The herb commonly known as the bitter leaf is a small tree that can grow up to 5 m. The perennial tree grows in countries with a tropical climate, primarily in Africa. The tree has brown or gray bark with a rough texture. It has veined green leaves with an oblong shape and thin soft hair on the underside. It grows wildly in the outdoor, such as on a vacant land, roadsides, and in the fields or even forest. People also cultivate the plant in their garden for household medicinal needs.
The genus Vernonia consists of hundreds of species. But typically, when people talk about the bitter leaf, it refers to Vernonia amygdalina, Vernonia colorata, and Vernonia calvoana. These species grow extensively and consumed traditionally in many parts of West and Central Africa. The leaf has a unique flavor: bitter and sweet. Despite its bitterness,a lot of people consume the leaf because of its medicinal and nutritional benefits.
Some African countries even export the dried leaves of Vernonia amygdala to other continents for its remedial quality.
Traditionally, people in Africa have been using the leaves to treat a number of ailments because of its nutritional values and therapeutic properties.
1. Reduces Cholesterol Level
Cholesterol level is one of the most important health indicators in human’s body. When our cholesterol level rises, we are at risk from many health problems, especially stroke, heart attack, and Alzheimer’s. Therefore, to remain healthy, the levels of bad cholesterol should be reduced. One of the effective ways to prevent the elevation of bad cholesterols is by consuming bitter leaf.
The February 2008 issue of the “Journal of Vascular Health and Risk Management” had a report on how the bitter leaf is able to level down the bad and total cholesterol in our body. Using animal subjects for the experiment, the researchers involved in the study discovered that the extract of bitter leaf reduced the level of LDL cholesterol by 50 %. At the same time, it also boosted the level of HDL or good cholesterol.
No similar studies have been conducted on humans. However, the study suggested that it most likely provides a similar effect on humans.
2. Contains Powerful Antioxidants
Human’s cells are always under the threat and constant attack of dangerous free radicals. Oxygen metabolism process produces free radicals as an excess product. These free radicals interact with our cells’ molecules, causing damage to the nearby stress and DNA. The free radicals can be helpful for your body in a small amount, but if the amount goes unchecked, it becomes a dangerous issue.
It may lead to fatigue, muscle pain, memory loss, headaches, vision problems, wrinkles, and in the long term, numerous serious health conditions. Because of this, we need other substances that can fight free radicals, known as antioxidants.
This nemesis of free radicals can be easily found in abundance in bitter leaves. As reported by the December 2006 issue of the journal “Food Chemistry,” the antioxidant properties of a bitter leaf can be used by humans to fight oxidation process and the danger of free radicals. When incorporated into the diet, this will also boost your health and protect your body against various dangerous diseases.
3. Is A Rich Source of Fatty Acids
Fatty acids are abundantly present in bitter leaves, including linoleic acids and linolenic acids. Both fatty acids are not produced by our body. Yet, they both serve important roles in boosting our health. Because the inability of our body to produce these fatty acids, we need to get the fatty acids from our diet.
According to the study that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in November 2001, these two fatty acids have protective characteristic against cardiovascular diseases. When regularly taken in as a part of the diet, the fatty acids may prevent various health problems.
The research subjects who took the greatest amount of linolenic and linoleic fatty acids have a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases by around 40%. In contrast, those who took the least amount and frequency of both fatty acids are more at risk from cardiovascular diseases.
4. Cures Common Flu
Some researchers have demonstrated that the extract of bitter leaf combined with Siberian ginseng serves as a good herbal remedy to treat common flu. The concoction has to be taken within the first 72 hours of the infection to get it work. In around two or three days, all the common flu symptoms, including sneezing, headache, and runny nose, will disappear as the energy level returns to normal.
Some studies also demonstrated that the extract of bitter leaf and Siberian ginseng is also very effective at treating common cold in kids. This effectiveness is mostly due to the anti-microbial properties and vitamin C in the extract that can improve body’s immune system against disease and eradicate viruses at the same time. The concoction can also warm the body and prevent the cold from happening. When you start feeling unwell, you should drink the concoction of bitter leaf to prevent flu or other related diseases.
