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Neem: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects, and more!

By Dr Ashok Pal +2 more

Introduction: 

Azadirachta indica, commonly known as neem in India, is also called ‘Margosa’ or ‘Indian Lilac’. It is the most versatile, diverse (different varieties of species) tree in the tropical region (hot regions), that might have medicinal potential. Neem has a lot of beneficial non-wood products like flowers, leaves, fruits, bark, gum, oil, seeds, and neem cake (residue left over after oil is pressed from neem seeds). It is thus considered the most useful tree in comparison to all other tree species.1

neem

In Sanskrit neem is called ‘arista’ which means ‘perfect, complete and imperishable.1 ‘Nimba’ is the Sanskrit name of neem and is derived from the term ‘nimbati swasthyamdadati’ which means ‘to give good health’. Even the Persians have named neem as ‘Azad- Darakth- E- Hind’ which implies ‘Free tree of India’. It shows remarkable potential in the fields of environment protection, pest management, and medicine. Neem might be a natural source of pesticides, insecticides, and agrochemicals apart from having potential health uses.1

Nutritional Value of Neem: 

Leaf meals from some tropical legumes have been explored due to the need to look for alternative sources of food for humans and feed for livestock. Neem leaf meal was analysed in a study that found that it has 18.10% crude protein and relatively high crude fibre of about 15-56%. Though the  gross energy content was high at 4.16 kcal/g, the metabolizable energy is low.2

Non-ruminant animals might also benefit from leaf meal from neem plants as a source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids.2

Properties of Neem:

Neem, due to its potential properties, has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for more than 4000 years. Neem products have several properties and might have applications in various fields making neem a green treasure.

  • It may have anti-allergenic activity
  • It may have anti-dermatic activity and may be helpful for skin diseases like acne eczema, psoriasis
  • It may have anti-inflammatory activity
  • It may have antipyretic activity (fever-reducing)
  • It may have anti-scabies activity and may be helpful for scabies, an itchy skin condition
  • It may have anti-diabetic activity
  • It may have an anti-cancer potential
  • It may have diuretic activity and may help the body get rid of extra fluid (by making more urine)
  • It might have an insecticidal activity and may help in destroying or controlling insects
  • It may have larvicidal activity and may help in killing larval pests
  • It may have nematocidal activity and may help to kill nematodes (worms that live in soil)
  • It may have anti-microbial activity and may help fight infection3

Let me tell you a secret! While highlighting the numerous health advantages of neem components and extracts, neem may lead to few problems too! I have read an article that says over-consumption of neem or its extracts might have ill health effects, notably on the liver and kidneys. From my perspective, the consumption of neem might be done only after the physician’s consent.

Dr. Siddharth Gupta, B.A.M.S, M.D (Ayu)

Did you know ? 

  • Neem leaves are rich in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties. source: ncbi
  • Neem has been found to have antiviral properties and may help inhibit the replication of certain viruses. source: ncbi
  • Neem oil has been found to be effective against head lice and can be used as a natural treatment. source: ncbi
  • Neem has been used in traditional medicine to treat liver disorders such as jaundice and hepatitis. source: ncbi
  • Neem oil has an ovicidal effect on eggs of the blood-sucking fly Stomoxys calcitrans. source: ncbi

Also Read: Paneer Dodi: Uses, Benefits & Side Effects

Potential uses of Neem:

Potential uses of Neem for Inflammation and Arthritis:

Studies have shown that a chemical found in neem, called nimbidin, might possess anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic activity. Nimbidin might help inhibit the inflammatory action of macrophages and neutrophils. Neem might aid in lowering inflammation and might help reduce associated swelling and pain. It might also be helpful for rheumatoid arthritis, a disease characterised by inflammation and pain in the joints and muscles due to auto-immune reactions.3 However, more research is required. Kindly consult a doctor.

Potential uses of Neem for Infections:

Viral infections: Neem might help with dengue fever by possibly stopping the growth of the dengue virus. It might interfere with the replication of the coxsackie B virus, a group of viruses that causes ailments ranging from stomach upset to full-fledged infections in humans. Neem leaf has traditionally been used for viral diseases such as chickenpox and smallpox as well.3 However, more studies are required to prove such claims.

Bacterial infections and Skin infections: Recent studies have focused on antibacterial activities of neem in the mouth, specifically in gum disease and tooth cavities.3

Neem is also thought to be very effective in managing scabies, but sufficient scientific data does not exist for human studies.3

Since neem might have potential antimicrobial properties, it may be helpful for various skin problems and diseases such as acne, eczema, and other skin conditions. Neem oil might also help with psoriasis symptoms.3 However, more research is required to back up such claims.

