Betelnut - western medicine

Recent reports on the health benefits of chewing betelnut are mixed, contrasting its medicinal properties with its harmful effects, especially after on-going use.

Recent research

The main medicinal activities of the seed (also known as the 'nut') are reported to be anti-parasitic, laxative and to promote urination. It is also proven to be a stimulant since it increases both heart rate and blood pressure. The effects of betelnut on mental health are more controversial. By increasing glucose absorption in the brain, betelnut may be able to help those suffering from Alzheimer's disease. There are also hints that betelnut consumption might help sufferers from schizophrenia, but this is not yet demonstrated. Any medicinal use of betelnut will need to be balanced against its known harmful effects.

Safety

There is a growing body of evidence that links the chewing of betelnut with the incidence of oral cancer which affects the mouth, tongue, pharynx and larynx. It is thought that the break-down products of certain alkaloids present in the seeds may be responsible. Chewers who are regular alcohol drinkers and tobacco-smokers appear to be at greatest risk. In recent years, oral cancers in the Indian sub-continent have accounted for around 35% of all cancers.

Other studies suggest betelnut chewing may be associated with the onset of diabetes as well as asthma and cardiovascular diseases.

Aware of these health risks some countries, such as the USA, are beginning to restrict the availability of betelnut. This reflects rising public health concerns associated with the rapidly growing use of betelnut worldwide.

This information is provided for general interest only. It is not intended as guidance for medicinal use. Further information on using herbal medicines is available.