Listen up, Popeye, there’s a new leafy green in town — and it’s better than spinach. The plant is called moringa, and it can do much more than strengthen your biceps. It may be able to help fight the side effects of cancer. Moringa is a naturally grown plant native to India, but is cultivated worldwide in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide. It is known for its nutritional and medicinal properties that potentially can help combat the symptoms of cancer, asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other diseases. There are 13 species of moringa that range in size, from tiny, leafy herbs to tall, massive trees. The most commonly harvested species, M. oleifera, is a small, fast-growing tree used for centuries to combat many different ailments, including symptoms associated with a mesothelioma diagnosis. That species also is commonly known as the drumstick tree because of its long, slender, triangular seedpods and the horseradish tree because of its taste.
Cartoon character Popeye may have been on to something when he discovered that spinach, a good source of iron, strengthened his muscles. However, moringa contains three times the amount of iron found in spinach, and it has many other benefits, too. ECHO, an organization that aims to reduce hunger and improve the lives of the poor, reports that researchers at the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC) found that moringa leaves contain high levels of nutrients, including protein, calcium and iron; and high levels of antioxidants, such as vitamins A, B and C. Antioxidants help protect against cell damage caused by chemicals in the body, known as free radicals, which can play a role in the development and spread of cancer. Vitamin C helps to maintain a healthy immune system, while Vitamin A is essential for normal growth, vision and bone development. It can also help maintain mucous membranes that protect against infections in the respiratory and digestive tracts. Moringa leaves also contain essential amino acids that can help boost the immune system. This is extremely important while undergoing treatment such as chemotherapy, because the drugs used during chemo can wreak havoc on the immune system and the body needs ways to combat this side effect in order to fight back. Additionally, the National Institute of Nutrition published a book, titled "Nutritive Value of Indian Foods," which reports that a handful of moringa leaves contain:
- Seven times the amount of vitamin C in an orange
- Three times the amount of iron in spinach
- Four times the amount of vitamin A in a carrot
- Four times the amount of calcium in one glass of milk
- Three times the potassium in one banana
- Two times the protein found in regular, plain yogurt
There are many ways to incorporate moringa into your daily diet. Its leaves can be eaten fresh, cooked or crushed, and stored as dried powder for several months without loss of nutritional value. It tastes great in fruit smoothies. You can try combining passion fruit, moringa and honey for a tasty, nutritious snack. You can use the dried powder in a curry recipe and serve over rice. It is also commonly used as a replacement for spinach in almost any recipe.
Not only is M. oleifera highly nutritious, but every single part of the tree has been used for beneficial purposes. In India, its leaves, bark, fruit, flowers, seeds and root are regularly used to make medicine, especially for anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor growth. As moringa has long been recognized by folk medicine practitioners, scientists are beginning to research the possible cancer prevention of this power plant. The Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention in 2003 published a study
in which researchers examined skin tumor prevention following ingestion of moringa seedpod extracts in mice. Results showed a dramatic reduction in skin papillomas and suggested that M. oliefera has possible cancer preventing properties. Another study conducted in 2006
reported that a molecule found in M. oleifera induced cell death in ovarian cancer cells grown in a lab. Based on these findings, researchers believe the plant has potential to treat this type cancer. According to ECHO, a diet of moringa leaves with porridge made from amaranth grain has substantially reduced or alleviated HIV symptoms in patients. These symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, weight loss and chronic cough, which are also common in people diagnosed with mesothelioma and other cancers of the lung. Research also suggests the moringa tree has shown potential to reduce the following symptoms common in cancer patients:
- Chest congestion
- Difficulty breathing
- Joint pain
- Respiratory complications
- Skin irritations
- Sore throat
- Weight loss
The organizations Trees for Life, Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization and Church World Service have strongly advocated for moringa as a way to combat these symptoms, as well as a way to improve malnutrition. Malnutrition occurs when your body does not get enough nutrients. Because of the side effects of some cancer treatments, patients experience a loss of appetite, which can lead to malnutrition and severe weight loss. This can negatively affect their quality of life, treatment response and survival. Moringa provides an easy way to meet your daily nutrient requirements without having to eat a big meal. Keep in mind that treatment options
affect people differently. As with any alternative medicine, it is best to talk with your doctor before adding moringa to your treatment regimen or diet. If you experience any side effects after using these alternative methods, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Moringa’s Growing Recognition
As the benefits of moringa become more evident, scientists and researchers are beginning to give the plant some credit. In fact, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations recognized moringa as the September 2014 Traditional Crop of the Month. While the nutritional and medicinal value of moringa is becoming more well-known, further scientific research and clinical studies are needed to provide further acknowledgement of this plant as a cancer preventive method.