Monthly Archives: September 2015

Moringa oleifera – The Miracle Tree.

drumstick-tree

It is hard to imagine life without plants. The Nature’s green cover is, in fact, one of the greatest boons to the mankind. Plants have been a source of life, economy and sustainability from times immemorial and Moringa oleifera is one such member that is considered to be a treasure which the human race has long realised and have constantly worked to explore the qualities of this wonder tree.

Moringa oleifera (MO in short) is a member of the family Moringaceae. It is a native of the southern foothills of the Himalayan region of India. It is considered as an auspicious tree and has been used in Ayurveda from the times of Sushruta. National Institute of Health has regarded it as the Botanical Plant of the year for the year 2007 and have praised again in the year 2011 and 2012.

It is a fast growing deciduous tree with feathery foliage. Flowers are bisexual and fragrant. Fruit is hanging, three-sided brown capsule with globular seeds. Moringa seeds have no dormancy period. They can, thus, be planted as soon as they are mature and will retain the ability to germinate for upto one year. It is mainly grown in semiarid, tropical and sub-tropical areas, basically a sun and heat loving plant with temperature ranging from 25-35°C, can tolerate upto 48°C in shade but cannot withstand freeze and frost. Moringa oleifera can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions but has a preference for neutral to slight acidic (pH 6.3 to 7). It thrives well in drained loamy soil. In water logged areas the roots generally rot.

seeds          images (2)

     Moringa oleifera pods                                                     Moringa oleifera seed

India is the largest producer of Moringa oleifera with Andhra Pradesh leading in both area and production followed by Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Besides India it is cultivated in Thailand, Philippines, World Vegetable Centre (Taiwan), Haiti, Central America Caribbean, northern parts of South America, Africa, Southeast Asia and various countries of Oceania.

Significance

Moringa oleifera is a very resourceful plant with phenomenal medical and therapeutic relevance. Almost every part of this tree is of significance to the mankind. It is a wonderful source of nutritional supplements. It has twice the protein contents of yoghurt (very rich in sulphur containing amino acids methionine and cysteine), four times the Vitamin A content of carrots, thrice the potassium contents of banana, four times and the calcium content of milk and seven times the vitamin C contents of oranges.

Besides being a cornucopia of nutritional supplements, MO has astounding medical significance which is stated as follows:

  1. Antihypertensive, diuretic and cholesterol lowering effect: MO leaf juice is known to have a stabilizing effect on BP lowering. The ethanol and aqueous extracts of whole pods and its parts also have similar effects. Its roots, flowers, leaves and seeds have been reported to show diuretic activity. Crude extract of Moringa leaves have a significant cholesterol lowering action which is attributed to the presence of β-sitosterol.
  2. Antidiabetic activity: MO is a potent therapeutic agent for high blood sugar level. Its leaves reduce blood sugar concentration and are also a potent source of polyphenols responsible for hypoglycemic activity.
  3. Anti-inflammatory activity: Several parts of MO have shown to possess anti-inflammatory activity. Methanol leaf extract, alcohol extract of seeds and bioactive compounds present in MO pods have been known to exhbit anti-inflammatory effects. Quercetin along with other 36 natural anti-inflammatory agents is found in MO.
  4. Anticancer activity: Niamizicin, a bioactive component found in MO leaves has anti cancer activity. Its leaf extract have shown potential cytotoxic effects on human multiple myeloma cell lines.
  5. Immunomodulatory activity: Methanolic extract of MO parts have shown to stimulate both cellular and humoral immunity.
  6. A potent Antioxidant: Aqueous extracts of leaf, fruit and seeds of MO act as antioxidative agents. Ethanolic and methanolic extracts of Indian origin MO have shown to possess highest antioxidative property. It has a potent anti oxidant zeatin along with other 46 different types of antioxidants.
  7. Antifertility activity: Aqueous extracts of roots and bark have demonstrated anti fertility response. Its leaf extract is 100% abortive.
  8. Protection in Eye diseases: MO leaf pods, pods and leaf powder are rich source of Vitamin A. Thus, they prevent night blindness; have retinoprotective effects and also delays cataract development.
  9. Antimicrobial effects: Various parts of MO have known to exhibit inhibitory activity against several microbes. Moringa roots have been reported to contain pterygospermin which has powerful antimicrobial and fungicidal effects. Bark extract have been reported to show antifungal activity while the fresh leaf juice has been found to inhibit growth of microbes like Pseudomonas aeroginosa and Staphyllococcus aureus.
  10.  CNS depressant and cerebroprotective: Root extract possess CNS depressant activity. MO leaf extract is a potent neuroprotectant, protects against brain damage and oxidative stress.

