The evergreen neem tree has earned a reputation for being one of the most potent medicinal flora in the world. Having originated in the Indian sub-continent, it has been celebrated and used for over 5000 centuries with mentions in age-old Ayurvedic scriptures such as the Charaka Samhita, Śārṅgadhara's Upavanavinod, Sushruta Samhita, and Kautilya’s Arthashastra. As a powerful herb, every part of the neem tree including the twigs, leaves, fruits, roots, gum, seed, and bark offers a range of benefits for the skin, hair, scalp, teeth nails, and gums.
So why is this bitter-tasting tree revered by Ayurvedic practitioners for oral health and overall well-being? This article will help us understand Ayurveda's take on neem, its significance, benefits, and the uses of its parts to maintain oral well-being and hygiene.
Azadirachta indica or neem is the botanical cousin of mahogany. Standing tall like oak, it bears resemblance to honey-scented white flowers. It is seldom leafless and is considered a prized possession in India for its array of medicinal properties.
Considered to be an effective immuno-stimulant, it is known for its anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties owing to the presence of biologically-active compounds such as azadirachtin and two other alkaloids (nimbin and nimbidin). Scientific research has also proven it to have free radical scavenging properties due to being a rich source of antioxidants. In addition to this, neem also possesses anti-cariogenic, anti-diabetic, anti-helminthic, cytotoxic, and astringent properties making it an effective and versatile herb.
The wonder tree neem has multiple names in India - sometimes known as nim, kadulimb, nimba. According to Ayurvedic texts, it is believed to have the ability to prevent or alleviate all diseases, being referred to as 'sarva roga nivarini'. The Sanskrit name 'nimba' is derived from 'Nimbati Syasthyamdadati', meaning 'good health'. 'Pichumarda', another name for neem in Sanskrit, denotes the goodness of plant to help relieve skin diseases.
Traditionally, this tree has been referred to as a 'nature's pharmacy' due to its numerous benefits. Neem has the following Ayurvedic properties:
Rasa (taste): Tikta (bitter) and Kashaya (astringent) in nature
Guna (quality): Laghu (light to digest) and Rooksha (dry)
Veerya (energy): Shital (cold potency)
Vipaka (post-digestive effect): Katu vipaka (pungent)
With its cooling potency, neem can help balance the fiery Pitta and Kapha doshas while nourishing the dhatus or body constituents. Excessive use of the neem can disturb those with predominant Vata dosha.
According to ancient Vedic scriptures, the herb neem (also known as nimbaka) has been recognized for its rejuvenating properties. It is mentioned in various Ayurvedic scriptures and journals for its innumerable uses:
Deepana (enhances the agni or the digestive fire for better metabolism)
Rochana (stimulates the appetite)
Trutahara (relieves excessive thirst)
Mehahara (treats urinary tract disorders)
Balya (improves your muscle strength)
Jvara (useful in fever)
Varnya (improves complexion)
Hikkānigrahaṇa (helps control hiccups)
Mehanut (helps you manage diabetes)
Arochaka and Kushtanut (treats skin disorders)
Research indicates that neem is the earliest documented medicinal plant in the Siddha medical system, whose origin goes back to 10 000 B.C to 4 000 B.C. Some of its benefits are:
May help protect the hair: As per scientific studies, neem seed extract contains azadirachtin, a compound that is said to be effective in combating parasites that affect the hair and skin, such as lice. Azadirachtin works by inhibiting the growth and reproduction of parasites and disrupting their cellular processes. Since neem also contains nimbidin, it helps treat dandruff owing to its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties.
May aid a healthy immune system: Research has shown that the aqueous extract of Azadirachta Indica can boost the production of antibodies that target harmful free radicals. The active immuno-modulatory component, azadirachtin acts as an antioxidant to defend against harmful foreign substances in the body, thus boosting the immune system.
