It is common for Dr. Angela LaSalle with Parkview Physicians Group Integrative Medicine to see cycles in popularity of various dietary supplements. She has seen noni juice, goji berries and other botanicals wax and wane in use, in part, because of phases of marketing.
Moringa is another one that has somewhat cycled in popularity, she says, acknowledging, “I think there’s been another surge recently.” A native plant of sub-Himalayan northern India, the seeds and leaves of moringa oleifera, its scientific name, are known to have nutritional value as well as some medicinal or therapeutic qualities.
“The plant is resistant to drought and pests, so it can grow very well despite those conditions. It can help with food sources and has been used for infants and nursing mothers,” LaSalle explains. Grown now in many regions of the world, moringa leaves are often used in teas, and the leaves and seeds are ground to a powder and added to drinks. Moringa is also available in capsule form.
“When you look at some of the B, A and calcium values, moringa has some significant nutritional value. It’s high in B6 and has significant vitamin C and some iron in it. It also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties,” says LaSalle, A small body of scientific evidence shows moringa can lower blood sugar, cholesterol and phospholipids, or fats, in the blood.
Integrative medicine specialists ascribe to appropriately using both conventional and alternative methods to facilitate the body’s own healing responses with the understanding that good medicine is based in good science.
“Just because it’s a plant and so-called ‘natural’ does not necessarily mean that something is clinically appropriate for that individual.” It’s crucial that people disclose all medicines and supplements they take, she says. Taking moringa, for example, to reduce blood sugar may mean less insulin is needed, but such changes require careful oversight. Additionally, botanicals frequently interact with prescription medications, especially blood thinning drugs.
“The root and the bark and extract may have toxic effects,” LaSalle warns. Moringa is not recommended for pregnant women or those trying to get pregnant.
Still, for the right individual and the right treatment goal, moringa may prove beneficial, noting the proof for such benefits as lowering cholesterol or blood sugar comes via blood tests.
LaSalle has heard many stories of moringa’s benefits, and has used moringa with patients, her family and even worked with a veterinarian to use it with her dogs as part of a regimen of supplements to reduce inflammation. LaSalle says, “Any supplement should be discussed with your doctor and monitored for side effects or interactions with prescriptions. Moringa is not a cure-all, but when used correctly, it can definitely be a useful part of an overall nutritional regimen.”