By Tayo Fasuan (Microbiologist/Virologist)
Moringa (usually the species M. oleifera) is a tree whose leaves, roots and seeds have found wide applications in the world of medicine and science as a whole. The leaves have been intensely investigated over the years by hundreds of researchers and found to have medicinal qualities. So much have been written about the ability of the leaves to cure almost all aliment that the stories have almost become incredible, because if Moringa tree is medicinal, so are host of others trees.
The super-stardom popularity of Moringa has been due to the intense search for alternative herbal medical cures which has thrown up many trees’ leaves, seeds and root along the way. Of course, most of us in Nigeria have taken concoctions of leaves and herbs (Agbo) before in order to find cures to aliments. So taking the herbs of Moringa shouldn’t be deemed dangerous as this author is insinuating. But there are many things not yet clarified about this ‘wonder’ tree.
For instance, the commercialization of the leaves and its unrestricted and uncontrolled sales is disturbing. Everyone now has a bottle of the dry grounded leaves for sale somewhere and undiscerning people keep buying. In fact, the day of most people starts by taking the tea of Moringa! The first concern is that, what is the assurance that the material inside that container is actually Moringa? It could be other leaves dried, grounded and packaged by criminally minded people. If some individuals in this country can successfully duplicate and sell pirated sealed drugs, then what is a bottle of leaves that doesn’t even have a NAFDAC number?
Another danger is the quantity taken. Every drug, even the herbal ones, has a limited dosage that can be taken at once. Amount below or above this threshold value would respectively render the drug ineffective or detrimental to the person taking them. Even, the ‘agbo’ we are taking have dosage, and anyone of us who had taken more than required in the past would know what came next. So what is the recommended dose of this Moringa? A teaspoon or two? A cupful or half of it? No one really knows! But people keep buying and attributing their recovery from illness to it without knowing whether its effect is positive or not.
What about the quality assurance? Most of the packaged products have no NAFDAC or SON number as stated earlier. So is the product fit to be taken? I have once likened taking Moringa of unknown quality to taken the popular ‘opa-eyin’ that are rampantly sold by some of the most uncleaned people around the town. One doesn’t have to be a scientist to know that something is wrong with the way these things are being sold. If we can complain about ‘pure waters’ not having NAFDAC numbers, so what about this Moringa? Or because it is Moringa, everything about it is perfect? Come on, people! That just doesn’t add up!
The final point I want to state is based on pure scientific basis. About seven years ago when carrying out my project research during my undergraduate days at the University, I worked on Moringa seeds as one of the potential waste-water purifying agents. Of course, the seeds are good agents of purification, as it makes sedimentation of solid particles in the waste-water settled faster than alum. It also produced less sludge as observed when using alum.
However, I made an unusual discovery. Every sample of water treated with the seeds of Moringa had an exceptionally high number of microorganisms. While the seeds are not meant to actually eliminate microorganisms, reduction was expected, or at most, little or no increment in the population of microbes. This wasn’t the case though as, I remember vividly, the sheer population of the microbes made me and my supervisor labelled them as TNTC (Too Numerous To Count)!
On searching literatures for possible explanations, only one author was able to divulge and boldly state the reason why. The author categorically conclude that the seeds of Moringa contain nutrients which are very useful and vital to the growth of a number of microbes, hence their use in waste-water treatment plants to increase the number of microorganisms needed to break down biodegradable particles within the water.
This was very alarming to me because the microbes mentioned in that literature and the ones I isolated from my waste-water samples are mainly coliform bacteria, those responsible for acute and severe forms of gastrointestinal infections. And some of these microbes are usually part of the normal microbiota of the gastrointestinal tract, which has been shown by this article to be potential causes of really severe diseases if there is an increase in their population.
What this translates to is that ingestion of Moringa seeds as curative drugs can lead to infections and diseases. What is not known, however, is whether the leaves (which are the main parts being marketed and consumed for now) and the seeds (which have been proved to be food substrates for some bacteria) contain the same constituents. Because if both are containing the same constituents, then there might be serious complicating trouble for the consumers of Moringa.
People should not misunderstand me as a proactive voice against the use of Moringa as an herbal medicine, a product which has been proved to be useful over the years. I am only advocating that care should be taken in the consumption of products which have not really been proved beyond reasonable doubt to be completely safe for usage, or whose producers have deliberately left out the potential adverse and negative effects.