How local plant addresses water purification, malnutrition, immune deficiency
Guardian. Lagos, Nigeria. 26.2.09
A LOCAL plant, Moringa oleifera, found almost in every region of the country has been shown to be useful purifying water, treating malnutrition, boosting immunity, fighting microbes, and cancers. CHUKWUMA MUANYA reports.
COMMONLY known in the English language as the ben oil tree, the horseradish tree, or the drumstick tree, Moringa oleifera belongs to the plant family Moringaceae.
In Nigeria, it is called Ewe ile, Ewe igbale, or Idagbo monoye (the tree which grows crazily) in Yoruba; Gawara, Habiwal hausa, Konamarade, or Rini maka in Fulani; Bagaruwar maka, Bagaruwar masar, Barambo, Koraukin zaila, Shipka hali, Shuka halinka, Rimin nacara, Rimin turawa, Zogall, or Zogalla-gandi in Hausa; and Odudu oyibo, Okochi egbu, Okwe olu, Okwe oyibo, Okughara ite, Uhe, Ikwe beke in Ibo.
Until now, various laboratory researches have confirmed that Moringa is a natural energy booster, strengthens the immune system, has antibiotic properties, cures headaches, migraines, asthma, and ulcers, reduces arthritic pains and inflammations, and restricted tumour growths.
Moringa flowers boiled with soymilk have always been thought to have aphrodisiac quality. News reports say that studies of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) showed that a steady diet of the Moringa fruit boosts the sperm count of men, which improves their chances of fertilising an egg.
Nutritionists say, the Moringa plant has more iron than "Kontonmire" and contains seven times the Vitamin 'C' in oranges; four times the calcium in milk; four times the Vitamin 'A' in carrots; two times the protein in milk and three times the potassium in banana.
In the field of medicine, it has been found out that Moringa can help to prevent common killer diseases like hypertension and diabetes and has become the poor man's prophylaxis against malaria and some common ailments.
The Los Angeles Times, quoting health book author, Sanford Hoist, reported: "Scientifically speaking, Moringa sounds like magic. It can rebuild weak bones, enrich anaemic blood and enable a malnourished mother to nurse her starving baby. Doctors use it to treat diabetes in West Africa and high blood pressure in India..."
Its oil, also known as the ben oil extracted from flowers can be used as illuminant, ointment base, and to lubricate fine mechanics like clocks. For thousands of years, this oil has been used as a perfume base. They say that the ben oil can also be used as a fuel because it "burns with a clear light and without smoke", according to J. H. Burkill in his 1966 work: "A Dictionary of Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula".
Moringa can also detoxify the body given its ability to purify water by attaching itself to impurities and harmful bacteria and allowing them to be expelled as a waste.
There is a growing global interest in the use of Moringa to address malnutrition because it is readily available and inexpensive. In Africa, it has become popular as a locally produced nutritional supplement for individuals infected with the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) virus. Nursing mothers have shown to produce far more milk and malnourished children gained more weight after the leaves were added to their diets.
Aware of its nutritional and medicinal benefits, India is notably the largest producer of Moringa. India's ancient system of health care, ayurveda believes that the Moringa leaves prevent at least three hundred diseases, which fact they say is confirmed by modern science.
In Nigeria, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Parasitology and Entomology, Nnamdi Azikiwe University (NAU) Awka, Anambra State, Dr. Abiodun Nwora Ozumba is championing that course.
Ozumba in his book, Moringa Oleifera: A review of Its Medicinal and Other Uses, said: "Millions of Nigerians and other Africans lack regular and safe pipe-borne water and many suffer and die from water-borne diseases. So how come this information, the usefulness of Moringa, is not on the front pages of every newspapers in Nigeria and Africa. I wonder how many market women, any students or health care workers have heard of Moringa in Nigeria. Why has not there been adequate social marketing for the Moringa seed?
"This is an efficient and effective low-tech, low-cost concept, and talking about paradigm-shift; this is can potentially benefit millions. So why spend millions importing expensive water treatment chemicals, when Moringa is a ready substitute for some?"
Researchers have examined the possible role of Moringa oleifera in HIV/AIDS supportive treatment.
Burger D. J., Fuglie L., and Herzig J. W. of the University, Stellenbosch, South Africa, have presented Moringa powder supplementation as an immune stimulant for HIV positive people, particularly those who cannot afford good nutrition and medicines.
Seventy per cent of all HIV positive people live in sub-Saharan Africa where malnutrition is rife. The collapse of the immune system in an HIV positive individual results in the symptoms of AIDS. It has been shown that certain elements and vitamins (for example Vitamin C, E, A elements Zinc, Iron) can stimulate the immune system and thereby improve the health and lifestyle of an individual for many years.
Dried leaf powder from the Moringa oleifera is an excellent nutrient source and can easily supplement basic food intake of African people. Moringa has been shown to be exceptionally rich in Vitamin A/beta carotene, Vitamin C, E and key elements including selenium, but also contains almost a full Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of other nutrients required for a healthy lifestyle.
