IntroductionAreca nut is the seed or nut of the areca palm. It is also commonly known as betel nut. Areca palm is very commonly found in tropical Pacific, certain parts of east Africa and in southern Asian countries like tropical India, Japan, Philippines, South China etc. Areca nut do not usually fall in category of nuts. It is actually a berry and is very commonly available in market in fresh or in dried form. Fresh areca nut fruit is always green and nut present inside it is soft. As fruit ripens, outer layer turns yellow in color and soft inner consistency of fruit turns into wood-like consistency.
Uses of areca nutAreca nut is used for chewing purposes when it reaches wood-like consistency. Chewing not only stimulates appetite but also increases secretion of saliva which in turn helps in digestive process. In Sanskrit medical writings one can find various uses of areca nut. It is said to decrease halitosis. It kindles passion and helps in purification. It helps in removal of stored phlegm. It expels wind and helps to kill worms. It stimulates central nervous system. It is also used in tanning of leather.
Fats present8-10% fat present in areca nut is extracted using hexane. It then goes through refining procedure with an alkali and after that it becomes edible and develops characteristics similar to that of coconut oil.
Tannins (Chogaru)It is a by-product of unripe areca nuts. These unripe or immature betel nuts goes through certain process which helps in mastication purposes. Sediments present in tannins when dried forms areca nut dust. Tannin is used as an adhesive agent in manufacturing of ply board. Also used as a food coloring agent and as blank writing ink. Its application on surface helps in protection of house hold furniture. It is also used to dye textiles. It is used for converting hides into leather. This in turn helps in treating of fishing-nets.
Alternate usesAreca nut is used in manufacturing toys for kids. Likewise many different kinds of show case pieces can be prepared from it like statues, paper weight etc. It is also used to extract liquor. In combination with betel leaves, it is used to prepare beverage.
CompositionAreca nut contains-
AvailabilityAreca nut is made available in commercial market in various forms. It is available in small roasted pieces and in powdered form which is scented. It is readily made available in sachets of small sizes and also available in bulk in boxes. Sweet and masala form is also is available. Some people like it with tobacco and thus areca nut mixed with tobacco is also available. So many different varieties are available and still there is lot of scope to introduce it in other new forms.
Medicinal usesAreca nut has been used since a long time in Asian countries like India, China and Philippines. Vagbhata in 4th century A.D. prescribed use of areca nut in treatment of various diseases like leucoderma, leprosy, fits, anemia, obesity etc. Bhavamisra in 13th century recognized stimulating and hunger increasing properties of this nut. Areca nut powder is used to remove tape worms and thread worms from body of dogs. It also has an ability to cure nasal ulcers and bookworm infections. Roasted areca nut is known to cure dysentery. Its decoction is used in taenia infection and to cure helmintic infection in both humans and animals. Arecoline present in it is used in preparation of anti-snoring medicine as well as decreases blood pressure. Juice extracted from tender leaves of areca palm is applied in lumbago. Decoction made from roots is very useful in the treatment of sore lips. Areca nut is a best medicine for curing itching that occurs as a result of skin diseases and thus it is used in the preparation of blood purifier. Improves eyesight and relieves asthma.
Traditional roleAreca nut plays a very important role in religious, social and cultural lives of people irrespective of their caste, creed or social status. Since a long time chewing areca nut along with betel leaf is considered to be more of a tradition, especially in Asian countries. In Vietnam, areca nut and betel leaf symbolize love and marriage. In Malay culture, these two entities symbolize high esteem and thus they are offered to guests visiting Malay house. In religious ceremonies of Hindus and Buddhists, these two entities still serve as auspicious ingredients. Thus, even today people in Asian countries prefer to eat betel nuts wrapped in betel leaf after finishing their meals. It also leads to breath-freshening and has relaxant properties. Thus, chewing them together also became a sexual symbol as lovers made it a custom to chew these two entities before making love. Addition of tobacco leaf to betel nut and betel leaf is relatively new. It took place in colonial era where tobacco was introduced from American continents.
