All About Moringa (Drumstick Tree): A Complete Scientific Guide

Medically Reviewed
Moringa powder seeds and leaves
Moringa powder is popular in the United States, though it comes in other forms, too.Nadine Greeff/Stocksy; Everyday Health

The superfood trend is still going strong. One of the latest go-to functional foods: moringa leaf powder — a so-called “superfood powder” increasing in popularity among the wellness products landscape.

The truth is, moringa is nothing new for many cultures: It’s a commonly consumed native tree in South Asia and Africa.

There, the leaves, seeds, and pods are eaten fresh, cooked, or dried, and the oil can be used for cooking. Also dubbed the drumstick or horseradish tree, moringa’s flavor — like the name implies — is slightly pungent, says Jenn LaVardera, a registered dietitian with Daily Harvest and founder of Hamptons RD in New York. Still, it’s flavor melds well with fruits and vegetables, which is why there’s a growing use of moringa powder in the United States in drinks, smoothies, and more.

Common Questions & Answers

What is moringa potentially good for?

Thanks to its antioxidants, polyphenols, and nutrients, moringa is associated with a bevy of potential health benefits, including a stronger immune system, as well as a lower risk for certain diseases, like development of diabetes and cancer. Some research also suggests moringa is linked with weight loss.

What are the dangers of moringa when taken as a supplement?

Moringa is generally safe for shorter-term use, though if you’re managing a health condition and on any medications, be sure to talk to your doctor before adding it to your supplement rotation. Also, there is not enough research on the safety of moringa during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so if you’re expecting or nursing, experts recommend not taking moringa.

What happens when you drink moringa leaf powder every day?

It’s difficult to say, yet when adding it to your diet is generally considered safe. While moringa may offer potential health benefits, there’s no research to show that drinking it every day can change your body in a specific way or the long term. But what is clear is moringa will provide an additional dose of antioxidants in your diet.

Are there specific benefits of moringa for women?

It’s unclear whether there are specific benefits of moringa for women, but those that have been studied thus far apply to this group of people. Those potential perks include weight loss and disease prevention.

Can I eat moringa leaves raw?

It is safe to eat raw moringa leaves. What you’ll want to avoid is consuming moringa root, which can be toxic to humans.

Possible Health Benefits of Moringa

Moringa leaf, either powdered or dried, is the most common form of the supplement in the United States, says LaVardera. The potential health benefits discussed below involve moringa powder or extract (aka a pill-form supplement), and may apply to whole moringa leaf, though more studies are needed to know for sure.

Supporting Immunity

Moringa supplies a good source of vitamin C, an antioxidant nutrient that supports immune function and collagen production, says LaVardera. She points out that the specific concentrations of nutrients like vitamin C will vary widely between brands. Because the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not have the nutritional profile of moringa available on its website, you’ll have to look at the nutrition facts panel of the product that you’re using. For instance, one brand of moringa powder sold by Thrive Market contains 9 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C per ? teaspoon serving of powdered moringa. Bonus: The C helps the body better absorb iron (in the same serving of moringa, 5 percent of your daily value is covered).

Reducing Inflammation

“I consider moringa in the category of functional foods. We eat a lot of these foods for the beneficial plant compounds that you won’t necessarily see reflected on the package,” says LaVardera. One of those major categories? Polyphenols. These are natural compounds within the plant that protect it as it grows, says LaVardera. When you consume those polyphenols in any form, they stimulate antioxidant activity in your own body that neutralizes cell-damaging free radicals. This is helpful for reducing inflammation in the body that underlies chronic disease, she says.

While there are thousands of known polyphenols, there are a few of note in moringa.

Those include beta-sitosterol, quercetin, and kaemferol, which are compounds that may play a role in reducing cholesterol,

lowering inflammation,

and possibly preventing cancer,

LaVardera notes, citing research.

May Help Prevent Diabetes

In a small study on people who have prediabetes, those who took 2,400 mg of dried moringa leaf powder daily improved fasting blood glucose and A1C levels over 12 weeks better than a placebo, according to a double-blind, randomized trial.

