Today we explore how (Paan) betel leaf can affect fertility in both men and women. It is a herbal plant traditionally known for its medicinal value which includes reducing inflammation, stimulating the appetite improving digestion, relieving toothache, and more . Betel leaf, also known as piper betel, betel vine, or pan leaf, is a flowering plant in the pepper family Piperaceae. It is native to Southeast Asia and is cultivated for its leaves, which are used in traditional medicine and as a flavoring in chewing areca nut.
Betel leaf as a flavor in chewing areca nut
It is often used as a flavoring in chewing areca nut. The nut is a seed of the areca palm tree and is a stimulant. It is often chewed with betel leaf, slaked lime, and other spices. According to anecdotal evidence, betel leaf adds flavor and also helps to protect the teeth and gums from the acidity of the areca nut.
The betel leaf is an evergreen, dioecious vine that can grow up to 9 meters long. It has glossy, heart-shaped leaves that are about 10-15 centimeters, the leaves are used fresh or dried. It is important to know that there exist over 90 varieties of betel leaves, but some are more popular such as the Mysore betel leaf and the Banarasi betel leaf. The Mysore betel leaf is known for its smooth texture and hot taste, while the Banarasi betel leaf is known for its strong flavor.
How betel leaf can affect fertility
Betel leaf and fertility: The leaf extract is like a two-edged sword, it can be beneficial for women’s fertility but can also lower sperm count and motility which reduces fertility in men. Below are supporting points.
Can naturally prevent unwanted pregnancy
Betel leaf has a reversible anti-fertility effect on males as it can help reduce sperm motility and count, this in return lowers the chance of egg fertilization and the possibility of pregnancy [2, 3]. This is only good for young men and women who are not yet ready to become parents, and this could be a potential birth control remedy with no sides effect since the effect is reversible. Please read further for the scientific studies supporting the argument.
Yes, low sperm motility can affect egg fertilization. Sperm motility is the ability of sperm to move and swim. To fertilize an egg, sperm must be able to swim up the fallopian tube and reach the egg. If sperm have low motility, they may not be able to reach the egg or they may not be able to penetrate the egg’s outer layer.
A scientific study on Swiss male albino mice models shows the alcoholic extract of the leaf-stalk of Piper betle can temporarily reduce fertility. The extract effectively suppressed sperm mobility and cauda epididymal sperm count and weights of reproductive organs, but the extract did not alter the hormonal balance. This shows that extracts from the plant can be a potential contraceptive agent .
A more recent study that evaluated the antifertility potential of Piper betel (Petiole) on female Wistar rats found that the ethanol extract of Piper betel leaf-stalk significantly reduced the fertility of female rats, as there was a decrease in the number of corpora lutea, implantation sites, and live fetuses [4, 5].
Another older study that evaluated the antifertility impact of Ethanol Extract of betel leaf (Sirih Leaf) on male Wistar rats suggests a significant influence on male spermatogenesis, concluding that the ethanol extract of Piper betel leaf can lower the sperm count, motility, and viability of male rats .
More research is needed to confirm the safety and efficacy of the leaf-stalk extract of Paan betel as a potential contraceptive agent in humans. But the available evidence suggests that it has the potential as a natural alternative to hormonal birth control.
May improve the chance of getting pregnant
There are claims the betel leaf may improve women’s reproductive function, for example in countries like Indonesia married women who have not given birth are advised to chew betel leaves before having sexual intercourse with their husbands for at least 7 days. Whereas in some cases, betel leaves blended with one young pinang fruit, 1 onion, and one ginger are applied to the stomach, or eaten . However, this lacks scientific backup as the effect and efficacy are unclear.
Creates an aphrodisiac effect when combined with other herbs
According to anecdotal evidence, chewing betel leaf with supari, lime, clove, and Gulkand can produce an aphrodisiac effect by stimulating the reproductive organs which can be beneficial for males. Chewing this may also stimulate the digestive system. However, there is limited scientific study backing these claims, where other evidence says otherwise.
Benefits of betel leaf
Betel leaves have several health benefits, including:
May help lower blood sugar
Betel leaf extract is anti-diabetic, which is beneficial for diabetic patients. Evidence shows that the extract can accelerate wound healing in patients with diabetes mellitus by decreasing oxidative stress markers . Betel leaf (Piper Betle) also has a good reputation in Indian traditional medicine, and it is known for its antihyperglycemic property. According to a supporting scientific study that evaluated the antihyperglycemic effects of betel leaf extract on a diabetic rat model, the extract of the leaf was able to increase glucose metabolism which resulted in significant sugar reduction [9, 10].
Decreases oxidative stress markers
Betel leaf extract manifested its antioxidant property through its lipid peroxidation prevention capability. There is more evidence supporting its free radicals scavenging properties and can also boost the immune system.
One supporting study noted that the extract was able to decrease oxidative stress markers in diabetic rats which in return quickened the healing of delayed wounds .
One study has equally tested the antioxidant properties of about 3 varieties of betel leaves such as Kauri, Ghanagete, and the buterhati variety. However, the study concluded that all the variety tests showed different levels of antioxidant activity according to their phenolic concentration indicated as gallic acid equivalents .
May inhibit infection-causing pathogens
The bacterial inhibiting properties of the betel leaf extract were noted in a study that evaluated its antimicrobial, antioxidant, and α-amylase inhibitory activities which were attributed to its phenolic acid and flavonoid content . The extract showed an antimicrobial effect against all of the Gram-positive bacteria and Gram-negative bacteria tested, except Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a bacterium that is often resistant to antibiotics. Although this study showed a promising result but is limited because it did test a wide range of pathogens hence more vast research is needed to understand the full implication of this.
Betel leaf side effect
Betel leaves are addictive, and when consumed in large quantities, they also have side effects, such as:
- Causing mouth cancer
- Increasing the risk of heart disease
- Damaging the liver
- Causing gum disease
- Causing tooth decay.
The impact of Betel leaf extract on male and female fertility is a like a two-edged sword, it can be beneficial for women’s fertility to an extent, but can also lower sperm count and motility which reduces fertility in men. It can be a potential natural birth control remedy but requires further scientific validation. The leaves are addictive, and moderation should be applied when consuming them, as excessive intake may be detrimental.
JC is passionate about finding the impact of foods (feeding habits) on human fertility and reproductive health and a way to improve fertility.