Adding bitter leaf to your healthy diet may reduce your risk of chronic diseases like breast cancer and type 2 diabetes, the University of Texas reports. Bitter leaf -- technically known as Vernonia amygdalina -- is a traditional ingredient in African cuisine. Although it may have a bitter title, its flavor is quite mild. Additionally, bitter leaf has a number of important potential health benefits.
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Elevated cholesterol -- especially "bad" LDL cholesterol -- is a risk factor for heart attack, stroke and Alzheimer's disease. According to the February 2008 edition of the "Journal of Vascular Health and Risk Management," bitter leaf can reduce bad and total cholesterol. In an animal model, supplementation with bitter leaf extract reduced LDL cholesterol by 50 percent while also boosting "good" HDL cholesterol. However, no research investigating bitter leaf on cholesterol has been conducted on humans.
Your body's cells are under a near-constant assault from a harmful process known as oxidation. Unchecked oxidation can increase the chances of precancerous cell formation. Bitter leaf is an abundant source of oxidation's nemesis -- antioxidants -- reports the December 2006 issue of "Food Chemistry." The researchers add that the antioxidant properties of bitter leaf make a healthy disease-fighting addition to your diet.
More than 10 percent of women in the United States will develop breast cancer, BreastCancer.org reports. Staying physically active, eating a low-fat diet and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of breast cancer. Additionally, consuming bitter leaf may combat breast cancer cell growth, according to the February 2004 "Experimental Biology and Medicine." In a test tube study of human breast cancer cells, scientists from Jackson State University found that bitter leaf inhibited the growth and proliferation of breast cancer cells.
Bitter leaf is an abundant source of the polyunsaturated fatty acids linoleic and linolenic acid. Because your body can't make these two fats, they are required from the diet. A study found in the November 2001 issue of the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found that diets rich in these two fatty acids were protective against cardiovascular disease. In this study, those who consumed the greatest amounts of linoleic and linolenic fatty acids had a 40 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease when compared to those that seldom consumed these two fats.
- University of Texas: Bitter Leaf Extract May Prevent, Delay Breast Cancer, Diabetes
- "Journal of Vascular Health and Risk Management"; Lipid-lowering Effects of Methanolic Extract of Vernonia Amygdalina Leaves in Rats Fed on High Cholesterol Diet; O. Adaramoye et al.; February 2008
- "Food Chemistry"; Evaluation of Antioxidant Activity and the Fatty Acid Profile of the Leaves of Vernonia Amygdalina Growing in South Africa; P. Erasto et al.; December 2006
- "Experimental Biology and Medicine"; A Novel Natural Inhibitor of Extracellular Signal-regulated Kinases and Human Breast Cancer Cell Growth; E. Izevbigie et al.; February 2004
- BreastCancer.org: U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics
- "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition"; Relation Between Dietary Linolenic Acid and Coronary Artery Disease in the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Family Heart Study; L. Djousse et al.; November 2001