Moringa is one of the most nutrient-dense plants. Its leaves are rich in vitamins, minerals, amino acids, proteins, and antioxidants. Considered a superfood by some and called “mother’s best friend” by others, it may help increase milk production in breastfeeding women. What other potential benefits are under investigation? Read on to find out.
What Is Moringa?
Moringa (Moringa oleifera) is a tropical tree native to the Himalayan mountains and India. It’s also known by many names around the world: some call it Drumstick tree, Horseradish tree, or Munga, while in the Philippines it’s known as Malunggay .
Moringa is an important part of Ayurvedic traditional medicine. According to Ayurvedic tradition, moringa is used to prevent 300 diseases. In Ancient Egypt, it was used in cosmetic products to nourish the skin .
Almost all parts of the plant—the bark, leaves, seeds, flowers, roots, and immature pods— can be consumed in one form or another, but the leaves are most commonly eaten and used in traditional medicine. Rich in antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, moringa leaves carry many nutritional and health benefits. They are traditionally used to boost nutrition and prevent nutrient deficiencies, for malaria, typhoid fever, high blood pressure, and diabetes .
The seeds and roots of moringa also believed to fight bacteria and fungi and purify water .
It wasn’t until recently that its use started to spread outside of Asia and scientists got curious about the benefits. Now moringa is being called the “miracle tree” and “mother’s best friend” .
Moringa leaf powder can be found in most western health food stores. It has become increasingly popular and gained the status of a superfood due to these praised health benefits. Only a fraction of these have been investigated in human studies, however. The rest rely on traditional use or have been confirmed only in animal studies .
Bioactive Components & Nutrition
- 9 x the Provitamin A (i.e. beta-carotene) of carrots
- 15 x the Potassium of bananas
- 17 x the Calcium of milk
- 12 x the Vitamin C of oranges, higher in fresh leaves (200 mg) and highest in freeze-dried leaves
- 25 x the Iron of spinach
- Vitamin E (about 100 mg)
- B vitamins: B1, B2, and B3
- Essential amino acids and proteins
However, moringa also contains oxalates and other compounds considered “anti-nutrients,” which may hinder the amount of these nutrients that the body can take up and use .
Moringa vs. Nutritional Deficiencies
Since moringa is rich in nutrients, it may be especially useful for people with chronic diseases who are prone to nutritional deficiencies and have trouble gaining weight. In one study of 60 HIV patients undergoing drug therapy, moringa improved the nutritional intake and status after 6 months .
One study in children showed that the carotenoids in moringa leaves can achieve about 30% of the effects of active vitamin A, making it a good plant-based source of provitamin A .
In animal studies, the leaves improved the nutritional status and helped with weight gain .
It’s being used more and more by international organizations and in developing countries as a cheap, safe, and healthy way to combat malnutrition. But malnutrition is also quite common in the US, especially in older people [11, 12].
Mechanism of Action
Moringa has many active components, the mechanisms of which have been investigated largely in cell and animal studies :
- Enhancing nutrition, preventing vitamin, mineral, and nutrient deficiencies (in humans) .
- Potentially increasing milk production by increasing prolactin levels in the blood (in humans) .
- Reducing markers of inflammation such as TNF-alpha, IL-6 and IL-8 (in animals and cells) .
- Fighting free radicals and increasing antioxidants (in cells) .
- Anti-diabetic, by reducing blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and other fats (in cells) .
- Increasing fat break-down and preventing new fats from being made and stored (in cells) .
- Triggering the death of cancer cells in a lab setting [16, 17].
Leaves and roots of moringa contain strong antioxidants, according to animal and cellular studies.
The leaves are an especially rich source of antioxidants, which could protect animals against chronic diseases caused by oxidative stress. Leaf extracts reduced oxidative damage caused by a high-fat diet .
By its antioxidant action, moringa prevented liver damage in mice and even restored their glutathione levels despite being exposed to toxic substances .
Potential Health Benefits of Moringa
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Possibly Effective For
1) Milk Production
Moringa is traditionally used by breastfeeding women to increase milk production and to boost nutrition, especially in the Philippines .
