Neem: Benefits, Uses, & Side Effects

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated - Medically reviewed by Vanessa Voltolina (MS, RD)

Neem (Azadirachta indica) is the common name of an extremely important tree native to the Indian subcontinent, which now grows in certain parts of the Middle East, as well. The important health benefits of neem leaves include their ability to improve hair, skin, and oral health, fight fungal infections, manage diabetes, and reduce inflammation. It also alleviates gastric conditions, slows the aging process, and promotes sexual health.

What is Neem?

Neem trees are a part of the mahogany family of trees, Meliaceae. These trees grow very rapidly and have broad-spreading leaves, which they can drop quickly in a drought so as to protect the rest of the trees. This quality makes them extremely resilient to challenging environments; they are primarily found in tropical and subtropical zones. The flowers are very fragrant and white in color, while the fruit of the neem tree is a small drupe with a bittersweet pulp. [1]

A white bowl filled with neem leaves surrounded by some neem fruits on a wooden table

Neem leaves are known for their diverse medicinal properties. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Neem Leaves

Neem leaves are widely sought after, serving as a major industry in the Indian subcontinent – as these valuable leaves can be used for many different things. The oil from the leaves can be extracted and used in a variety of medicines, while the leaves themselves can be dried and used as an herb, or even as a pest repellent. In many areas of India, the shoots and flowers of the tree are also used for culinary applications.

Neem Powder

Neem powder contains a unique composition of organic and beneficial compounds, so products derived from it are very popular in herbal remedies. From tea and garnishes to skin salves and herbal supplements, it is considered as one of the most important and versatile plants in the Indian culture.

Neem Benefits

Let’s take a closer look at some of the health benefits of this herb.

Antibacterial Potential

Research published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal notes that one of the most widely recognized benefits of neem powder, oil, leaves, tea, and other derivatives is its strong antibacterial and antimicrobial effects. This comes into play both internally and externally, which is why it is considered to be a general tonic for the immune system and as a simple way to protect your overall health. It is commonly associated with healing skin conditions, but its effects are far more extensive! [2] [3]

Removes Head Lice

A 2011 study on the medicinal uses of neem suggests that the antifungal and antibacterial properties make it very popular in shampoos and scalp cleansers. This is because it can help the skin remain hydrated and eliminate dandruff and lice while simultaneously strengthening your hair. Another study published in the Parasitology Research journal showed how neem seed extract shampoo was effective in treating lice after just one application. [4] [5]

Detoxifies the Body

Whether you are using neem powder, paste, leaves, or consuming its extracts in supplements, the active ingredients in this one-stop pharmacy tree will help to rid the body of toxins. Research published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics indicates that neem stimulates the liver, helping eliminate toxins quickly and optimizing the body’s metabolic activities. [6] [7]

Fights Skin & Fungal Diseases

In terms of acne, neem paste is commonly thought to eliminate much of grease and bacteria that can exacerbate the condition. The antibacterial nature of neem also helps prevent future breakouts, while the antioxidants in it will help minimize scarring and keep the skin looking fresh and clean. [8] [9] [10] [11]

As per another research published in 2013, it is effective in treating various skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, and warts. It is also used in a number of cosmetic and beauty products to rejuvenate the skin. [12] [13]

You can apply neem powder, paste or diluted oil directly onto infected areas of the body, including the condition Athlete’s foot. The antifungal effects of its active organic ingredients are rapid and highly efficient, leaving your immune system and skin intact. [14]

Improves Gastric Health

Consuming neem has been directly connected with a reduction in inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, which helps reduce ulcers and a wide range of other intestinal issues, such as constipation, bloating, and cramping. It can also be used as a quick healing antidote for some GI infections that can destroy beneficial bacteria in the gut. According to research, 30-60 mg of neem tree extract twice daily for ten weeks completely healed duodenal ulcers. [15] [16] [17] [18]

Controls Diabetes

As per an animal study published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, there is a connection between a lower demand for insulin in the body and the consumption of neem. Its chemical components optimize insulin receptor function and ensure that the body is receiving appropriate amounts of insulin, which protects against the development of diabetes. Furthermore, for diabetics, it can be used to minimize the dependence on insulin therapy. However, given the animal nature of these studies, more research in the area is needed. [19] [20] [21]

Fights Malaria

As per a 2009 study in the Malaria Journal, neem acts as a natural mosquito repellant. There has been some unconfirmed research that its leaves can effectively reduce malaria symptoms and minimize the danger of the disease. However, neem’s more common relationship with malaria is as a natural insect repellent that is nontoxic and highly effective in repelling mosquitoes, which are the main vectors of malaria. However, the evidence on this is still inconclusive and requires further research. [22] [23]

Improves Oral Health

Neem is very popular as an ingredient in oral health products in the Indian subcontinent. Its antibacterial qualities make it ideal for eliminating the bacteria beneath the gums that cause periodontal diseases and halitosis (bad breath). It is a popular ingredient in mouthwashes and the flavor is not bad either! [24] [25] [26]

Improves Reproductive Health

A collaborative study carried out by the National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi, India and the Contraceptive Research and Development Program (CONRAD) of Eastern Virginia Medical School, Virginia, USA suggests that neem seed extract has spermicidal properties. It is widely used as a natural spermicide and birth control agent, as it is likely to reduce the chances of conception for both men and women without harming them in a toxic way. It lowers fertility levels without impacting libido and can even help prevent certain sexually transmitted diseases. Research further suggests its potential to develop into a contraceptive for women. [27]

Anti-inflammatory Agent

As mentioned, there are certain anti-inflammatory properties in neem leaves. This is especially exciting for arthritis research. The paste or oil, when applied to aching joints and muscles due to arthritis can significantly reduce pain and discomfort, and even increase flexibility if consistently used. [28] [29] [30]

Neem Uses

There are a number of ways it can be used, some of them are mentioned below.

Word of Caution: Despite this vast range of potentially beneficial uses, there are some side effects associated with it. Firstly, it should not be used or consumed by infants or toddlers, and those with existing kidney or liver issues should consult a doctor before using any of its components. There is a chance of fatigue, due to its slight sedative nature, so be cautious of overuse, particularly in conjunction with any other medications. [31] [32] Protection Status
About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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