Other socio-industrial benefits

  1. As a source of human consumption: Young leaves are edible; commonly cooked and used in soups and salad. Young green pods are rich in free leucine; boiled and eaten, even made curries or used in pulses curry. Dry seeds and roots from young plants in powdered form can be used as seasoning base.
  2. MO as a forage plant: Owing to its excellent nutritional properties, easy cultivation practises and wide availability has made this plant the most preferred choice of forage material for cattle.
  3. Industrial uses: Moringa seed kernels have approximately 42% oil content. The oil is brilliant yellow in colour. It is extensively used in fine machinery such as time pieces because of its little tendency to deteriorate and become rancid and sticky. Also used as vegetative cooking oil and in perfume industry as stabilizing scents.
  4. In water purification: The press cakes obtained as by-product during oil extraction process of MO seeds contain a very high level of protein, some of which are cationic polyelectrolytes and are thus, used to purify muddy or dirty water as contaminated water contains colloids of anionic nature.
  5. Plant growth enhancers: Ethanolic extracts of leaves contain growth enhancing hormones of cytokinin type which can be used as spray to accelerate the growth of young plants.

 Moringa oleifera is the source of incredible health source. Numerous products are available in the market to help the masses avail its benefits, for example: Moringa oleifera organic extract, Moringa oleifera organic powder, Moringa oleifera organic capsules, and Moringa oleifera organic capsules, etc.

Despite its immense potential and growing demand Moringa has not yet been widely commercialised. Following points can state the reason for this.

  1. Though medicinal properties and therapeutic importance of Moringa have been well documented in research publications, yet no scientific studies on Moringa have been conducted by recognised research institution which makes it difficult for the companies to market its products with health claims.
  2. Less research has been done on large scale cultivation of the tree and also less data are available based on its economics.
  3. Poor commercialisation due to low quality products, an outcome on less knowledge of harvesting and cultivation practices.

Therefore, there is an urgent need to overcome the abovementioned drawbacks and start exploring this ‘tree of life’ through proper, adequate, superior and recognised research studies.

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Breastfeeding, Breastmilk Production and its Composition: A Gist.

breastfeeding

In literal sense the word ‘breastfeeding’ means to feed the infant or the baby with the milk produced from the mother’s breast. Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for an infant and it is infact the nature’s best baby food. According to World Health Organization breastfeeding is the normal way of providing young infants with nutrients they need for healthy growth and development.Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended upto 6 months of age with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods upto 2 years of age and beyond.

Breastfeeding has well established benefits. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it is the preferred choice of feeding for all infants. Colostrum, the yellowish, sticky breastmilk produced at the end of the pregnancy is recommended by the WHO as the perfect food for the newborn and feeding should be initiated within the first hour after the birth.

How do breasts make milk?

Mammary glands in the breast produce breast milk. The regions in the gland where milk is produced is known as alveoli. These are small grape like sacs, surrounded by tiny muscles that squeeze them to push the milk produced into the ductules. Ductules are the small channels that carry the milk from alveoli to the main milk ducts.Milk ducts are the complex network of canals that carry the milk from alveoli and ductules straight to the young one. The size and number of milk ducts increase during pregnancy.

breastmap

Fig: General view of breast anatomy

How does the process of breastmilk production take place?

The process of breastmilk production starts during pregnancy. When a woman conceives breasts undergo a number of transformation like for example they become tender, swollen, nipples and areolas get dark (the circle of skin surrounding the nipples).