Association between areca nut and cancerHabitual chewers are at high risk of suffering from cancers of oral cavity and esophagus. Long-term chewers develop precancerous lesions in oral cavity and also may suffer from oral submucosal fibrosis and squamous cell carcinoma. There is also high risk of occurrence of cancer of liver, stomach, lungs, prostate etc. It has been proved that areca nut with or without tobacco is responsible for causing cancer. Chemicals present in areca nut commonly cause cancers in oral cavity, larynx, pharynx and throat.
Systemic effectsAreca nut is known to affect all organs present in human body. It causes ill-effects on endocrine system which leads to hypothyroidism, infertility etc. It decreases immunity as well as suppresses immune function leading to suppression of T-cell activity. This reduces cytokine release. Areca nut is known to cause many conditions and may also aggravate pre-existing conditions like asthma, obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, arrhythmia related to heart, MI, hepatotoxicity etc.
Ill-effects during pregnancyWomen who regularly chew betel leaf and betel nut formulations during pregnancy are at high risk of giving birth to preterm babies. Also, babies born will be of low birth weight and height. Arecoline found in areca nut is responsible for causing adverse effects on fetus and babies. Fetus also gets exposed to different poisonous components which are linked to cancer. It may also cause miscarriage due to damage caused to DNA and since it affects nervous system, it endangers pregnancy.
Ill-effects of betel nut on healthAreca nut causes many ill-effects on health. It increases risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, tachycardia and asthma. It may lead to chronic kidney related disease in men. It decreases heart beat and may cause bradycardia and thus should be avoided especially by those suffering from heart diseases. It may also increase heart beat and increases risk of heart attack and coma. It worsens asthma and emphysema by increasing fluid secretions in lungs. It increases risk of seizures and very likely causes ulcers in stomach and intestine by increasing secretions in those areas. It decreases blood pressure and an individual often experiences difficulty in breathing. Regular betel nut chewers may suffer from obstruction in intestines and urinary tract. It leads to deterioration of psychosis especially in those already suffering from psychiatric disorders.
Areca nut consumption during modern timesIn India and Pakistan, betel nut is consumed wrapped in betel leaf mixed with some more ingredients and is very popularly known as paan. Areca nut is also available in small sachets which are known as supari or pan masala. Primary base is crushed areca nut. If tobacco is incorporated in it then it is known as gutka. In Maldives, thin slices of roasted areca nut is chewed. Kili is available in home-made paper pouches which is a mixture of betel leaf, betel nut, cloves, cardamom and sugar. In Palau, areca nut is chewed with lime and piper leaf and tobacco is also incorporated in it. Instead of chewing areca nut, these people chew its skin. In United States and United Kingdom, areca nut is found usually in Asian grocery stores and is a taxed substance. In UAE, both betel nuts and betel leaves are banned. In Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, instead of dried areca nut, fresh one is preferred and consumed along with betel leaf and lime.
ConclusionAreca palm is a feathery palm. It is mildly cultivated in Asian countries and it grows fruit throughout the year. Areca nut obtained as a fruit of areca tree may be used either in fresh form or dried form. It is cured by roasting, boiling or baking. It can be consumed alone but very popularly chewed by wrapping it in betel leaf. However, tobacco incorporation has been started lately. Its use is widespread affecting almost 20% of world population. It is used to treat number of diseases but also poses number of side-effects especially if chewed for a long time in large amount. Cancer is one such ill-effect. Its chewing dates back thousands of years and is considered to be a custom or ritual. Excess and regular chewing should be avoided and the mixture of areca nut and betel leaf should be enjoyed occasionally to appreciate taste, derive health benefits and completely avoid ill-effects.
Areca nut husk-
It is covering of areca nut fruit. It is used as an inferior fuel and mulch. Nowadays, it is used to manufacture hard boards, paper boards, plastics and even in making of brown paper which is used for wrapping purposes. It is also used in mushroom farming where it acts like a substrate. It is used in making of cushions and non-woven fabrics also.
Areca nut stem and leaf-
Stem of areca nut palm is used for construction purposes in villages where areca nut palm is cultivated. Leaves of areca nut palm on the other hand forms a good organic manure.
Leaf sheath of areca palm is used in manufacturing of ply board which in turn is used in making of number of products like file boards, suitcases etc. Leaf sheath is also used in making of caps, for packing purposes, throwaway cups, plates, tea chest etc.