Article fact-checked and approved by Dr. Didi Emokpare
Content provided in partnership with Radiant Health Magazine
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Remember the time when you had a hacking cough and your grandmother gave you a little bitter leaf to chew on right before you went to bed? Or perhaps you recall a time when she applied some boiled bitter leaf to alleviate an extremely itchy rash. Soon afterwards, you were back to your normal self and out to play. It almost seemed as though for whatever ailment bothered you, bitter leaf was the best treatment option available.
Turns out, grandmother may have been onto something. Emerging research indicates that bitter leaf is not only a delicious ingredient in the kitchen but an effective remedy for an array of ailments and an ally in overall good health.
In the medicine cabinet
For generations, bitter leaf has been a mainstay in traditional Nigerian healing practices. From treating minor conditions such as rash, fever, stomach aches, insomnia, toothaches and general malaise to alleviating debilitating illnesses such as arthritis, bitter leaf has played a prominent role in our health.
In today’s world of diet and lifestyle induced chronic diseases, bitter leaf can be a effective component in the management of symptoms and the science to back up tradition is slowly making its entrance in modern day medicine.
Animal studies comparing the effectiveness bitter leaf extract to a popular heart disease drug, proved it to be just as effective in reducing LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and triglycerides while increasing HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) making it a potential ally in the fight against heart disease.
Improves blood sugar
A 2010 study published in the International Journal of Biological and Chemical Sciences theorized that the presence of healthy phytochemicals, vitamins, proteins, lipids and carbohydrates resulted in significant decreases in blood sugars making bitter leaf an important component in the prevention and treatment of diabetes.
RECIPE: Bitter Leaf Soup (efo elewuro)
Helps prevent and treat cancer
Bitter leaf is rich in phtyochemicals such as saponins, coumarins and alkaloids which according to scientists at help the body reduce harmful free radicals, detoxify, prevent the release of stress response proteins and interfere with DNA activities that may cause cancer.
Furthermore, a 2004 study published in The Journal of Experimental Biology and Medicine demonstrated that in test tubes, bitter leaf extract prevented the growth and spread of breast cancer cells. More studies are currently underway but the medical world is hopeful that bitter leaf may be a promising agent in the treatment of a disease that ravages so many women of African descent.
There is also benefit for those already diagnosed with cancer. It has been demonstrated that during cancer treatment, bitter leaf can make cancerous cells more responsive to treatment helping the body heal.
Alleviates symptoms of malaria
Bitter leaf is rich in quinine, a compound which has been demonstrated to cure malaria, clean the liver, lymphatic system and lungs. The Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine reports bitter leaf as an effective treatment for malaria. In a study published in the journal, 67% of people taking bitter leaf extract experienced complete relief of symptoms of malaria.
In the kitchen
Call it a Superfood! The benefits of using bitter leaf as an ingredient in the kitchen extend beyond delicious flavor. Loaded with protein, vitamins and minerals such as iron, phosphorus, calcium, zinc, copper, folic acid and vitamin C, bitter leaf is a nutrient powerhouse.
While the jury is still out as to whether taking bitter leaf in a supplement form such as capsules can reap significant rewards, one can certainly glean as much nutrient value by enjoying it cooked with meals, in smoothies and other methods.
RECIPE: Bitter Leaf Avocado Spread
Just how much should you eat?
There currently is no set guidelines for how much bitter leaf one should consume for optimal health. A study from Delta State University suggested that drinking 6 glasses of a tonic made from 10 handfuls of fresh leaves squeezed in 10 liters of water helped managed diabetes although more research is required.
But, don’t just limit yourself to the leaf of this plant. All parts of the plan, including the root and stem have medicinal and nutritional properties that improve overall health.
RECIPE: Milky Bitter Leaf Shake
Enjoy regular doses of this plant, it will improve the way you the way you feel!
Here’s to your health.
Now it’s your turn. Do you use bitter leaf medicinally or for health reason? If so what do you use it for and what’s your favorite way to enjoy bitter leaf? Share in the comment box below.
Radiant is a bi-annual print and digital health magazine dedicated to the discerning African woman and her journey to wellness through health, beauty and culture. Available at Barnes & Noble stores and other retailers (see stockists) and online. Ships worldwide. Subscribe to our newsletter and get a free digital copy of issue No.06.