May improve gut health: Neem has also been known to support healthy digestion. Its anti-inflammatory properties can help prevent stomach and intestinal issues. It also helps reduce unwanted heat and toxins from the gastrointestinal tract while reducing gastric ulcers and thus improving gut health.
May help control blood sugar: The herb neem contains a blend of active compounds including glycosides, triterpenoids, antioxidants, and flavonoids that work together to regulate glucose levels and prevent spikes in its concentration. According to the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, neem extracts have been shown to control diabetic symptoms in individuals with non-insulin-dependent diabetes while controllingblood glucose levels, building glucose tolerance and reducing oxidative stress and diabetic complications.
May aid liver and kidney health: The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of the neem may help combat oxidative stress, which can support the health of the liver and kidneys. The detoxifying effect of the neem also helps releaseama or toxins from the body. A study on rats showed that neem leaf extract can reduce liver damage.
May improve skin health: Neem seed oil contains a variety of fatty acids, including oleic, stearic, palmitic, and linoleic acids, which have been demonstrated to possess anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties. Neem is used to combat acne, reduce blemishes, and even treat conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. With moisturizing triglycerides and vitamin E present in neem leaves, regular use can also help reduce signs of premature aging.
Besides the above-mentioned benefits, the humble nimba is also an excellent blood purifier, helps regulate blood sugar, increases metabolism with Kapha-reducing properties, and supports a healthy respiratory system while promoting healthy teeth and gums.
According to Ayurvedic scriptures, danta swasthya, or dental health is unique to each individual and is influenced by your prakriti or body constitution. Additional factors such as the solar, lunar, and kala-parinama or planetary changes as well as your dominant dosha also affect your dental health.
For centuries, neem or nimbaka has been considered to be highly effective in maintaining oral hygiene while supporting the teeth and gums. Elucidated below are some ways in which it can help maintain dental health:
Promotes oral hygiene: The age-old scriptures of Ayurveda consider neem bark chewing or miswak an essential way to promote oral hygiene. Multiple studies have demonstrated that these sticks have anti-plaque and antibacterial effects. Ayurvedic scriptures recommended chewing sticks in the morning and after meals to prevent oral diseases. The astringent properties of the bark were used to prevent bleeding gums, tooth decay, and bad breath before the invention of toothpaste.
Prevents plaque build-up: As a bitter-tasting or tikta herb, the twigs and leaves of the neem are highly valued owing to their cleansing properties. Its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory nature can help improve the effectiveness of teeth cleaning and prevent the accumulation of plaque over time. It also helps to prevent tartar from staining teeth and improves overall dental health.
Helps treat gingivitis and periodontitis: The antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, as well as immune-boosting properties of the neem, can help support oral health. While further research is needed, scientific studies suggest that this herb may be effective in reducing pain and treating conditions such as gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth decay.
Helps maintain alkaline levels: Brushing teeth with a neem datun (twig) can help maintain the alkaline levels in saliva, which can aid in remineralizing enamel and combating bacteria that cause cavities. Scientific findings conclude that a neem mouth rinse can reduce periodontal indices and neem twigs can also help containgingival inflammation.
Acts as a natural mouth freshener: Ayurveda recommends chewing on fresh herbs like mint, clove, holy basil, cinnamon, and neem as a natural way to combat bad breath. While neem in itself does not have a pleasant taste or aroma, chewing on its tender bark or using it in the form of a taila or oil can help eliminate unpleasant mouth odors.
Helps relieve toothache: According to scientific research, the pain-relieving and vasodilating compounds found in neem can help reduce toothache by reducing the pressure on nerves that contribute to the pain. Its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties can help alleviate tooth decay as well.
The humble nimba or neem is highly esteemed in Ayurveda for its many medicinal properties, which can be found in almost every part of the tree. It is used to treat a range of issues such as skin problems, digestive issues, respiratory health, and liver problems, among others owing to the presence of essential bio-active ingredients and therapeutic properties. This germ-killing neem can be used in the form of toothpaste, powder or churna, oil or taila, a tablet, or mouthwash.
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