral cancer was higher about fifteen-fold among those who used betel leaf with tobacco. There is a seven-fold increase in cancer risk when betel leaf was consumed without tobacco (18).

2. The reservoir of harmful bacteria

It is a reservoir of harmful bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella spp., Vibrio spp., Bacillus spp., and Staphylococcus spp.  These bacteria may cause various health problems if transferred to humans through the food chain. Thus, proper hygiene should be maintained during production, harvesting, transportation, storage, selling, and preparation of betel leaves for medicinal use (19).

3. Risk of Contact Leukomelanosis

The application of steamed leaves is widely used by Taiwanese women to treat pigment disorders on the face. Although most women claim a quick, favorable response at first, but cause facial leukomelanosis later (20). This is due to the presence of phenol, catechol, and benzene derivatives in the leaf of betel which inhibits melanin production and causes toxicity. Thus it may cause contact dermatitis and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation such as leukomelanosis (hyper‐ and hypopigmentation) (21)

Q&A

Is betel leaf cancerous?

Yes, betel leaf can be cancerous when used in the long term or used like betel quid (contains betel leaf, Areca nut, slaked lime, and/or tobacco). It may cause oral submucous fibrosis in which inflammation and scarring (fibrosis) develop in the lining of the mouth.  This condition may develop oral cancer in which jaw muscle will tighten and unable to open the mouth, thus increasing the risk of oral cancer (22)

Is betel leaf bad for health?

Betel leaves have been very popular since ancient times and contain various health benefits. However, a recent research study suggested that it may increase the risk of oral cancer. Long term consumption may cause a dental problem like tooth decay, staining (red and black), and gum irritation.  It also may cause a dark spot on the skin and contact dermatitis. Moreover, the surface of the leaf is easily infected by certain harmful bacteria thus precaution should be needed before consumption.

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