Literature reports support a synergism between Nutrition Acquired Immunodeficiency (NAI) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This suggests that enhanced nutrition (such as that which can be achieved via Moringa) could benefit a person with AIDS.
The effects of Moringa powder supplementation has been investigated in a phase 1 clinical trial of HIV patients at the Medical Faculty, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.
Moringa dry leaf powder may be a valuable nutrient for the poor communities of Africa by boosting the immune system to fight infections and thereby enhancing the well being of HIV positive persons.
However, researchers have suspected the potential of Moringa oleifera for clinically significant interactions with antiretroviral and other drugs.
A Paris-based Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) has joined forces with people living with HIV in Benin in a study into the nutritional benefits of food products produced from Moringa oleifera trees. The NGO, M�decins du Monde, provides the Moringa oleifera seeds and support for its harvesting and processing by people in seven communes in southern Benin. People with HIV in these communes are currently growing trees on plots of land given to their associations.
Lise Helene Pourteau Adjahi is the co-ordinator of the Moringa tree project for M�decins du Monde in Benin. She said that growing their own trees allows people with HIV to improve their diets. All parts of the Moringa oleifera tree are edible, and the price of seeds is reasonable. It costs 2,500 CFA, or approximately 5.5 US dollars or 4 Euros, to obtain 100 seeds.
Nicholas Ahouansou is the president of an association of HIV positive people in Com� - one of the municipalities taking part of the project. He said he had never planted a tree in his life, but for many people with HIV who were rejected by their communities and who have lost their livelihoods because they lack strength, this tree provides hope and dignity.
Poor nutrition aggravates the immune deficiency of HIV patients and compromises antiretroviral treatment. Boosting nutrition levels in people living with HIV and AIDS is important in maintaining their health. However, it is important to note that consumption of Moringa, though nutritional, is not a miracle cure and is not a substitute for antiretroviral drugs.
Valerie is one of the farmers living with HIV in the commune of Kpomass�, 35 kilometres from Com�. She said that this plant is wonderful and cultivating her own Moringa oleifera tree makes her more independent. She says she eats everything in the tree from the roots to the leaves and the flowers.
In the future, M�decins du Monde hopes to have HIV positive people generate income by marketing processed Moringa products, thus ensuring the sustainability of such an initiative.
Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji has studied the potential of using Moringa oleifera for water treatment in rural communities in South East Nigeria. He investigated the possible use of Moringa oleifera seed suspension for treatment of rural water.
Special focus was placed on the softening of hard water, lowering of turbidity, removal of Suspended Solids (SS) and elimination of bacteria (pathogens) among others.
Ezeji wrote: "Results obtained for each of these impurities were experimentally obtained in the laboratory. Both the household and large-scale purification processes were also highlighted. One peculiar feature of results obtained in this study was the application of activated carbon as a tertiary treatment for the removal of taste and odour. The result of this study has given credence to the continued use of Moringa oleifera seeds (for coagulant properties) in the treatment and purification of water in tropical areas especially South Eastern Nigeria and other parts of Nigeria and Africa."
A Nigeria-based NGO recently won a World Bank award for the most creative idea by using the natural coagulative properties in the seeds of Moringa oleifera tree to purify water.
According to the World Bank report: "Moringa oleifera, a native tree, has a removal efficiency of 99.5 per cent for turbidity, 98 per cent for suspended solids, 90 to 99 per cent for bacteria of 1 to 4 log units, and 100 per cent for water hardness. The adoption of Moringa in water treatment will increase demand for Moringa seeds thus economically empowering local Moringa farmers. Using local resources will also conserve foreign exchange currently used in the importation of purifying chemicals. Moreover, the project will encourage the cultivation of 2000 acres of Moringa, which will help to firm up the soil and check erosion as well as contribute to environmental greenery and shade."
Babita Agrawal and Anita Mehta of the Department of Pharmacology, L.M. College of Pharmacy, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, have conducted clinical trials on the antiasthmatic activity of Moringa oleifera. The researchers in the study published in the Indian J Pharmacol investigated the efficacy and safety of seed kernels of Moringa oleifera in the treatment of bronchial asthma. 20 patients of either sex with mild-to-moderate asthma were given finely powdered dried seed kernels in dose of 3 g for three weeks.
The clinical efficacy with respect to symptoms and respiratory functions were assessed using a spirometer prior to and at the end of the treatment. Haematological parameters were not changed markedly by treatment with M. oleifera.
However, the majority of patients showed a significant increase in haemoglobin (Hb) values and Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) were significantly reduced. Significant improvement was also observed in symptom score and severity of asthmatic attacks.
Treatment with the drug for three weeks produced significant improvement in forced vital capacity, forced expiratory volume in one second, and peak expiratory flow rate values by 32.97 � 6.03 per cent, 30.05 � 8.12 per cent, and 32.09 � 11.75 per cent, respectively, in asthmatic subjects. Improvement was also observed in per cent predicted values. None of the patients showed any adverse effects with M. oleifera. The results of the present study suggest the usefulness of M. oleifera seed kernel in patients of bronchial asthma.
Researchers have also studied the hypocholesterolemic effects of crude extract of leaf of Moringa oleifera in high-fat diet fed wistar rats. The study was published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.