According to a review of 6 human studies including 73 patients, moringa improved milk production in human mothers, possibly by boosting prolactin, if taken for at least 7 days. After 4 weeks, the babies of women who consumed moringa gained more weight. Moringa was safe, with no adverse effects .
2) Blood Sugar & Insulin
Moringa is under investigation for its potential to lower blood sugar while preventing glucose intolerance. Moringa leaf tablets reduced both blood glucose and HbA1C, a long-term marker of glucose levels, in 60 people with type 2 diabetes who took moringa for up to 3 months .
Moringa reduced blood glucose in another study of people with diabetes on a high-carb diet. High-dose moringa leaf powder (4 g) increased insulin production in a very small study of 10 healthy subjects after just one day. The lower doses (2 g and less) had a much weaker effect than the 4 g dose [24, 25].
In another study of 90 older women, 7 g/day of moringa leaf powder combined with amaranth leaf powder reduced blood sugar levels after 3 months .
In another study, a high dose of 20 g of moringa for only 2 days reduced blood glucose in 17 people with diabetes, while not affecting 10 non-diabetics .
However, in a study of 32 people with type 2 diabetes, 8 g/day of moringa leaf powder did not reduce blood sugar after 4 weeks .
Moringa has a bitter taste and higher doses can be unpleasant to consume. Plus, they have not been proven safe.
More studies would need to confirm moringa’s safety and effectiveness in people with type 2 diabetes .
Insufficient Evidence For
While some clinical evidence has emerged for the potential benefits in this section, the available studies are too small, contradicted by other studies, or yet to be repeated. As such, the evidence is insufficient to recommend moringa for these purposes, and there are better-studied alternatives available.
3) Muscles and Endurance
Moringa is a great source of plant-based protein. Its dried leaves contain 20 – 30% of protein, which rivals the protein fraction of eggs. Moringa also contains 19 amino acids, including lysine and sulfur amino acids [30, 22, 31].
Sports supplements that boost the production of nitric oxide are used to enhance exercise endurance and fitness. Fitnox, a blend of moringa, black ginger, and pomegranate increased nitric oxide levels in 24 healthy volunteers after a single dose. The same supplement was not toxic in rats long-term .
Powdered moringa seed kernels (3 g/day) reduced asthma symptoms in one study of 20 people after 3 weeks. It improved lung function and airway flow with no adverse effects .
5) Skin Aging
A cream with 3% moringa leaf extract enhanced skin revitalization reduced skin aging in one human study. It improved skin volume, texture, and smoothness while reducing skin roughness, scaliness, and wrinkles .
6) Heart Health
In 2 studies and a total of 80 people, moringa leaves reduced total, LDL, and VLDL cholesterol, while increasing HDL cholesterol. The dose was 5 – 8 g/day for up to 8 weeks. By keeping blood lipids in check, moringa may help prevent heart disease and reduce complications .
Moringa could also normalize blood lipids in several animal studies. Aside from the effects confirmed in humans, moringa could also reduce triglycerides in animals, even when they were fed a high-fat diet. It could protect the blood vessels and prevent their hardening and clogging .
Moringa leaf extract strongly reduced high blood pressure and heart rate in rats and in heart tissue studies. The authors speculated that sulforaphane-like compounds (isothiocyanate glycosides) were responsible for this activity .
Moringa leaves are very high in iron, but it’s unknown how much of this plant-based iron the body can take in.
One study suggests moringa is a good source of bioavailable iron. In rats, moringa leaf was superior to iron pills (ferric citrate) for overcoming iron deficiency .
8) Antiseptic & Antimicrobial Activity
Moringa leaves can be used as a natural antiseptic in hand sanitizers or as an alternative to industrial soap. The powdered leaves had the same effects as soap in one study of 15 people, protecting from bacteria .
Leaves, roots, bark, and seeds could fight bacteria, fungi, and parasites in test tubes. The fresh leaves inhibited the growth of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus .
In a study of 15 people with urinary tract infection (UTI), moringa bark completely resolved symptoms in 65% of the participants, while about 13% reported some relief. This supports the traditional use of moringa for reducing inflammation and UTI symptoms .
Animal Research (Lacking Evidence)
No clinical evidence supports the use of moringa for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.
