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A key ingredient in a wide range of cosmetics and medicinal products, neem oil is obtained from the fruits and seeds of the neem tree. This is an evergreen tree which is native to the Indian subcontinent. The oil is extracted from sun-dried or artificially dried neem seeds. Once it is collected, neem oil is filtered to remove impurities. The composition and quality of this oil depend largely on the extraction method and processes applied.

Neem oil has a strong and pungent odour. It is usually yellow or brown in colour. It has been estimated that neem trees in India bear about 3.5 million tonnes of seeds each year and about 700,000 tons of oil can be produced annually.

Neem oil is mainly used in organic farming, medicine and cosmetics. A wide range of skin care products such as neem soaps, neem shampoos, oils, body lotions, moisturizers, etc. are produced using this oil. It is also known to have antibacterial and antiviral properties and is used for preparing antiseptic solutions.

Organic farmers use neem oil as a pesticide to avoid crop damage due to insects and pests. This property of neem oil can also be used to get rid of household pests such as mosquitoes, ants, cockroaches, bed bugs etc.

Basic facts about neem:

  • Scientific name: Azadirachta indica
  • Family: Meliaceae; Mahogany family
  • Common name: Neem, Indian lilac
  • Sanskrit name: Nimb, Arista
  • Parts used: Leaves, seeds and fruits
  • Native and Geographical distribution: Neem is native to India and Burma. Currently, it is found in many parts of Asia and Africa, and tropical regions of the western hemisphere. It grows in almost all parts of India including the northern colder states. But, the largest plantation of neem tree is found in north-west India and in Uttar Pradesh. In India, neem is usually planted as a roadside plant as it retains leaves throughout the year. Few other countries where neem trees can be found are Burma, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria, The United States.
  1. Neem oil nutrition facts
  2. Neem oil health benefits
  3. Neem oil side effects
  4. Takeaway

Although neem oil has numerous health benefits, it is bitter and non-edible. But recent research indicates that debittered neem oil could have the same nutritional profile and chemical composition as other edible oils. Research suggests that neem oil has about 50% oleic acid and 15% linoleic acid.

Neem oil has been used for ages in the Unani, Ayurvedic, and Homeopathic medicines. Even modern medicine uses this oil for the treatment of several ailments. Extensive research has been going on to extract more benefits from neem.

  1. Neem seed oil has anti-inflammatory properties
  2. Neem oil for oral health
  3. Neem oil for skin care
  4. Neem oil has anti-bacterial properties
  5. Neem oil for birth control
  6. Neem oil for scalp tumor wounds
  7. Neem oil benefits for head lice
  8. Neem oil benefits as mosquito repellent
  9. Neem oil benefits for cancer

Neem seed oil has anti-inflammatory properties

Inflammation is a condition which is characterized by pain, redness and burning sensation in the affected region. Many anti-inflammatory drugs have side effects. Therefore, a lot of research is going on to find natural and herbal alternatives with anti-inflammatory properties. Current researches indicate that neem seed oil has anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties.

In a study with animal models, it was found that the anti-inflammatory properties of neem seed oil are due to the presence of phytochemicals such as triterpenes, gallic acid, nimbidin, flavonoids. Catechin. Some polysaccharides in neem oil have also been found to possess anti-inflammatory potential.

(Read more: Inflammatory diseases causes)

Neem oil for oral health

Oral care is a major concern among people of all ages. Lack of dental hygiene may lead to the development of plaques. Plaque refers to a smooth, sticky layer on the surface of the teeth that harbours bacteria. When left untreated, it could cause oral diseases like dental caries and gum problems. In ancient times, people chewed neem sticks to prevent oral diseases, as it improves the secretion of saliva and helped control plaque. 

A research done on oral care agents indicated that most of them contain chemicals, which have side effects when used for a long period. On the other hand, the research revealed that neem oil prevented the growth of plaque on teeth surface without mediating any side effects.

Neem oil for skin care

Skin is the largest and most important organ in the body and it is responsible for various activities such as preventing the bacteria and viruses from entering the body and protecting the body from the harmful UV rays. However, itis also the most unprotected organ because it is directly exposed to the outside environment. Research indicates that neem oil has potential dermatological (related to the skin) effects that can protect the skin without any side effects. Lotions with neem oil can help protect the skin from ringworms and scabies.

Studies indicate that neem oil contains nimbidiol, nimbidin and nimbin, which are very effective in preventing fungal growth on the human and animal skin. It has further been demonstrated that neem oil has the ability to prevent acne and improve the elasticity of the skin.

(Read more: Fungal infections symptoms)

Neem oil has anti-bacterial properties

There are more than 40 million bacteria in the world that are capable of causing various diseases in human beings. some of these bacteria include Staphylococcus aureus that could cause diseases in the blood, pneumonia, bone and joint infections and Salmonella typhosa that causes diseases such as typhoid and food poisoning. In lab trials, neem oil was found to suppress the growth of both these bacteria. However, neem oil has been found to be ineffective against infectious bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Proteus morgasi.

Another research revealed the presence of phytochemicals such as nimbidiol, nimbidin, and diethyl sulfides which are responsible for the antimicrobial properties of neem.

