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Byline: DR. S. M. ALAM

A "betel nut" refers to the nut of the areca palm, which gives a mild narcotic effect when chewed. Although people usually refer to the nut of the areca palm as "betel nut", this is incorrect. The "betel" part actually refers to the leaf of the betel vine, which is used as a wrapper for the various ingredients of betel chewing.

The betel nut is the seed of the Areca palm (Areca catechu L.), which grows in much of the tropical Pacific, Asia, and parts of east Africa. It is commonly referred to as "betel nut" as it is often chewed wrapped in betel leaves. The common name is paan-gutka and supari. The betel nut, which is actually a fruit from the betel palm, can be found in Asia and Africa. Chewed either dried or ripe, the betel nut was most commonly used as a recreational drug that has euphoric and stimulant effects.

The betel nut is a combination of three ingredients. People roll small pieces of the nut from Areca catechu, more commonly called betel palm, in a leaf from the Piper betel vine, then add powdered slaked lime or limestone paste, and chew it. The substance is popular in certain parts of the world, primarily Asia and Africa, as a recreational drug due to its psychoactive and stimulant effect.

The betel palm, a certain species of palm tree found primarily in Asian countries, yields a seed known as a betel nut. Natives of the Asian and Indian countries where this tree is found use the betel nut much like those in Western countries use chewing tobacco or snuff. The betel nut is shaved or cut into slivers for easier chewing and is often mixed with local spices or tobacco for a more appealing flavor.

Betal nut uses: The betel nut (areca catechu) is a psychoactive drug of the Asian continent, popular in the South Pacific islands, Southeast Asia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Betel is chewed in New Zealand and Australia by immigrants from India now dwelling in these countries. Betel nut has been used extensively since antiquity. People chew it for stress reduction, feelings of well-being, and heightened awareness. It contains three major alkaloids: arecoline, pilocarpine, and muscarine. Betel nut chewing is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Betel nut extract may be beneficial for stroke recovery, according to InteliHealth. Improvements have been noted in speech, bladder control and muscle strength in patients taking betel nut extract, although InteliHealth explains that studies so far have been small and flawed.

Preliminary research indicates improvements in symptoms for schizophrenia patients who take betel nut, according to the NIH. Standard schizophrenia medications produce unpleasant side effects, fueling further efforts to discover new treatments, but the NIH notes that betel nut also produced side effects of tremors and stiffness in the schizophrenia research.

Betel nut may have antibacterial effects, and it previously was included as a toothpaste ingredient for preventing cavities, according to InteliHealth. Because of its toxic effects, however, betel nut is likely less useful than other therapeutic agents for dental purposes.

People who chew betel nut tend to produce large amounts of saliva, according to InteliHealth. This could help people with dry mouth caused by health conditions such as diabetes and Sjogren's syndrome. InteliHealth explains that safer medications are available to relieve this symptom.

Excessive use leads to palpitations, warm sensation, increased pulse rate and sweating, Prolonged use for many years may increase the risk for oral cancers. The regular use of betel will, in time, stain the mucosa, gums, and teeth. Betel nut is not recommended for those with heart conditions.

Internal tumors and cancers are caused from the juice that travels down the throat and into the intestines. Users may experience diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps. Liver cancer, impaired kidney function and gallstones are among the listed long-term effects of betel nut chewing. The altered blood sugar level will cause type 2 diabetes, and existing medical conditions will be exacerbated by chewing betel nut. Seizures, for example, have been associated with betel nut and users may experience difficulty breathing associated with their asthma.
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Publication:Pakistan & Gulf Economist
Geographic Code:90SOU
Date:Apr 22, 2012

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