The researchers include Ghasi S., Nwobodo E., and Ofili J. of the Departments of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, Enugu; Physiology, College of Health Sciences, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Nnewi; and Applied Biochemistry, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.
The researchers wrote: "The leaves of Moringa oleifera are used by the Indians in their herbal medicine as a hypocholesterolemic agent in obese patients. The scientific basis for their use in hypercholesterolemia was therefore examined. It was found that administration of the crude leaf extract of Moringa oleifera along with high-fat diet decreased the high-fat diet-induced increases in serum, liver, and kidney cholesterol levels by 14.35 per cent (115-103.2 mg /100 ml of serum), 6.40 per cent (9.4-8.8 mg/g wet weight) and 11.09 per cent (1.09-0.97 mg/g wet weight) respectively.
"The effect on the serum cholesterol was statistically significant. No significant effect on serum total protein was observed. However, the crude extract increased serum albumin by 15.22 per cent (46-53 g/l). This value was also found to be statistically significant. It was concluded that the leaves of Moringa oleifera have definite hypocholesterolemic activity and that there is valid pharmacological basis for employing them for this purpose in India."
In another study, researchers have demonstrated the potential of Moringa in treating ovarian cancer. A hormonal etiology of epithelial ovarian cancer has long been suspected, and now has also been demonstrated. Moringa oleifera can interfere with hormone receptor-related and neoplastic growth-related cytokine pathways via centrally acting mechanisms. It appears to have a tremendous effect on G protein-linked signal transduction system as well.
Moringa oleifera has been shown to be an exceptionally nutritious vegetable tree with a variety of potential uses. The tree itself is rather slender with drooping branches that grows to approximately 10 m in height; however, it normally is cut back annually to one meter or less, and allowed to re-grow, so that pods and leaves remain within arms reach.
The Moringa tree grows mainly in semi-arid tropical and subtropical areas. While it grows best in dry sandy soil, it tolerates poor soil, including coastal areas. It is a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree that apparently is native only to the southern foothills of the Himalayas. Today it is widely cultivated in Africa, Central and South America, Sri Lanka, India, Mexico, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Considered one of the world's most useful trees, as almost every part of the Moringa tree can be used for food, or has some other beneficial property. In the tropics it is used as foliage for livestock. The tree has its origin from the South Indian State of Tamilnadu.
The immature green pods, called "drumsticks" are probably the most valued and widely used part of the tree. They are commonly consumed in India, and are generally prepared in a similar fashion to green beans and have a slight asparagus taste. The seeds are sometimes removed from more mature pods and eaten like peas or roasted like nuts. The flowers are edible when cooked, and are said to taste like mushrooms. The roots are shredded and used as a condiment in the same way as horseradish, however it contains the alkaloid spirochin, a potentially fatal nerve paralyzing agent, so such practices should be strongly discouraged.
The leaves are highly nutritious, being a significant source of beta-carotene, Vitamin C, protein, iron and potassium. The leaves are cooked and used like spinach. In addition to being used fresh as a substitute for spinach, its leaves are commonly dried and crushed into a powder, and used in soups and sauces. Its leaves are full of medicinal properties. The tree is a good source for calcium and phosphorus. In Siddha medicine, the drumstick seeds are used as a sexual virility drug for treating erectile dysfunction in men and also in women for prolonging sexual activity.
The Moringa seeds yield 38 to 40 per cent edible oil (called ben oil, from the high concentration of behenic acid contained in the oil) that can be used in cooking, cosmetics, and lubrication. The refined oil is clear, odourless, and resists rancidity at least as well as any other botanical oil. The seed cake remaining after oil extraction may be used as a fertiliser or as a flocculant to purify water.
The bark, sap, roots, leaves, seeds, oil and flowers are used in traditional medicine in several countries. In Jamaica, the sap is used for a blue dye.
The flowers are also cooked and relished as a delicacy in West Bengal and Bangladesh, especially during early spring. There it is called sojne ful and is usually cooked with green peas and potato.
Interest is growing in the use of Moringa in addressing malnutrition in developing areas of the world. Also Because of its high vitamin and mineral content, in Africa it has become popular as a locally produced nutritional supplement for individuals infected with the HIV/AIDS virus. It can be grown cheaply and easily, so several governments in Africa have promoted Moringa oleifera as locally produced food beneficial to HIV-positive individuals.
It has been used successfully to combat malnutrition among infants and women of childbearing age. In Africa, nursing mothers have been shown to produce far more milk when Moringa leaves have been added to their diet, while severely malnourished children have made significant weight gains when the leaves have been added to their diets. It is commonly added to porridge increase its nutritional content.
One doctor in Senegal explained: "We have always had problems with the classical approach to treating malnourished children. This was based on industrial products: whole milk powder, vegetable oil and sugar. All these things are expensive. When you tell a parent to go out and buy these things-this can be truly costly for him. On the other hand, with Moringa the resource is locally available. The people themselves can produce it. We have done experiments in treating malnourished children with this plant and the results have been really spectacular."