Baheda is one of the most common Ayurvedic herbs known to almost every other household in India. The herb has been in use for centuries for the treatment and management of various health conditions ranging from constipation and diarrhoea to fever and indigestion.

Baheda is loaded with active biological compounds that provide it antimicrobial, antioxidant and immunological properties. Interestingly, the Sanskrit name of this herb, Vibhitaki, translates to ‘fearless’, which is said to mean that it takes away the fear of disease.

Did you know?

Baheda is one of the three main ingredients in the famous Ayurvedic formulation Triphala; the other two being amla and harad. Ayurvedic experts say that Triphala has five (out of six) rasas or tastes and is helpful in balancing all three doshas namely vata, pitta and kapha. It is known to be helpful in promoting weight loss, management of abdominal pain, constipation, and bloating and helping maintain blood sugar levels. Triphala also possesses antibacterial and antioxidant properties.

Read on to know all about baheda, including the health benefits and side effects of this herb, ways to identify and use it and the right dosage as suggested by experts.

Some facts about baheda:

  • Botanical name: Terminalia bellirica
  • Family: Combretaceae
  • Parts used: Whole plant
  • English name: Beleric Myrobalan
  • Sanskrit name: Aksa, Bibhitaki, Vibhita, Aksaka, Vibhitaki
  • Geographical distribution: Baheda is found throughout the Indian subcontinent including India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal. It is also found in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam. Punjab, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are some states in India where baheda is commonly found.
  1. How to identify baheda
  2. Health benefits of baheda
  3. Baheda dosage and how to use
  4. Baheda side effects

Baheda is a perennial deciduous tree (sheds its leaves every fall) that is found growing at an elevation of between 1000-2000 m. It grows up to a height of 30-50 m and has no branches up to at least 20 m height. The plant has a rounded crown - the top part that consists of branches has a round shape. The bark of this plant is cracked at places. It is greyish to bluish on the outside and yellowish on the inside.

The branches are usually straight and bear broad elliptic to ovate leaves that grow alternately on the branchlets. The young leaves of the baheda tree are reddish-copper in colour, which later turn parrot green to dark green as they mature. The leaves have an entire margin and their secondary veins are more clustered towards the side of the branchlet. They are connected to a long petiole (a stalk that connects the stem and the leaf) that is flat at the top.

Baheda bears greenish-white flowers that appear in bunches on the tree in the month of October and November along with new leaves (the tree sheds leaves in the month of November). The flowers have a strong honey-like smell or an offensive odour. Fruits of this plant are ovoid in shape, yellow in colour and are covered with minute pale hair. They are slightly five ridged (have faded ridges). The fruits appear in the month of November and December.

Though baheda is popularly known for its benefits as a part of Triphala, the herb has been used alone for the management of various health conditions. As per Ayurveda, baheda has a warming effect on the body, it helps detoxify blood, relieves cough and cold and is good for eye health and hair growth.

Scientists have also been studying the various phytoconstituents of this plant and their effects on health; they have indicated that baheda has several pharmacological effects including anti-hypertensive, antibacterial and antipyretic ones.

Let’s have a look at some of the science-backed and traditional uses and health benefits of baheda.

Baheda for diarrhea

Baheda has long been known to be effective against various diarrhea and dysentery causing organisms such as Entamoeba histolytica and E. coli. Baheda fruit is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for the treatment of diarrhea.

In a study done in India, the researchers had found that tablets made from the bioactive fraction (extracted in methanol) of baheda fruit, when given to diarrhoea patients, provides symptomatic relief within two weeks.

In an animal study, the ethanolic and aqueous extract of the fruit pulp of baheda plant was found to be effective against diarrhea in rat models. The study indicated that the anti-diarrheal effects of the extract can be attributed to flavonoids, tannins and alkaloids present in the plant. These compounds may be improving the intestinal transit time (time taken by food to pass through the intestines) and reducing intestinal motility. Increased intestinal motility causes diarrhea.

Similar results were obtained in another study conducted in China where the aqueous extract of the fruit was found to have potent anti-diarrheal effects.

According to a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, grilled baheda fruit has better anti-diarrheal effects than dried fruit.

(Read more: Home remedies for diarrhea)

Antimicrobial effects of baheda plant

Several studies indicate the antimicrobial effects of baheda plants.

Antibacterial: A research study suggested that the ethanol extract of the leaf gall of baheda plant is effective against a number of human pathogenic bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus (causes skin infections like boils), Serratia marcescens (causes infections of the respiratory, urinary and biliary tract and also wound infections) and Klebsiella pneumoniae (causes pneumonia).

An in vitro study indicated that T. billerica may have broad-spectrum antibacterial activity against common pathogenic bacteria.

As per a study done in Sri Lanka, the fruit extracts of baheda plant may be a potent source for antimicrobial drugs against multiple drug-resistant bacteria including MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and MDR Pseudomonas aeruginosa (causes hospital-acquired infections).

Similar results were obtained in another study that suggested the possibility of making potentially non-toxic drugs against MDR human pathogenic bacteria.