Neem oil for birth control

Contraceptives are an effective way of preventing unwanted pregnancies. But the availability and cost of contraception methods in many countries tend to discourage people from using contraception, thereby leading to unwanted pregnancies and unsafe methods of abortion. Research indicates that neem oil is an effective contraceptive. A preclinical study demonstrated that application of neem oil through the vagina has the ability to completely immobilize sperms, preventing them from reaching the egg. The study further suggested that neem oil did not show any side effects Therefore, neem oil could be the most cost-effective, easily available contraceptive that does not affect the fertility of the women.

(Read more: Birth control methods)

Neem oil for scalp tumor wounds

Some types of skin cancer are treated by removing the affected area through surgical means. This is commonly known as skin excision. This removal of skin often leaves exposed wounds, which take time to heal and can delay the overall recovery process. The situation becomes particularly complex when it comes to scalp surgeries. Hence it is essential to find a way to faster recovery. In one such attempt, a clinical trial was performed on 9 patients who were recovering from scalp tumour surgery. The wounds of these patients were treated with dressings made from a mixture containing neem oil, .over a period of 4 weeks. The results suggested that neem oil was very simple, safe and effective in treating these wounds.

Neem oil benefits for head lice

Lice are parasitic insects that live on the scalp and skin by feeding on human blood. It is commonly seen in school-going children, especially girls and is easily transferred from one person to another. Head lice infestation is usually associated with itching and it is a difficult task to get rid of these insects. Research shows that neem seed oil is effective against lice. It was found that shampoos that have neem oil as a primary component can keep lice egg from hatching, thereby preventing the spread of these insects. The research concluded that neem oil shampoo can completely cure lice just after the first treatment.

Neem oil benefits as mosquito repellent

Mosquitoes are a highly dreaded insect, not just because they cause skin rashes and itching, but because they spread a variety of diseases. Some of the most common and deadly diseases caused by mosquitoes include dengue, malaria and chikungunya. Studies demonstrate that neem seed oil has a lethal effect on malaria mosquitoes.

N, N-diethyl-3- methylbenzamide (DEET) which is the main ingredient in most mosquito repellents has numerous side effects. The common side effects of DEET include skin rashes and irritation. Studies show that neem oil, on the other hand, as a natural insecticide, does not have any such side effects.

(Read more: How to stop mosquito bites from itching)

Neem oil benefits for cancer

Cancer is a serious condition characterised by an abnormal growth of body cells. It can affect any tissue of the body and is primarily treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. These treatments often have side effects such as hair loss, fatigue, skin dryness and blistering. Combined radiation and chemotherapy is often associated with dermatitis. Clinical studies observed that neem oil is useful for reducing dermatitis in such therapies. Additionally, neem oil has been found to induce apoptosis (cell death) in breast cancer cells and inhibit the proliferation of breast cancer.

Though neem oil is safe for external application, consumption of neem oil is not advisable as it can be toxic. Toxicological studies suggest that neem oil may affect physiological and metabolic processes of humans. In humans, consumption of neem oil is known to cause indigestion which in turn causes vomiting, drowsiness, respiratory difficulty, and seizures. Neem oil can also cause irritation in the eyes and the skin in some people.

Ancient medicine has been using neem oil to treat various ailments. Neem oil can help prevent some types of cancer, has antimicrobial properties, can be used as an effective contraceptive and as an effective mosquito repellent. Research has been going on to access if debittered neem oil can be used as an alternative to other edible oils.

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References

  1. Xin Tinghui et al. World Distribution and Trade in Neem Products with Reference to their Potential in China. AARES 2001 conference of Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society, Adelaide.
  2. Abhinav Singh, Bharathi Purohit. Tooth brushing, oil pulling and tissue regeneration: A review of holistic approaches to oral health . J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2011 Apr-Jun; 2(2): 64–68. PMID: 21760690
  3. Elavarasu S et al. Evaluation of anti-plaque microbial activity of Azadirachta indica (neem oil) in vitro: A pilot study. J Pharm Bioallied Sci. 2012 Aug;4(Suppl 2):S394-6. PMID: 23066297
  4. Läuchli S et al. Post-surgical scalp wounds with exposed bone treated with a plant-derived wound therapeutic. J Wound Care. 2012 May;21(5):228, 230, 232-3. PMID: 22584740
  5. National Research Council (US) Panel on Neem. Neem: A Tree For Solving Global Problems. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1992. 7, Medicinals.
  6. Mehlhorn H et al. Ovicidal effects of a neem seed extract preparation on eggs of body and head lice. Parasitol Res. 2011 Nov;109(5):1299-302. PMID: 21484346
  7. Franco P et al. Hypericum perforatum and neem oil for the management of acute skin toxicity in head and neck cancer patients undergoing radiation or chemo-radiation: a single-arm prospective observational study. . Radiat Oncol. 2014 Dec 29;9:297. PMID: 25544371
  8. Sharma R et al. Neem Seed Oil Induces Apoptosis in MCF-7 and MDA MB-231 Human Breast Cancer Cells . Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2017 Aug 27;18(8):2135-2140. PMID: 28843234
  9. Dhiraj Kumar et al. Epoxyazadiradione suppresses breast tumor growth through mitochondrial depolarization and caspase-dependent apoptosis by targeting PI3K/Akt pathway . BMC Cancer. 2018; 18: 52. PMID: 29310608
  10. Kausik Biswas et al. Biological activities and medicinal properties of neem (Azadirachta indica). CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 82, NO. 11, 10 JUNE 2002