Apart from the visible changes that take place as  mentioned above, a number of changes also take place inside the breast. Lactogenesis, the process of milk secretion from the mammary glands, can be divided into three main phases:

  1. Lactogenesis I
  2. Lactogenesis II
  3. Lactogenesis III

Lactogenesis I and II are hormonally driven. Phase I of lactogenesis starts halfway through the pregnancy and the production increases a manifold around 30-40 hours after the child birth, this embarks the second phase of Lactogenesis. During Lactogenesis I the developing placenta stimulates the release of hormones- progesterone and estrogen, which in turn stimulate the complex biological system for milk production. High levels of progesterone and estrogen during pregnancy inhibits the oozing out of the milk from ni[pples. At birth, the delivery of placenta results in sharp drop in progesterone levels and a simultaneous increase in prolactin hormone level that initiates the Lactogenesis II and oozing out of the milk.

After Lactogenesis II, the maintenance stage of the milk production commences which is marked as the Lactogenesis III. In this stage the milk synthesis is controlled at the breast and milk removal (emptying of the breasts) is the primary control mechanism for supply. Milk removal is driven by baby’s appetite and dependence on other sources of the food apart from mother’s milk.

Suckling of baby stimulates the brain to release more of prolactin hormone which is in turn stimulates the body to produce more milk. But gradually with time the prolactin response to the baby’s suckling reduces and this marks the return of menstural cycle of the mothers.

Breastmilk Composition

Breastmilk has been described as the nature’s best baby food. It is the source of all valuable and essential nutrients that are help an infant in its proper physical and mental growth and development. Breastmilk is a bioactive fluid and is dynamic in nature as its composition varies from colostrum to later stages of lactation and also it differs within feeds and mothers. These compositional differences are attributed to the maternal and environmental factors.

Breastmilk can be categorized into three main types:

  • Colostrum: It is the milk that oozes out from a mother’s breast just after the childbirth. It is a concentrated, creamy, high protein, low-fat substance.It is easily digestible and a rich source of immunoglobins, especially the secretory IgA, and disease fighting antibodies. It is more immunogenic rather nutritive.
  • Transitional Milk: It is the creamy milk that immediately follows colostrum. It is the mixture of colostrum and mature milk. It has high lipid content necessary for proper development of brain and is lactose rich that provides energy to the young one.
  • Mature Milk: It is produced from 20 days after childbirth and onwards. It is rich in fatty acid contents and the fat content increases as the feed progresses.

In general, the basic composition of breastmilk is as follows:

  • Free water
  • Proteins and vitamins
  • Essential fatty acids and long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • Carbohydrates- lactose being the principle carb.
  • Immunoglobulins, IgA being the predominant one.

Besides the above-mentioned nutritional components, there are some non-nutritional components also found in breastmilk that are necessary for growth, development and providing the infant with disease resistance elements. These are:

  • Growth factors, eg. insulin-like growth factor, epidermal growth factor.
  • Essential enzymes like lysozyme.
  • Antimicrobial agents.

Relevance of breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is not only important for the baby but for the mothers also. Breastfeeding helps keep baby healthy, protect them from diseases, allergies, helps in easy digestion, babies have little or no problem of constipation, diarrhea, upset stomach. It is said that breastfed babies have higher IQ scores, lower risk for diabetes, obesity, respiratory and urinary tract infections and some childhood cancers.Breastfeeding helps mothers to get their uterus back to its pre-pregnant state faster, helps reducing their weight gained during pregnancy, reduces the risk of ovarian cancer and post-menopausal breast cancer and lowers their risk to develop Type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.In fact, breastfeeding has proved to be an effective form of birth control. In Africa, breast feeding prevents an estimated average of four births per woman, and in Bangladesh it prevents an estimated average of 6.5 births per woman.(source: Natural Resource Defense Council). Above all the most important part of breastfeeding is that it strengthens the emotional ties between the mother and the her young one, thus, boosting her emotional quotient.

At the end, a piece of information: August 1-7 has been celebrated as the World Breastfedding Week (WBW)  in more than 120 countries including India. This event is being organised by WABA (World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action), WHO and UNICEF. For more information click on the link here: http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/