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Health Benefits and Side Effects of Chewing Betel Nut

Famous for its stimulating effects, betel nuts have been highly valued for their energy-boosting capability. However, betel nut chewing has been linked to oral cancer, as found out through numerous studies. This WellnessKeen post presents the health benefits and side effects of chewing betel nut.
WellnessKeen Staff
Did You Know?
Betel nuts have been categorized as a Group 1 human carcinogen by the World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Also referred to as Areca nuts, betel nuts are the seeds obtained from the Areca palm, which is found aplenty in East Africa and Asia. Areca nuts wrapped in betel leaves is commonly sold on the streets in this part of the world. Often spices and sweets such as rose paste and cardamom are added to the preparation to enhance its taste.
This preparation and slices of betel nuts in isolation are popularly eaten after meals, and are often considered to be effective in driving bad breath away. The following WellnessKeen article explains some advantages and disadvantages of chewing betel nuts.
Energy Booster
The reason behind its increasing popularity is its ability to enhance energy. Thanks to its stimulating effects, users experience increased energy levels almost immediately upon chewing these nuts. Many say that it wakes them up and provides energy to continue with their day-to-day routine. So chewing it may work to keep you wide awake for hours, which is particularly useful when driving overnight. The heightened alertness and increased capacity to handle task comes from its active ingredient arecoline―an alkaloid and a potent stimulant of the central nervous system.
Chewing betel nuts does create a sense of well-being and euphoria. This could be another reason behind its increased use. The elated feeling tends to make users happy. Users have also reported experiencing a warm feeling in the body after consuming this psychoactive substance.
May Aid in Stroke Recovery
A few studies conducted have observed that extracts of betel nuts may help patients recover from a stroke. Speech impairment and difficulty with bladder control commonly occur after a stroke. These health issues, reportedly, have improved in patients that were put on oral extracts of betel nuts. However, the evidence is too feeble to rate the effectiveness of betel nuts.
Also, small studies indicate that betel nuts may benefit in conditions like ulcerative colitis and schizophrenia. However, again the results are not satisfactory enough to prescribe it for medical purposes.
Anti-cavity Effect
In vitro studies demonstrate that water extract of betel nuts display antimicrobial activity against certain strains of oral bacteria. So it is said that its consumption may protect teeth from cavities. Chewing on betel nuts may reduce the risk of dental plaque.
Side Effects
Oral Cancer
When WHO enlists betel nuts as a carcinogen, there is nothing more to say about the dangers of chewing betel nuts. Having that energy boosting bite of betel nut at the cost of cancer predisposition is definitely not worth it. Plenty of studies have been conducted that confirm a strong correlation between betel nut consumption and oral cancer.
Also, betel nuts available in the market are highly processed and contain lot of additives that can lead to the development of oral sub-mucous fibrosis―a pre-cancerous condition of the mouth. Their regular consumption also carries increased risk of cancer of the pharynx and esophagus. To observe the effects firsthand, visit Xiangtan, a city in Hunan province, China, where a multimillion dollar industry of betel nuts thrives today. Frequent chewing of betel nuts is extremely common here, which has led to alarmingly high incidences of oral cancers among the Xiangtan population.
Mouthful of Stained Teeth
Well, if you are not going to rinse your mouth properly after chewing betel nut, your teeth may get stained eventually. People who chew these nuts on a regular basis tend to show teeth stained with the red juice of betel nuts. So in case you don't drop the habit of chewing betel nuts, your pearly whites may soon become rusty red.
Sensitive Teeth
People who get addicted to betel nuts have also reported increased dental sensitivity. As a result, they are unable to eat spicy and sour foods. Eating hot and cold foods becomes next to impossible.
Chewing betel nuts spikes the production of saliva. The excess saliva produced during the chewing process is said to improve digestion, but many times, it is often spit out. No wonder, betel nut chewers are often seen spitting on the streets. The red splattering associated with betel nut chewing is sure to drive onlookers crazy.
On the whole, chewing betel nuts on a regular basis can be deadly. Its risks far outweigh its potential benefits. There is little doubt that it is toxic habit; hence should be immediately stopped before it is too late.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.