Moringa is theorized to help regulate enzymes involved in glucose metabolism, possibly due, in part, to the plant’s polyphenols.

Weight Loss Potential of Moringa

One study comparing overweight participants in a placebo group versus those taking an herbal formula, which included moringa leaf extract, found that supplement group lost about 10 pounds more over 16 weeks. All participants followed a calorie-reduced diet and exercised, so keep in mind that that’s likely a critical component to the weight loss of the study participants. In addition, the people in the study did not take moringa alone; curry tree and turmeric extracts were also included in the formula. It’s impossible to say what role moringa specifically played in weight loss.

That said, moringa research has not clearly shown that the ingredient directly helps with weight loss, but it may help support your body while you change your habits to reach a healthy body weight, adds Stacie Stephenson, doctor of chiropractic, a functional and integrative medicine practitioner and board member of the American Nutrition Association. “Because moringa reduces inflammation, stabilizes blood sugar, and promotes the breakdown of fat, it could be a useful way to augment your weight loss efforts,” she says.

Moringa won’t do it alone, though. More important is eating a healthful diet overall, getting regular physical activity, and sleeping well.

Side Effects and Safety of Moringa

Overall, it’s important to keep in mind that supplements are treated differently from medications. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does regulate supplements and their ingredients but relies on manufacturers and distributors to do quality control and ensure safety of these products.

The FDA itself does not approve supplements before they hit the market, require that supplements are proven safe, or ensure the claims the company makes are true.

That said, in general, moringa is safe. “In countries where people eat fresh moringa, they cook the leaves like spinach,” says Stephenson. In the United States, you’ll be consuming dried moringa powder, and so it’s important to also look at the safety of taking moringa as a supplement this way. She points to some research that shows that dried leaf powder and leaf extracts are considered safe.

The authors note that there have been no adverse events reported on animal and human studies to date. (Adverse events are defined as unexpected medical problems that occur during treatment with a drug or therapy.

Stephenson recommends sticking with products made from moringa leaves, noting that other parts of the plant, such as the root, contain toxic compounds. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, there’s not enough data to show that moringa is safe at this time.

Also, similar to other plant substances, with moringa, the amount, quality, and potency can vary across different powders and supplements, so look for a company that is clear about its sourcing and ideally has some quality testing, as noted on the product’s website.

Moringa and Medication Interactions

If you’re taking any medication, talk to your doctor or pharmacist before adding moringa. They’re the best resource to know if the mix that you’re taking (prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, supplements) are all safe together. However, in some instance, moringa may affect how well your body absorbs a drug, how it breaks down in the liver, or it may affect your blood sugar or blood pressure. Here are some potential medication interactions that stand out:

Common Moringa Serving Size

A serving of moringa is ? to 1 teaspoon of moringa leaf powder. This serving differs depending on the product you’re using. Look at the amount indicated on the label of the package.

Plants Similar to Moringa

Moringa is green, so you may compare it with other green powders, such as spirulina, chlorella, or wheat grass. But LaVardera says moringa is more comparable with medicinal herbs, such as ashwagandha.

How to Select and Store Moringa

As mentioned, the most common forms of moringa you’ll encounter are dried or powdered leaves or leaf extract, which you can purchase online or from stores that sell supplements. What’s important is that you’re buying a moringa leaf-based product (rather than those made from other parts of the plant).

Leaf powder will be sold in a bag or cannister, while leaf extract comes in capsules.

The one that you choose will depend on how you’re planning to use it. Is it more accessible or easier to use if it’s in capsule form? Or are you looking to stir some into a smoothie, soup, sauce, or baked with. They’re also available as dried whole leaves that can be used for brewing tea.

Store them in a cool, dry place.

Summary

Moringa leaf, when taken as a pill or extract form supplement, is generally considered safe to incorporate into your diet at lower doses in the short term. That said, research on its potential benefits is ongoing, and it’s best to talk to your healthcare team before taking it. If they give you the okay, consider adding it to smoothies, sauces or similar foods. It can be a nice addition if you’re already eating a plant-based diet full of fruits and vegetables. But like any “superfood,” it is certainly not a cure-all.

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