Drug resistance is a major problem faced by healthcare practitioners and researchers around the globe. It refers to a condition when a pathogenic microorganism becomes resistant to a drug over time. Antibiotic overuse is one of the major causes of drug resistance.

(Read more: Precautions to take with antibiotics)

Antifungal: A lab study done on five different Terminalia species indicated the potential antifungal activity of baheda plants against common fungal pathogens including Aspergillus (causes aspergillosis). The study indicated that baheda extract is more potent than the fungicide Carbendazim.

An older study had indicated that certain bioactive compounds including lignans and anolignan are responsible for the antifungal activity of the fruit rind (outer covering) of baheda plants.

An in vitro study showed that baheda ethanolic extract shows potent antifungal activity against the pathogenic fungus Cryptococcus (causes meningitis).

(Read more: Fungal infections symptoms)

Baheda for typhoid

Typhoid is an infection caused by the bacteria Salmonella typhi. The infection spreads through contaminated food and water and manifests in the form of high fever, body pain, cough, constipation and headache.

The infection is usually treated through antibiotics but antibiotic resistance has become a common problem in the treatment of typhoid.

Now, several studies indicate that T. belirica plant may be effective against typhoid fever. A study done on mice suggested that baheda intake reduces oxidative stress caused due to S. typhimurium (a typhoid like infection) in mice and could hence be used for drug development for typhoid fever in humans.

Oxidative stress is a condition that develops due to the accumulation of excess free radicals (unstable molecules) in the body. Our body makes free radicals as products of normal metabolism. They are constantly neutralised by antioxidants (another kind of molecule produced in the body). However, the number of free radicals increases under conditions of stress and diseases or infections, leading to negative effects on metabolic and organ functions.

According to a study published in the Indian Journal of Experimental Biology, Baheda extracts have a protective effect against Salmonella infection, meaning that it prevents the disease.

According to a study done in Sri Lanka, both the aqueous and methanol extracts of Baheda fruit have potent antibacterial activity against S. typhi.

(Read more: Ayurvedic treatment for typhoid fever)

Baheda benefits for liver

T. belerica is traditionally used in the treatment of hepatitis. Research studies suggest that the herb possesses potent hepatoprotective effects, meaning that it prevents liver toxicity. Your liver is responsible for eliminating toxic compounds from the body. Hepatotoxicity refers to a condition in which the liver is unable to perform its function due to a disease or drug-induced injury.

In a study done in Kerala, India, it was found that administration of baheda fruit helps manage liver toxicity in rats.

Similar results were obtained in at least two other studies with one of them indicating a dose-dependent effect of baheda extract on hepatotoxicity.

According to a study published in the World Journal of Hepatology, ellagic acid, a phytoconstituent of baheda plant is more effective than the plant extract itself against liver damage.

(Read more: Foods to improve liver health)

Baheda benefits in diabetes

An in vivo study (done on animal models) suggested that baheda fruit extracts were found to improve insulin levels and help prevent hyperglycemia. It was also suggested to be effective in preventing diabetic complications including weight loss, diabetic nephropathy and dyslipidemia, and in improving the health of the pancreas (the organ that produces insulin).

A study published in the International Journal of Experimental Biology indicated that T. billerica fruits possess anti-diabetic properties, which is directly related to the antioxidant activity of this fruit.

According to a study done in Jordan, baheda fruit extracts increase basal insulin levels and insulin release in response to the presence and concentration of glucose in the body.

In a study done in India, a group of researchers noted that the ethyl acetate and aqueous extracts of baheda fruit suppresses the activity of alpha-amylase, an enzyme that breaks down starch into simple sugars like glucose.

In the absence of clinical trials on the hypoglycemic effects of baheda fruit, it is best that diabetes patients talk to their doctor before consuming this fruit in any form.

(Read more: What is prediabetes)

Baheda benefits in malaria

Malaria is a life-threatening infectious disease caused due to the parasite Plasmodium. The malarial parasite spreads by the bite of female anopheles mosquitoes and leads to symptoms like fever, headache and chills.

An in vitro and in vivo study done on amla, harad and baheda indicated that baheda possesses the highest antiplasmodial activity, though all plants were found to be effective against the malarial parasite.

Another study that was conducted in Egypt found that T. billerica is a potential source of antimalarial drugs.

However, more studies are still needed to confirm the efficacy of baheda plants against Plasmodium and hence malaria.

(Read more: 10 most frequently asked questions about malaria)

Immunomodulatory effects of baheda plant

Research studies indicate that baheda plants can have potent immunomodulatory effects. Immunomodulators are those compounds which help modulate or regulate and normalise the working of the immune system.

An in vitro study conducted in Thailand found that the acetone extract of baheda fruit promotes B and T cell proliferation. Both these cells are a part of the adaptive immune system (the one we develop as we get exposed to infectious organisms). It was also found to be effective in reducing inflammation, the swelling and redness caused due to exposure to any foreign agent.

Experts suggest that the immunomodulatory effects of baheda plants may be due to the presence of gallic acid in it. Gallic acid has been found to increase the phagocytic action (engulfing pathogens) of macrophages (a type of immune system cells).

