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betel leaves

Areca nuts, also known as betel nuts, are seeds of the areca catechu, originally found in Southeast Asia. Betel nuts have been used in Asia for decades owing to their social, religious, and medicinal significance. Wrapped in betel leaf, they come with ample health benefits.

Studies found that more than 600 million people chew betel quid quite often. In fact, in some cultures, it has sacred status. Though there are many health benefits of eating betel leaves, yet depending on its use, there are some risks as well.

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History of use of betel leaf

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Studies show that betel first originated in Southeast Asia and then arrived in Vietnam and Thailand, followed by India. History says that both betel leaves and areca nuts are chewed together for thousands of years.

There has been evidence of betel chewing by the skeletons found in the Duyong cave in the Philippines dated to 3000 BCE. Some Indian texts dating to 504 BCE also reflect the use of betel.

Uses of Betel

Traditionally, betel leaf is consumed as a part of the betel quid. It is a bite-sized morsel of chopped areca nut and slaked lime with the addition of spices, tobacco, and other ingredients wrapped together in betel leaf. It results in bright red saliva, which occurs because of the compound arecoline in the areca nut.

In Vietnamese culture, betel leaf and areca nuts are a crucial part of wedding ceremonies and other formal events. In Papua New Guinea, the betel leaf preparation is termed Buai. One can widely find it on local street corners. People there use it for its ability to reduce stress and hunger and stimulate heightened awareness.

In India, the quid is known as paan. It is an integral part of the Indian culture. Many people chew it almost daily. Here, paan shops sell betel leaf with a variety of spices and tobacco. Differently flavoured paans are popular among people in India. In fact, some people also like to prepare their paan at home. Paan leaves are also a part of religious and social ceremonies. If you also like to chew betel leaves or use them in religious offerings, instead of buying betel leaves online, it is better to invest in a betel plant so that you can reap the benefits in the long run.

Benefits of betel leaf

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Some studies have established that betel-leaf extract has chemoprotective effects. Another study on the effect of turmeric and BLE on oral cancers found that BLE inhibited tumour development. And adding turmeric to it further strengthened this inhibitory effect.

Another study mentioned that one could treat human cancer cell lines with BLE as BLE has an anti-carcinogenic compound.

Health risk

Areca nut imparts a mild stimulant effect which is the same as betel leaf. It also offers to provoke sensations such as body warmth and increased alertness. Various studies show that the areca nut contains carcinogenic compounds. A population where areca nut chewing is widespread has a high prevalence of mouth and throat cancers. There are several campaigns spreading awareness about the controlled use of the nut.

People mostly chew Betel leaf with tobacco. Tobacco contains carcinogenic compounds, but the anti-carcinogenic effect of betel leaf suppresses it. However, it is still not advisable to chew tobacco. Chewing tobacco quid with areca nut increases nut’s carcinogenic effect further.

Though nut can help in glaucoma, improve digestion, and reduce symptoms of schizophrenia, yet there are serious health risks. Research has yet to find out the safe consumption of betel and areca nut.

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