Once many people, especially Nigerians, and in particular, the Igbo people hear the world bitter leaf, their minds would quickly switch to bitter leaf soup. Bitter leaf soup is unarguably the king of soup in Igbo land. The only opponent to its kingship is oha leaf soup. But beyond soup, bitter leaf juice has a special place among herbal remedies.
Bitter leaves juice is used in traditional medicines against several disease conditions, and it has proved its efficiency in those applications. For this reason, there are several research results which give credence to the traditional use of bitter leaves for treating health problems.
Bitter Leaf Plant
Vernonia amygdalina, popularly called bitter leaf, and onugbu in Igbo is a perennial shrub that grows in tropical Africa. It’s known for its strong bitter taste, which are usually believed to be due to its bioactive phytochemicals such as alkaloid, and saponins and flavonoids. Bitter leaf soup makes the top list of Nigerian soups and is native to the Anambra people of Southeastern part of Nigeria.
The plant has been effectively used in treating ailments such as intestinal and stomach diseases, in treatment of fever and several others across the tropical regions of Africa. Most practitioners use it as an appetizer, digestive tonic, antifungal and antibacterial mixtures and it has been shown to possess antitumor and anticancer properties, it is employed also in kidney and liver detoxifications.
Bioactive composition of Bitter leaves
Bitter leaf is well loaded with several Bioactive compounds, which confer on the leaf juice the many health benefits it possesses. Some of the phytochemicals are:
These are a group of natural compounds found in plants with different phenolic structures. There important functions include antioxidants, hepatoprotective, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anticancer activities. Flavonoids are indispensable in the human body.
The Flavonoids found in bitter leaf include luteolin and its complex compounds, Vernolide, Vernolepin, Vernodalin, vernodalol, Vernomygdin, Vernomenin etc.
These groups of compounds possess antibacterial, anaesthetic, antifungal, antiprotozoal, and antimicrobial activities. They include Epiverodalol, 1,2,2,3-tetrahydrovernodalin and vernoniosides.
These includes thiamine, eucalyptol, beta piene, myrtenal and, alpha-muurolol.
Other phytochemicals present in the leaf juice include alkaloids, phytate, tannins, anthroquinone, steroid and saponins.
Bitter leaf benefits
The many bioactive components of bitter leaf has conferred strong healing capacities on the plant towards several ailments. Some of these health benefits are going to be discuss in this article. So let’s quickly dive into the sea of bitter leaf world.
Bitter leaf possess anti inflammatory Bioactive Agents
Inflammation, as you know, is a common tissue phenomenon which occurs when the tissue is exposed to trauma or injury. This inflammatory response to trauma and injury can be attenuated if you drink a cup of bitter leaves juices. This is because bitter leaf juice possesses saponins, tannins, alkaloids, flavonoids, and glycosides, all of which suppress inflammatory responses.
Another anti inflammatory agent is Zinc element, which the juice possesses. Zinc is an essential element which regulates most of the enzymes that are involved in inflammations. The anti-inflammatory activity of Verononia amygdalina was comparable in magnitude to dexamethasone, in a research conducted by Biressaw and Birhanu.
These means that bitter leaves juice will be effective for the treatment of such diseases like joint pains, rheumatoid arthritis, and headache.
Possess antipyretic and analgesic property.
Both the brewer’s yeast and lipopolysaccharides induce pyrexia in animals and human body. Such induction activates the arachidonic acid pathway and has been associated with elevated prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) level in the hypothalamus. But the antipyretic agents present in bitter leaf juice have been to antagonize the PGE2 elevation by inhibiting the activity ofcyclo-oxygenase thereby suppressing pyrexia.
Bitter leaves possess antimalaria properties
Malaria is the commonest cause of deaths among subsaharan African nations. This is due to the incessant infestation of mosquitoes owing to the many presence of bushes and stagnant waters that are littered everywhere.
According to a research finding, malaria is one of the most important tropical diseases and the greatest cause of hospitalization and death among children of age 6 months to 5 years.
Initially, chloroquine was readily used to treat malaria but the rate at which plasmodium falciparum has developed resistance to chloroquine and other synthetic antimalaria drugs has prompted the search for a more effective antimalaria compound.
It is thanks to nature for the gift of herbs such as bitter leaves tree. Both the aqueous and ethanolic extract of both the stem bark and leaves of V. Amygdalina has shown strong promise for treating malaria infection.
This antimalaria activity of the lea and stem back is associated with some bitter Sesquiterpenes lactones such as, Vernolide,Vernodalin, hydroxy Vernolides, and the steroid related compounds, Vernoniosid B1 and Vernonoid B1 present in the bitter leaf. They possess anti-plasmodium activity especially against plasmodium falciparum.
Bitter Leaf Juice Possesses Antioxidants
As a source of antioxidants, bitter leaf juice would replace the synthetic antioxidants such as butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), which are suspected to be tumorigenic. More so is the research report by Igile et al, that luteolin is more potent as an antioxidant than BHT.
In another study conducted on the oxidative stress in diabetic rats, result showed that the aqueous extract of Verononia amygdalina decreased the levels of serum malondialdehyde, which is an indication of antioxidant property.
In yet another conducted by Owolabi et al, the plant ethanolic and aqueous extracts inhibited the bleaching of β-carotene, oxidation of linoleic acid and lipid peroxidation induced by Fe2+/ascorbate in rat liver microsomal preparations.
