In India, Betel leaf (BL) plays an important role since ancient culture. Its use in India dates back to 400 BC. As per ancient books of Ayurvedic, Charaka, Sushruta Samhitas, and Kashyapa Bhojanakalpa, the practice of chewing betel leaf after meals became common between 75 AD and 300 AD. Toward the 13th century, European traveler Marco Polo recorded betel chewing among Kings and nobles in India.
Importance of Betel leaf has been described in ancient in ancient books of Ayurveda. Use of Betel leaf was known for centuries for its curative properties. In Chinese folk medicine betel leaves are used for the treatment of various disorders and claimed to have detoxification, antioxidation, and antimutation properties. There are number of research experiments on betel leaf, where the leaf extract, fractions, and purified compounds are found to play a role in oral hygiene, and to have various properties including anti-diabetic, cardiovascular, anti-inflammatory/immunomodulatory, anti-ulcer, hepato-protective, anti-infective, etc., Patents were also awarded for some of the biological activities like anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and immunomodulatory associated with the leaf extracts and purified compounds.
There is archeological evidence that the betel leaves have been chewed along with the areca nut since very ancient times. It is not known when these two different stimulant substances were first put together. Betel leaves are used as a stimulant, an antiseptic, and a breath-freshener, whereas areca nut was considered as aphrodisiac.
Chewing habits of people have changed over time. The betel leaves are chewed together in a wrapped package along with areca nut and mineral slaked lime. Catechu (kattha) and other flavoring substances and spices were also added subsequently. For many decades, tobacco has also been added to the betel leaves package. The practice of chewing betel leaves has been decreasing progressively and now the Quid comprising of tobacco, areca nut, and slaked lime (gutkha) is generally in practice.
Although use of Betel leaves was wide spread in ancient times, but there has not been strong evidence of incidence of oral cancer in ancient times.
Various experiments evaluating effects of betel leaves suggested no harmful effect when consumed alone. Bride et al. demonstrated effect of aqueous betel leaves extract where administration of areca nut extracts in Swiss and C17 mice developed different types of cancer while control group and mice fed with aqueous betel leaves extract did not develop any tumors. Shirname et al. conducted experiments in which Swiss mice were given aqueous extracts of betel Quid and its components by gavage. Mice fed with betel leaves extracts alone had comparable tumor rates with those of controls. Rao et al. compared tumor development in Syrian golden hamster which received topical applications of aqueous extracts of tobacco, areca nut, or betel leaves. Animal treated with tobacco and areca nut had tumor development rate of 15 and 10%, respectively, whereas untreated animals, treated with betel leaves alone, and treated with vehicle did not develop any tumors.
Betel leaves extract even showed beneficial effect in terms of reduced tumor growth rate in animal tumor models. Rao et al. demonstrated that the extract of betel leaves inhibited emergence of DMBA-induced mammary carcinogenesis in rats. However, it did not inhibit the growth in already induced mammary tumors.
Chemopreventive effect of betel leaves was demonstrated by Bhide et al. where administration of betel leaves extract lowered the benzo pyrene induced fore-stomach papillon in Swiss mice. Maximal inhibition of papilloma development was observed in mice receiving hydroxychavicol-a constituent of betel leaves extract.
Thus, there is abundant evidence showing beneficial effects of betel leaves alone in experimental animals, but its validation in humans is still lacking. There is no head to head comparison of incidence of oral cancer in Quid chewers with or without betel leaves.
Shetty et al. in this issue of SAJC have nicely demonstrated the advantage of betel leaves in maintaining salivary ascorbic acid levels in humans. Salivary ascorbic acid may help prevent carcinogenesis in the oral cavity, but the effects of quid/tobacco at other sites of body may still continue. At the same time, there is no long term follow up of study patients which could have given an insight into the development of oral cancer in Betel Quid v/s Quid chewers alone. Based on this study, we cannot recommend chewing of Quid even with Betel leaves as there is no long term follow up and more studies including epidemiological and basic science studies are warranted to clearly establish the role of betel leaves in preventing carcinogenesis.
This heart-shaped leaf is loaded with good health
HEALTH BENEFITS OF CHEWING PAAN OR BETEL LEAVES
From using it in prwyers and religious ceremonies to eating it in the form of ‘paan’, betel leaves contain many curative and healing health benefits. The leaves are full of vitamins like vitamin C, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin and carotene and a great source of calcium. Since betel is an aromatic creeper, you can easily grow it as an ornamental plant in your homes and derive the maximum health benefits from the same.
Often referred to as a paan leaf, here are some medicinal properties of the betel leaf.
● Helps in treating diabetes: it is believed that the components present in betel leaves can reduce the level of sugar in the blood, thus treating diabetes.
● Aids in weight-loss: Betel leaves can be used effectively by people who are trying to shed weight. It reduces ‘Medha dhatu’ (body fat) and increases the metabolic rate of the body.
● Prevents carcinogens that lead to cancer: Chewing betel leaves is known to prevent oral cancer as it helps maintain the levels of ascorbic acid in the saliva. All you need to do is boil 10 to 12 betel leaves for a few minutes and add honey to the boiled water. Drinking this on a daily basis can help.
● Heals wounds: Betel leaves, when applied over a wound and bandaged, can heal a wound and accelerate the healing process. They are also widely used in Ayurveda for treating boils.
● Cures headache: If you are suffering from a severe headache, betel leaves can come to your rescue. The leaves have cooling properties which provide instant relief from the ache when applied externally.