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Neem

What Should I Know About It?

By

Updated June 09, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Neem (Azadirachta indica) is a type of evergreen tree native to India. In ayurvedic medicine, neem extract has long been used for a variety of health-related purposes.

While neem oil is generally applied to the scalp or skin to treat conditions like dandruff and acne, extract of the neem leaf is typically taken orally. In some cases, the bark, flowers, and fruit of the neem tree are also used medicinally.

Why Do People Use Neem?

Neem is said to help with a number of health problems, including:

Additionally, neem is purported to reduce inflammation, improve liver health, alleviate pain, preserve eyesight, stimulate the immune system, and protect against heart disease.

Health Benefits

Although relatively few scientific studies have tested the health effects of neem, there's some evidence that neem may offer certain benefits. Here's a look at some key findings from the available research:

1) Dental Health

Neem may help fight plaque buildup, according to a 2004 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. For the study, 36 men were assigned to six weeks of treatment with either a gel containing neem extract, or a mouthwash containing chlorhexidine gluconate (a substance commonly used to prevent gum disease). Study results showed that the neem-based gel was more effective in reducing plaque buildup than the mouthwash.

In addition, a study published in the Indian Journal of Dental Research in 1999 determined that the use of chewing sticks made with neem extract may help protect against the buildup of bacteria associated with cavity formation and periodontal disease.

2) Ulcers

Neem shows promise in the treatment of gastric ulcers, suggests a 2009 report from Phytotherapy Research. Analyzing findings from preliminary studies, scientists concluded that neem bark extract may help aid in ulcer control (possibly by inhibiting the secretion of gastric acids).

3) Cancer

A 2011 research review published in Cancer Biology & Therapy indicates that neem may offer anti-cancer benefits, including immune-stimulating and tumor-suppressing properties. However, there is currently a lack of clinical trials testing the effectiveness of neem in prevention or treatment of any type of cancer.

Side Effects and Safety Concerns

Although neem is generally considered safe for most adults when used in the short term, little is known about the safety of long-term use of neem supplements.

Since neem may increase activity in the immune system, it's crucial for people with autoimmune disorders (such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis) to take caution when using neem.

In addition, people taking diabetes medication should consult their physician prior to using neem. Because neem may reduce blood sugar levels, using neem in combination with diabetes medicine may cause blood sugar to drop to dangerously low levels.

There's also some concern that neem may cause damage to the kidneys and liver.

Where to Find It

Widely available for purchase online, neem supplements can also be found in many natural-foods stores and in stores specializing in dietary supplements.

Sources

Almas K. "The antimicrobial effects of extracts of Azadirachta indica (Neem) and Salvadora persica (Arak) chewing sticks." Indian J Dent Res. 1999 Jan-Mar;10(1):23-6.

Maity P, Biswas K, Chattopadhyay I, Banerjee RK, Bandyopadhyay U. "The use of neem for controlling gastric hyperacidity and ulcer." Phytother Res. 2009 Jun;23(6):747-55.

Pai MR, Acharya LD, Udupa N. "Evaluation of antiplaque activity of Azadirachta indica leaf extract gel--a 6-week clinical study." J Ethnopharmacol. 2004 Jan;90(1):99-103.

Paul R, Prasad M, Sah NK. "Anticancer biology of Azadirachta indica L (neem): a mini review." Cancer Biol Ther. 2011 Sep 15;12(6):467-76.

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