5. Prevents Diabetes
A bitter leaf contains a liberal amount of andrographolide, the compounds that are effective at reducing the glucose levels in the blood. According to the study conducted by the researchers at Gajah Mada University in 2004, drinking the water of boiled bitter leaf can reduce the level of glucose in male rats as animal subjects. While the research was not conducted on the human subject, this research is positive.
Another animal test also confirmed this quality. Some African researchers from Bandung Institute of Technology conducted an experiment on rabbits for the same matter. The researchers found out that the andrographolide in the bitter leaf extract possesses a hypoglycemic effect or the ability to reduce the level of blood sugar.
One of the possible benefits of this characteristic is the ability to prevent and treat diabetes melitus. The disease that is characterized by the high level of blood sugar because of the lack of insulin will be able to be treated by drinking the concoction of bitter leaf regularly. Besides drinking the concoction, you also have to consume a lot of fibrous fruits and vegetables, maintain a physically active life, and give up the smoking habit because it negatively affects the absorption of glucose on cells.
The bitter leaf concoction can also be an effective herbal remedy to treat dysentery. Dysentery is a disease where inflammation occurs in the colon. The symptoms are stomach cramps along with severe diarrhea and blood or mucus in the feces. While hydration is fatal, the remedy is also urgently required.
Bitter leaves offer potent ability to treat dysentery. To get the remedial property of the leaves,you should crush some dry bitter leaves and put them into boiling water. Then, turn off the stove and filter the concoction before you drink the water. You should consume the herbal drink three times a day: in the morning, afternoon, and evening.
7. Prevents Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a threat to many women around the world. In the United States alone, BreastCancer.org estimates that not less than 10% of women will suffer from at least a form of breast cancer at one point in their life. The risk of suffering from breast cancer can be reduced by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including committing to regular exercises, adopting a green and low-fat diet, and also maintaining a balance weight.
To equip yourself with a better weapon against the breast cancer, consume bitter leaves regularly. The antioxidant properties present in the leaf can fight the cancerous cells and inhibit their growth. The study conducted by some scientists from the Jackson State University managed to prove this wonderful quality of bitter leaves. The researchers conducted a test tube study experimenting on the effect of bitter leaves extract on human breast cancer cells. Based on the study that was published in the February 2004 edition of the journal Experimental Biology and Medicine, it can be concluded that bitter leaf is able to inhibit the growth and spread of human breast cancer cells.
8. Prevents Other Types of Cancer
Besides breast cancer, bitter leaves also work effectively as a cure for other types of cancer. The andrographolide compounds that are present in the bitter leaf can inhibit the growth and development of cancerous and tumorous cells. The anti-cancer properties in the bitter leaf are revealed through several studies. In one of the studies, the leaf is proven to be effective at fighting lymphocytes attacked by leukemia.
A study conducted by some Japanese researchers discovered that bitter leaves can stop the activities ofgastric cancer cells. It achieves this by preventing and disrupting the synthetic process of the cancerous cells’ DNAs.
It is also very easy to use bitter leaves as aherbal remedy to treat cancer. You just have to prepare fresh bitter leaves and boil it with water. Once the concoction is warm or cool enough, drink it in one sitting. Drink the concoction twice or three times a day while continuing the treatment as prescribed by your doctor.
9. Soothes Headache
Bitter leaves are also very effective to treat a headache, including the types of a headache caused by flu and fever. To get the benefit, make some bitter leaf concoction by crushing a handful of bitter leaves and mixing it with water. Boil the tea and drink it as once it gets cooler.
10. Prevents Malaria
Malaria is an infection caused by the parasite Plasmodium that is carried into the blood by mosquito bites. Plasmodium is commonly found in tropical countries, hence, in many tropical countries, suffering from malaria is still a risk. Malaria is a dangerous disease that potentially causes deaths. Fortunately, bitter leaves can be an effective herbal treatment for the infection.
