The areca palm is an elegant palm tree of about fifteen meters high, native to the Malay Peninsular and Malay Peninsula, but also found in Papua New Guinea, the Philippines , in India.
It has also been introduced in America by the migrant populations of Asia (as in Surinam ex Dutch Guiana).
It can be acclimated in the subtropical regions but can be damaged by frost unless kept safe during the cold period.
Its leaves reach 2 meters long, are fingered and torn at the ends; the flowers are white and odoriferous, after fertilization, appear nuts of small sizes (5 to 6 cm) which turn from green to orange yellow when mature, the seed they contain is brownish slightly flattened at one end.
The seed is the medicinal part, it is eaten fresh or dry, in fragments or powder.
CHEMICAL COMPOSITION AND MEDICINAL PROPERTIES
The almond of the ARECA "nut" is the main constituent of the masticatory "betel nut".
This betel quid combines a pepper leaf (Piper betle PIPERACEAE = betel pepper) or its fleshy and green inflorescence with a seed (sometimes only a fraction of this seed) of the areca nut.
A little lime is added from calcined shellfish or coral and sometimes spices, depending on the country (eg nutmeg, clove, cardamom) and sometimes tobacco.
AREC NUT OR BETEL NUT
The areca nut (or betel nut) contains:
- Reserve substances: 50 to 60% of carbohydrates and about 15% of lipids.
- Astringent tannins.
- A little essential oil.
and 0.2 to 0.5% of alkaloids (the active part of the betel quid), the main one is arecoline.
The tannins are responsible for the astringency, the acridity of the masticatory (remember that tanins are also medicinal: antiseptics, anti-inflammatory, but may constipate, and accordingly to their composition and concentration are antimutagens or on the contrary induce digestive cancers)
Arecoline and the other alkaloids appear to be predominantly parasympathomimetic, but the physiological response is more complex.
The chewing of the areca nut is known to give an impression of well-being, light euphoria, better attention; a feeling of warmth (with sweating), an increase in one's physical capacities.
Sometimes it is the nervousness that dominates with uncontrolled excitement until possible unreasonable fits of anger.
The PRESENCE OF LIME (which changes the arecoline into another compound) and betel pepper (itself liberating catecholamines (neurotransmitters)) alter the entire neurovegetative system :
- vasodilatation or vasoconstriction,
- accelerated heart rate (tachycardia),
- hypo or more often high blood pressure (hypertension),
- increase in tone and intestinal contractions (diarrhea),
- hypersalivation (tinged with blood red),
- contraction of the pupil (myosis),
- slight fever.
These effects are variable according to the amount of products ingested.
An electroencephalogram allows to note a clear modification of the central nervous system activity , concomitant of the excitation and the sensation of well-being.
AREC NUT, BETEL NUT AND DIGESTIVE TRACT CANCERS
Over the last twenty years, it has been suspected that the use of betel quid is one of the reasons for the increase in the number of ORAL AND ESOPHAGAL CANCERS in Asia and Southeast Asia.
Now it is almost certain, the WHO has also confirmed in a publication the probable role of betel nut in the appearance of a PRE CANCEROUS lesions of the oral mucosa, (oral submucosal fibrosis).
Recent researchs has revealed that arecoline, safrole (released in masticatory and contained in the pepper leaf) and nicotine slow down the activity of fibroblasts "cleaners" of collagen, thus inducing this abnormality of the oral mucosa.
All these substances are at low doses: 15 to 50 micrograms per ml, but the intoxication is chronic and the negative side effects add to each other.
The presence of lime changes the pH near the betel quid, changing the acidity of the oral cavity which probably causes an increase in inflammation due to the ingredients of the betel quid .
Cancerous lesions appear more often in the mouth where the betel quid is kept .
In Taiwan, an epidemiological study shows that:
- that the use of betel quid multiplies by 4 the risk of esophageal cancer,
- those mixing areca nut and betel inflorescence have a 20-fold higher risk of developing this type of cancer compared to those using only betel leaf.
In the same plant (betel pepper) there may be antimutagenic substances (such as flavonoids or tannins) and other carcinogens (such as safrole contained in the essential oil of betel pepper).
Some researchers and WHO believe that nitrosamines (degradation products of alkaloids) induce cancer (carcinogens), especially 3 (methylnitrosamino) proprionitrile.
If betel nut is not considered a drug or addictive plant, the association with tobacco reinforces the need to chew and chew.
This combination of betel nut and tobacco is considered the most dangerous for health.
THE AREC NUT OR BEEL NUT, A CHEAP MASTICATORY, AN AROMATIZED EUPHORIZING POWDER
The use of arec nut chewing mastic is widespread in Asia, India, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
People chew alone or in a group; it is often a social rite: when we meet we share a small nut.
It's a way to calm down, to forget hunger, to feel good.
The chewers spit a lot and their saliva is strongly tinged with red, it gives a wonderful smile and colored in brown the pavements of some cities (for example Port-Moresby in PNG).
Unfortunately as we have just seen it is not without consequences on health.
A worrying fact is alerting the health authorities: there are more and more commercial products containing areca nut and advertising about products is quite "aggressive", also encouraging young people to consume (sometimes in the form of sweet preparations ).
The United Kingdom with its large Asian and Indian community is one of the largest importers of areca nuts or products containing them.
The areca nut and preparations containing it are consumed by millions of people, it is with alcohol, tobacco and coffee the fourth psycho-active"drug" in the world.
THE ARECA NUT AS A MEDICINAL PLANT
In Ayurvedic medicine the areca nut is used to treat migraines, rheumatism, and to lower fever.
In China and India it is used (or served) to eliminate intestinal parasites (one to two teaspoons of areca nut powder at one time).
We will compare this use with the use of arecoline in veterinary medicine: to eliminate in ANIMALS intestinal worms including echinococcus, Echinococcus multilocularis, dangerous parasite when it infects humans.
ARECA NUT OR BETEL NUT, A MASTICATORY POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS
The areca nut (or betel nut) chewed with a pepper leaf or an inflorescence of betel pepper and some lime is consumed by hundreds of millions of people in Asia and Indonesia.
It provides a sense of welbeing or excitement, calms hunger and is part of social rites in many Asian and Melanesian communities.
Unfortunately, it increases the risk of developing oral or esophageal cancer.
Copyright 2019 : Dr Jean-Michel Hurtel