In another study that was conducted on mice, the researchers found that baheda improves both the specific (against specific pathogens) and non-specific immune response.

Finally, methanolic extract of baheda was indicated to be effective in stimulating both the cellular and humoral immune responses (two types of immune responses that make up the acquired immune system).

However, more studies are still needed to confirm the effectiveness and side effects (if any) of baheda plants on the human immune system.

(Read more: Weak immune system symptoms)

Baheda benefits for the cardiovascular system

Baheda plants have several benefits for the cardiovascular system.

First, it is traditionally used for the treatment of high blood pressure. A study published in the Journal of Food and Drug Analysis indicated that T. bellerica helps lower blood pressure and may hence be used for the management of hypertension.

Second, animal studies suggest that proteins and phytosterols present in baheda may be effective in promoting angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels) and hence the treatment of cardiovascular diseases.

Finally, research has shown that T. bellerica fruit possesses antithrombotic and thrombolytic activity, that is, it prevents blood clot formation in the body and breaks existing blood clots. Thrombus formation otherwise leads to serious conditions like stroke and heart attack.

(Read more: Heart disease causes)

Baheda benefits for stomach

Baheda is traditionally used for the management of gastric ulcers, stomach cancer and gastritis. In vivo (animal-based) studies indicate that this plant may promote potent antiulcerogenic activity. A study conducted in Bangalore, India suggested that the hydroalcoholic extract of the baheda fruit helps reduce stomach acidity, one of the risk factors for peptic ulcers and may hence be used as a natural treatment for ulcers.

Another animal-based study found that the methanol extract of baheda fruit provides a protective effect against gastric mucosa (inner lining of stomach) damage and hence helps prevent gastric ulcers.

According to a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, T. belerica reduces gastric contractions and provides symptomatic relief from diarrhoea.

(Read more: Digestive disorders symptoms)

Other health benefits of baheda plant

Here are some other health benefits of baheda plant that you should know about:

  • A study done on rabbits indicated that an extract made from T. chebula (harad) and T. belerica (baheda) promotes wound healing by stimulating the production of collagen and glycosaminoglycan and improving fibroblast function. Collagen is a protein that provides strength and elasticity to the skin. Fibroblasts are cells that produce collagen and promote skin healing after an injury. Glycosaminoglycans are a type of sugar that help maintain and support collagen and other proteins that maintain skin structure.
  • Baheda plant is also indicated to have bronchodilatory properties and hence effective in the management of asthma symptoms.
  • T. belerica extracts are suggested to have inhibitory effects on several types of cancer including lung cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer and leukaemia.
  • An animal study indicated that baheda plants possess antipsychotic properties, though more studies are still needed to better understand this function. Antipsychotic drugs are those that are used for the management of conditions like hallucinations, paranoia and delusions.
  • In a comparative study between Triphala and all its constituents, experts found that baheda plants may be effective in the management of Alzheimer’s as it has an inhibitory effect on anticholinesterase. Acetylcholinesterase is an enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and interferes with the brain signalling. This enzyme is found to be associated with Alzheimer’s.
  • Baheda plant is said to be effective in promoting hair growth and weight loss. However, there are no studies to prove this effect.
  • Baheda fruit is also traditionally used for the treatment of eye diseases, cough, scorpion sting, leprosy and piles.
  • Baheda seed oil is said to be effective in rheumatism.
  • Research studies show that baheda may be effective against renal stones and in improving overall kidney function.

The right dosage for any herb or herbal preparation varies on the age of the person, their health condition and other factors. So, it is always best to consult a physician before taking baheda in any form.

In a study published in the Indian Journal of Natural Products and Resources, the following dosage of baheda is indicated for various health issues:

  • Indigestion, asthma and cough: Prepare a powder from equal amounts of baheda fruits, long pepper and liquorice root. Make sure to remove seeds from baheda before use. Boil 2 tablespoons of this powder in about half a litre of water until the total volume reduces to about 300 ml. Now, drink about 100 ml of this preparation twice a day.
  • Wounds: Prepare a paste from a small amount of baheda fruit shell and apply it on skin rashes or minor wounds. You can apply a poultice made from baheda powder, honey and warm water to help reduce skin irritation.
  • Sore throat: Sucking on a broken shell of a baheda fruit helps relieve both sore throat and cough.
  • Dental problems: Rinsing your mouth with a decoction made by boiling baheda fruit shell in about 50-75 ml of water helps reduce bad breath, ulcers and other common oral problems.

Baheda fruit has the following side effects:

  • Baheda is said to be unsafe during pregnancy.
  • There is no proof on the safety of baheda consumption during breastfeeding. If you are nursing a baby, talk to your doctor to know if baheda is safe for you.
  • If you have a chronic health condition, do not consume baheda without consulting your physician first.
  • Baehda may interfere with the action of certain medicines. If you are on any prescription or non-prescription medications, avoid the use of this herb unless approved by your doctor.
  • An animal study showed that baheda has anti-fertility effects.
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References

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