10) Weight Management
Moringa lowered blood sugar and improved insulin resistance in several studies on mice or rats with diabetes. It prevented diabetes and weight gain even in rats fed a high-fat diet. It worked by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation. Fermented moringa had an even stronger effect in one of the studies [45, 46, 47].
12) Liver Function & Detox
Moringa could protect the liver in mice exposed to various toxins. It protected the liver from damage and helped to maintain normal liver function .
13) Inflammation and IBS
Moringa root, bark, leaf, and flower extracts are anti-inflammatory .
Moringa could reduce important inflammatory markers in immune cells, such as TNF-alpha, IL-6, and IL-8. It could also reduce the activity of genes that worsen the inflammatory reaction .
14) Brain Health
The antioxidants in leaves may have nootropic effects. They could improve cognition and reduce oxidative stress in rats with Alzheimer’s disease .
In mice with Parkinson’s disease, the isothiocyanate from the seeds reduced brain inflammation .
The leaf extract increased connections and branching among neurons in a study on cells, a process that leads to improved learning and memory .
Moringa leaf extract could improve symptoms in mice with depression in combination with a low-dose antidepressant (fluoxetine). Moringa itself activates serotonin in the brain, similar to common antidepressants .
15) Immune System
Moringa seems to balance the Th1/Th2 response and may be more beneficial for Th2-dominant people or those with a suppressed immune system. Moringa seeds reduced the Th2 response in animals with allergic asthma [35, 36].
Moringa acted on cancer cells by preventing their division and prompting cells to kill themselves (apoptosis) rather than killing them directly (necrosis) .
Moringa extracts increased the effects of chemotherapy drugs in cell studies .
Moringa’s potential against cancer has not been studied in animals, let alone in humans. None of these studies are grounds to use moringa as part of a cancer therapy; they simply indicate that further research in animal models may be warranted.
Limitations and Caveats
Clinical studies are limited. Most of the research has been done in the past decade since moringa spread from the Indian sub-continent and began to be cultivated and researched in other parts of the world. Most of the studies were done in animals and on cells.
Side Effects & Precautions
Moringa leaves, fruits, and seeds are considered safe to eat as food.
No major adverse effects were noted in clinical studies that used moringa leaf powder up to 20 g/day. Moringa was safe even at very high doses, but due to its bitter taste is unpleasant in larger amounts .
Moringa is traditionally used to abort pregnancies in the early stages. Pregnant women should therefore avoid moringa. The roots reduced fertility in animals and may trigger abortions .
This is a list of interactions that have been observed so far, but it is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list. To avoid adverse effects or unexpected interactions, talk to your doctor before starting a moringa supplement.
- In mice, moringa increased the levels of a drug used to treat tuberculosis (rifampicin) .
- Since moringa does affect the CYP450 enzymes through which most drugs are metabolized, other drug interactions are possible. Drugs that could be especially affected include statins, anti-seizure, and antifungal medications.
- Moringa also reduced blood sugar levels, which may dangerously reduce blood glucose levels in people with type II diabetes. Consult your doctor before consuming large amounts of moringa if you have diabetes and are anti-diabetes medication.
Supplements & Dosage
Moringa is available as:
- Extracts or tinctures
- Fresh leaves or seeds
- Dried leaf powder, in bulk or in capsules
- Tea from the dried leaves
- Bark or root
- Hand and face cream
The leaves, either as a dried powder or as extracts, have been most researched for their health benefits. Powder from the dried leaves and can be commonly found in health stores. Freeze-dried leaves have higher nutritional content than sun-dried leaves.
The dried leaf powder can be mixed into tea, smoothies, or meals.
There is no safe and effective dose of moringa because no sufficiently powered study has been conducted to find one. Furthermore, the FDA has not approved moringa for any medical purpose or health claim. That being said, clinical studies have found a benefit associated with certain doses.
Moringa dosage in human trials has varied between 4 and 20 g per day of the dried leaves. Only one clinical study used the very high dose of 20g/day, which is hard to take in due to its bitter taste
Extracts of moringa may contain higher concentrations of bioactive compounds and should be taken in lower amounts. Talk to your doctor before supplementing.