Fungal infections: Studies have shown that neem might have antifungal characteristics, which might help with fungal infections like athlete’s foot, ringworm and candida, commonly called as a yeast infection or thrush-causing organism. Thrush is a fungal infection that can occur in the mouth, throat or other parts of the body.3 However, more research is required.

Potential uses of Neem for Cancer:

Flavonoids and other chemicals found in neem might play a role against the worsening of cancer. Several studies suggest that high flavonoids might help stop the growth of cancer.4 Neem and its extracts have a potential action against a wide range of cancer cells in humans that include cancers of the skin, breast, lung, oral, stomach, liver, colon, and prostate.3 However, much more extensive research is required to prove its potential use. Moreover, cancer is a serious condition and you should consult a qualified doctor for its diagnosis and treatment.

Potential uses of Neem for Diabetes:

Studies have recently started to focus on the hypoglycaemic (lowering blood sugar) effect of neem. The exact mechanism is not clear, however, the effects are visible.3 Please consult a doctor, as conditions like diabetes are to be diagnosed and treated by a doctor.

Also Read: 10 Effective Home Remedies For Diabetes!

Potential uses of Neem for Liver:

Neem might have some effect on liver protection, which in turn might aid the purification of blood. Neem leaf might help reduce liver damage occurring due to chemicals by stabilising serum marker enzyme levels and by increasing antioxidant levels, like those present in natural carotenoids, vitamin E and C. These antioxidants might help to neutralize free radicals and may inhibit damage.3 However, more research is required. Kindly consult a doctor.

Potential uses of Neem for Immunity:

The most important potential use of neem may be due to its immune-stimulating property. It might help both the cell-mediated and lymphocytic immune systems, including ”Killer T” cells. These cells might help to kill viruses, other microbes, etc. by releasing toxic chemicals into them.3 However, more research is required to be sure.

Potential uses of Neem for Brain:

The antioxidants present in neem might show brain-protective properties. In stroke patients, neem might help against brain damage. It might help the brain by raising the levels of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and might help in a process called lipid peroxidation, which might be helpful.3 However, more research is required to ascertain such claims.

Potential uses of Neem for Oral care:

In rural India, it is still used to clean teeth. The potential antimicrobial qualities of neem might aid gingivitis and plaque reduction. Antiseptic properties might be present in neem twigs which might help with to maintain oral hygiene.3 However, more studies are required to prove such potential uses, for any concern related to oral care, please consult a dentist.

Also Read: Ashwagandha: Uses, Benefits & Side Effects

Potential uses of Neem for Stomach:

Studies have shown that neem bark might reduce the secretion of acid in the stomach by 77% and might regulate stomach secretion volume by 63%. It might reduce stomach enzyme pepsin activity by 50% and may reduce damage to stomach tissue further owing to its potential anti-inflammatory properties.3 However, more research is required to back up such claims. Please ensure to consult a doctor. Do not self-medicate.

Also Read: 8 Best Home Remedies for Upset Stomach

Potential uses of Neem for Heart:

Blood clots, excessive cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat (arrhythmic heart action) are all major causes of heart attacks. Neem leaf extracts might have the potential to help lower blood pressure, may reduce clotting and strain on the circulatory system, may help with irregular heartbeats and might lower levels of bad cholesterol.3,4 However, more studies are required to prove the potential uses of neem for the heart. Heart-related problems should be addressed immediately by a qualified doctor, please do not try to self-medicate using herbs.  

Potential uses of Neem for Malaria:

Malaria is a common disease of the tropical climate. Neem leaf extract might be helpful against the malaria virus indirectly as it may have an effect on parasites that carry the virus. Dried neem leaves are burnt and used as a mosquito repellent.3 However, more concrete evidence is required to validate its effectiveness. Malaria should be diagnosed and treated by a doctor, so kindly consult a doctor.

Also Read: 10 Simple Home Remedies For Malaria

Potential uses of Neem for Vitiligo:

Neem might also be helpful for skin problems like vitiligo, an autoimmune disorder that causes the skin to lose colour and turn white. However, more research is required to prove the potential use of neem for vitiligo. Kindly consult a doctor for its proper diagnosis and treatment.3

Though there are studies that show the benefits of herbs in various conditions, these are insufficient and there is a need for further studies to establish the true extent of the benefits of herbs like neem on human health.  

Neem has a compound, furanolactone, which is well recognised for its ability to reduce the generation of inflammation and to anaesthetize pain. From my experience, neem may alleviate pain associated with cancer and diabetes.

Dr. Rajeev Singh, BAMS

Also Read: How to Get Rid of Fruit Flies: Proven and Effective Methods

How to Use Neem? 

