Malunggay or Moringa

You must have heard of noodles, bread, and tea and other food fortified with malunggay (Moringa Oleifera) or have malunggay as the main ingredient. Malunggay fortification is commonly done to make food more nutritious. This is after scientific papers and gray literature reported the many nutritional and medicinal benefits of malunggay.

However, medical practitioners have not fully utilized the information on the goodness of malunggay. Claims about the medicinal benefits of malunggay are still considered to be lacking in solid scientific evidence. It has also been noted that there are some flaws in the experimental designs used in research studies on malunggay.

Plant-derived health care formulations, such as those that could be obtained from malunggay, need scientific-based testing to establish their effectivity and safety. One of the parameters employed to assess bioactive plant products is through the use of immune response tests.

This project aims to provide reliable scientific validation data for malunggay as a source of immunomodulating substances. Immunomodulation could indicate whether a person’s immune response is stimulated or suppressed.

Immunostimulation or stimulation of the immune system is important to combat stress, diseases due to infectious agents or environmental factors, tumor growth, and other conditions resulting from weakened immune system. On the other hand, immunosuppression or inhibition, or suppression of the immune system, is needed by patients with hyperactive immune responses, such as in cases of allergies and autoimmune diseases.

Malunggay is said to have immunomodulatory properties. However, there have been very limited studies on the immunomodulatory activities of malunggay. Therefore, a substance with immunomodulatory properties from malunggay would be extremely useful.

In order to provide needed information on the potential of malunggay as an immunomodulating agent, Dr. Elena S. Catap of the Institute of Biology, University of the Philippines Diliman worked with Dr. Christine Hernandez of the Institute of Chemistry, University of the Philippines Diliman in a project financially supported by the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD).

In this project, bioactive components from the leaves of malunggay were first preparedthrough basic crude extraction technique using different solvents such as ethyl alcohol, hexane, and ethyl acetate. After crude extraction, immunoactive components from these extracts were further separated and isolated through the successive use of chromatographic techniques.

At each stage of compound isolation, immune-testing was done to validate the immunomodulatory properties of the fractions. In vitro methods using immune responsive cells such as lymphocutes and macrophages from mice were initially employed. During the in vitro experiments, the results showed that the component derived from the hexane extract induced the significantly highest proliferation of lymphocytes.

As such, the project focused on the immune-enhancing component in malunggay leaves. In vitro testing was repeatedly done until the most bioactive component was obtained using high performance liquid chromatography. In addition to cellular testing of the compounds, in vivo experiments, wherein compounds of interest were directly applied in experimental animals, were undertaken to obtain data on the effective and safe concentration that could lead to immune-enhancement.

In this experiment, the immune-enhancing roles of the hexane constituents were screened using a battery of immune response tests. Phagocytosis, the process wherein foreign materials and pathogens are ingested by our body’s macrophages, was measured. This parameter exhibits the capacity to resist infections. Moreover, the proliferation of lymphocytes is a measure of an individual’s resistance to fight disease-causing microorganisms.

The ability of macrophages to produce superoxide anions, an immune mechanism used to kill pathogens, was also determined. Examination of liver and kidney samples from experimental animals is also being done to further confirm the safety of the malunggay components. All the data obtained proved the enhanced health and immune status of the experimental animals and the safe use of the specific malunggay constituent.

It is expected that the results from this study will be used by pharmaceutical companies in herbal and nutraceutical formulations and drug development ventures. Moreover, this study will complement the other research works on malunggay, which include anti-diabetic, anti-microbial, anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, anti-hypertensive, antioxidant and chemotherapeutic potentials of the plant’s constituents. Ultimately, these will all form part of the scientific basis for the development of a biomarker constituent with standardized dosage that is of medicinal value.


Written by:
Elena S. Catap, Ph.D.
University of the Philippines Diliman

Published by:
The Department of Science and Technology-Science and Technology Information Institute (DOST-STII