One of the active substances present in the leaf is andrographolide.Andrographolide is known for its antiparasiticproperty. According to some studies, the substance is an active ingredient that inhibits the growth of the parasite and therefore can be extracted for malaria medication. Andrographolide achieves this result by disrupting the defense system of Plasmodium and prevents its development. As the immune system of the parasite drops, the oxidative process is affected and the parasite is easily destroyed.
However, the scientific world hasn’t concluded the proper method and dosage for malaria treatment using the extract of bitter leaves. Therefore, you should never use it as a primary treatment, unless you can’t get access to doctor’s prescribed medicines.
11. Treats Typhoid
Around the world, there are at least 26,9 million cases of typhoid reported annually. The diseases typically take around 200.000 death toll. Typhoid is an infection of the bacteria Salmonella typhimurium that is transmitted from one human to another. The bacteria enters human’s body system through feces or infected foods and drinks. The bacteria first goes into human’s body through the mouth then travels to the intestine and the bloodstream. This is where it gets dangerous. Typhi spreads into other organs and tissues without much defense by the human immune system because the bacteria can live within the cells of the host safely.
High fever and stomachache are the primary symptoms of the infection. If the patients of typhoid don’t get proper treatment, they will be at risk from deaths because the bacteria kills 25 percent of those they infected. However, when it is treated early, it will be successfully eradicated. Antibiotics are usually prescribed by the doctors to get rid of the bacteria. During this period, the concoction of bitter leaf or bitter leaf supplements in other forms may also be taken to speed up the healing. The andrographolide, tannin, flavonoid, and saponin possess antibacterial properties that will l be a good aid in killing off bacteria.
12. Reduces High Blood Pressure
Hypertension is also a disease that affects a lot of people in the world. Avoiding this common disease is not an easy task, yet the disease poses danger when not treated properly. A prolonged and untreated hypertension will cause some complicated issues such as heart attack, stroke, kidney problems, blurred vision, and even death.
Doctors will usually prescribe their hypertension patients with pharmaceutical drugs such as diuretics, beta blockers, or calcium channel blockers. However, these chemical medicines are not the only treatment for hypertension. There are various herbal alternatives for people suffering from hypertension and one of the effective herbal ingredients is the bitter leaf.
Bitter leaves can prevent and treat hypertension because they contain a high amount of potassium that can stimulate salt secretion from the body. Besides, the leaf also contains very fewsodium, which is allegedly responsible for the increase of blood pressure. In addition, the potassium in bitter leaf will dilate arteries and prevent arteriosclerosis. As a result, it also eases the blood flow and stabilizes high blood pressure.
13. Improves Immune System
Another benefit of the bitter leaf is the ability to boost your immune system. Our immune system is our best defense against infection and diseases that threaten our health. When your immune system is weakened, you are under the threat of a lot of contagious diseases. Fortunately, drinking bitter leaf tea or taking bitter leaf extract can give a significant boost to your immune system. In fact, it is actually the reason behind the popularity of bitter leaf tea as a herbal drink in some parts of the world.
14. Treats Hyperuricemia
Hyperuricemia is the condition when the uric acid in the blood is abnormally high. Typically, this abnormal condition manifests in gouts, such asmonoarthritis in your great toe, knee, and joints. It may also trigger a form of hematuria, which is a pain that you feel in the area of the abdomen, flank, or inguinal region accompanied by nausea. The chronic pain may disrupt activities and sleep. To treat the disease, a proper diet should be planned and followed. It is also recommended to incorporate bitter leaves into the patients’ daily diet to aid the treatment. The ketones, aldehydes, and flavonoids in the bitter leaves will neutralize the uric acid level and eliminate the symptoms.
15. Promotes Healthy Skin
Somesubstances in bitter leaves are natural antibacterial agents that will get rid of bacteria that causes inflammation on the skin when acnes happen. Besides, those substances also have antioxidant properties that naturally fight free radicals that accelerate the aging process. Drinking bitter leaf tea will keep wrinkles and sun spots at bay. Your skin tissue will be rejuvenated and you will look younger and healthier.