Neem might be of potential use in several forms like neem oil, cake, twigs for oral care, leaf extract, extract from flowers and many other products derived from the neem tree.1

You must consult your Ayurvedic physician for advice on the form and dosage as per your health condition.

You must consult a qualified doctor before taking any herbal supplements. Do not discontinue or replace an ongoing treatment of modern medicine with an ayurvedic/herbal preparation without consulting a qualified doctor.

For ages, neem twigs proved beneficial for oral hygiene as a tooth cleaner, a pain cure, and mouth deodorant. From my perspective, due to its antibacterial, anti-candidal, anti-cariogenic, anti-gingivitis, and anti-plaque action, neem may aid in dental problems. In place of sodium hypochlorite, its antibacterial and antioxidant qualities make it a potential root canal irrigant used during root canal treatment.

Dr. Smita barode, B.A.M.S, M.S.

Side Effects of Neem: 

Every herb may react differently in individuals. More research is required to state the side effects of neem. However, we must consult the doctor before using the neem tree or its parts. Kindly do not self-medicate, alter, replace or discontinue any treatment by yourself.

Also Read: Alsi (Flax Seeds): Uses, Benefits & Side Effects

Precautions to Take with Neem:  

General precautions must be followed if we wish to consume neem. Moreover, it must be prescribed by an Ayurvedic doctor who will understand your conditions and will be able to guide you in the best possible way about dosage and form.

Pregnant women must use neem products with caution, and they should consult their doctor before consuming it in any form.

Before using neem for children, the elderly and breastfeeding moms, please consult your Ayurvedic physician.

Also Read: What Causes Roaches: An Insight into Infestation Sources and Prevention

Interactions with Other Drugs:

There is a lack of studies regarding the interactions of neem with other drugs. Therefore, there is a need for more research on this subject. However, you should consult a doctor before using neem and its parts. You should make sure to disclose all the current medication being used.

Also Read: Gudmar: Uses, Benefits & Side Effects

Frequently Asked Questions: 

Is neem beneficial against head lice?

Neem might be helpful against head lice. It is a common practice to apply neem all over the hair to kill head lice and their eggs as it might be helpful.3 However, more research is required. Please consult a doctor before using it.

Does neem cause any danger to pregnancy?

Pregnant women must consult their doctor before using neem tree or its parts in any form. The effects of neem on pregnant women are not known fully and require further research.

Is neem an insect repellent?

Research has demonstrated the potential use of neem root or leaf extract as an insect repellent against black flies. Neem oil cream to the skin might appear to secure against certain kinds of mosquitos.4 However, more research is required.  

Does neem have any use for livestock (farm animals)?

Neem might have potential use for the livestock in many ways. It might become popular as an animal feed substitute. Every part of the neem tree such as bark, fruits, leaves, gum and seeds has potential use for animal problems. Neem leaves may act as an antiviral agent against several viral infections in livestock. A hot infusion of leaves might help with bruises, swollen glands and sprains.1

What is the significance of neem in Indian traditions?

In Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, neem blossoms are being used on the occasion of Ugadi day in ‘Ugadi Pachhadi’ (soup-like pickle) to mark Telugu and Kannada new year. Demonstrates the interdependence of joy and sorrow and to be able to take both harsh and sweet things throughout life.4

Also Read: Triphala: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects & More!

References: 

  1. Girish K, Shankara BS. Neem–a green treasure. Elec. Journal of Bio. 2008;4(3):102-11. Available from: http://vertinnov.fr/fic_bdd/pdf_fr_fichier/13006391360_Neem_-_A_Green_Treasure.pdf  
  1. Obikaonu HO. Evaluation of the nutritional value of neem (Azadirachta indica) leaf meal on the performance of finisher broilers. Inter. Journal of Agri. and Rural Dev. 2012;15(3):1235-9. Available from: (PDF) EVALUATION OF THE NUTRITINAL VALUE OF NEEM (Azadirachta indica) LEAF MEAL ON THE PERFORMANCE OF FINISHER BROILERS (researchgate.net) 
  1. Bhowmik D, Chiranjib YJ, Tripathi KK, Kumar KS. Herbal remedies of Azadirachta indica and its medicinal application. J Chem Pharm Res. 2010;2(1):62-72. Available from: https://mchemist.com/herboglo/pdf/2%20neem.pdf  
  1. Giri RP, Gangawane AK, Giri SG. Neem the wonder herb: a short review. Int. Journal of Trend in Sci. Research and Dev. (IJTSRD). 2019;3(3):962-6. Available from: https://d1wqtxts1xzle7.cloudfront.net/59570103/211_Neem_The_Wonder_Herb_A_Short_Review20190607-35467-2cw8zu-with-cover-page-v2.pdf  

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