Bitter Leaves Protects Your Body from Early Aging
Part of the functions of the antioxidants is to maintain healthy cells and protect your skin from premature aging. Cell deaths and early aging occur when free radicals attack your cells. So, when you start drinking bitter leaf juice, you protect yourself from chronic diseases and early aging, which happens due to excess free radicals in the body systems.
Bitter leaf juice for women fertility
When it comes to women’s reproductive system, bitter leaves juice has proven to be a go to herbal remedy. If you drink bitter leaf juice on a regular basis, you’re likely to conceive quicker than expected. This is because bitter leaf juice helps women conceive due to the presence of a chemical compound, Endotides, which promotes hormonal balance and boosts your immunity against toxic compounds.
Once your hormone is balanced, including those hormones involved in reproduction, your chances of conception will be doubled.
May Protect You from Carcinogens
Cancer has become a global burden on health. The most diagnosed of those tumors are the prostate and breast cancers; they are also the most non-skin cancers in men and women respectively. The surprising thing is this: bitter leaf is increasingly becoming a strong candidate for cancer management. The anticancer constituents are coumarins, flavonoids, sesquiterpene lactones and edotides. The plan has shown to be potent in managing cancer through its activity on mitogen activated protein kinase and signal transduction pathways.
The Juice Possesses Hypoglycemic and Anti-diabetic Property
As part of its health benefits, bitter leaf juice possesses anti-diabetic property which is associated with its reduction of blood glucose concentration in normal and diabetic patient. This glucose clearance activity is comparable to the effect of the standard – chlorpropamide. Bitter leaves and fig leaves tea can be served to a diabetic patient for synergistic effect.
Bitter Leaf Soup Promotes Sound Sleep
One thing I like about bitter leaf soup is the promotion of sleep. Once I’m done eating bitter leaf soup, I know I must get ready for a quick lap of sound deep sleep if it is served during dinner.
If you’re suffering insomnia, depression or anxiety disorder, bitter leaf juice may help you sleep well and prevent you from being awake all night.
The Juice Increases Uterine Contraction and induces oxytocic effect
A pregnant woman whose delivery is approaching may take a little quantity of bitter leaf juice to enhance uterine contraction and ease of delivery. This is because the juice has been shown by research to induce uterine contraction amplitude similar to those of ergometerine. It also increases breast milk production and is used by traditional birth-attendants to induce oxytocic effect.
Read also: Fertility leaves: Benefits and side effects
May Be Involved In Serum Lipid Modulation
If you are looking for something to lower your cholesterol level, bitter leaves juice is the answer. Even when the concentration has been drastically reduced during processing for soup making, the bitter leaves in the soup has the potency to lower serum LDL-cholesterol, triglycerides, and increases HDL-cholesterol levels. If you’re already treating hypolipidemia, it is not advisable that you should drink bitter leaf juice. When you drink bitter leaf juice despite your low lipid profile, you may worsen the state of your health.
Bitter Leaf Protects Your Liver and Kidney
The chemical constituents present in bitter leaves protect the liver and kidney from toxic substances, and maintain liver structural integrity.
Does bitter leaf help sexually?
Many people have asked this question a severally. Yes! Bitter leaf has some sexual benefits, especially for the men. Drinking of bitter leaf juice will help improve your penis erection. This is because bitter leaves possess alkaloids that inhibit enzymes linked to erectile dysfunction such as Arginase and phophodiesterase-5. These inhibitory activities helps you maintain strong erection for a longer period, and thereby gives you a good sex experience.
Another herbal remedy you may eat if you want to have strong erection during sexual intercourse is miracle seed. However, this seed may cause a purging effect on you. So it’s best to take when you’re at home and hours or a day before sexual activities.
Drinking Bitter Leaves Juice On Empty Stomach
This exercise is beneficial as it enhances your metabolism rate by 25%. What this means is that you would experience fast digestion. It also reduces your body weight and detoxifies your kidney. Another health benefit of drinking bitter leaf water in an empty stomach is that it boost your fertility, both as a man and a woman, and lowers your blood pressure.
Is there side effects to drinking bitter leaf juice?
Just as there are not side effects when you eat bitter leaf soup, so there is no visible side effects when you drink bitter leaf juice. However, abuse is generally unhealthy, just as it is with other foods or drinks. Some of the side effects which you may experience if you drink too much bitter leaf juice are as follows:
- Running stomach
How to Prepare Bitter Leaf Tea
- pluck a handful of bitter leaves and wash thoroughly.
- Put the leaves in a blender and add a little quantity of clean water.
- Blend for about 2 minutes
- Sieve and drink your juice.
Bitter leaf is relatively non toxic to the body. However, it is not advisable to always indulge in the drinking of the juice, as this may cause a hypotensive effect on you. It can also cause a massive weight loss and usually increase strong appetite.
Above all, always consult your doctor before making use of herbal remedies.
Note: This article is for an academic purposes and should not replace your doctor’s services.
Biressaw, S.S, Birhanu, G., (2017) Review on nutritional and medicinal values of vernonia amygdalina and its uses in human and veterinary medicines. Global veterinary. 19(3):5682-568.
Igile GO, Plezek W, Jurzysta M. Two novel saponins from vernonia amygdalina. J. Nat.Prod., 58:1438-1443
Ije, I.I., (2011), Current perspective on the medicinal potentials of Vernonia amygdalina Del. Journal of medical plants research. 5(7), 1051-161.
Owolabi, M.A, Jaja, S.I, Oyekanmi, O.O, Olatunji, O.J., (2008). Evaluation of the antioxidant activity and lipi peroxidation of the leaves of vernonia amygdalina. J. Compl. Integr. Med., 5:dio:10.2202/15550-3840.1152.