Areca nut is the seed of the areca palm (Areca catechu), 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 International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that chewing areca nut is carcinogenic to humans after reviewing the published medical research.
The areca nut is not a true nut, but rather a drupe. It is commercially available in dried, cured and fresh forms. While fresh, the husk is green and the nut inside is soft enough to be cut with a typical knife. In the ripe fruit, the husk becomes yellow or orange and, as it dries, the fruit inside hardens to a wood-like consistency. At that stage, the areca nut can only be sliced using a special scissors-like cutter (known as aḍakattera in Telugu, adake kattari in Kannada,bajjeai in Tulu, adakitta [अडकित्ता] in Marathi, giraya in Sinhala, jaanti in Bengali, adakka അടക്കാ in Malayalam, pakku (பாக்கு) in Tamil, sarautaa in Hindi, guaa (ଗୁଆ) in Oriya, and sudi in Gujarati).
Usually for chewing, a few slices of the nut are wrapped in a betel leaf along with lime (not to be confused with the citrus fruit named lime) and may include clove, cardamom, catechu (kattha) and/or other spices for extra flavouring. Betel leaf has a fresh, peppery taste, but it can also be bitter to varying degrees depending on the variety. The combination of areca nut with betel leaf is called tamul (তামূল/ "তামোল")in Assamese, kavala in Kannada, tambulam in Sanskrit, bajjai in Tulu, and paan in Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi, and Urdu.
Areca nuts are chewed with betel leaf for their effects as a mild stimulant, causing a warming sensation in the body and slightly heightened alertness, although the effects vary from person to person. The effect of chewing betel leaf and areca nut together is relatively mild, and could be compared to that of drinking a cup of coffee.
The areca nut contains the tannins arecatannin and gallic acid; a fixed oil gum; a little terpineol; lignin; various saline substances; and three main alkaloids — arecoline, arecaidine and guvacine — all of which have vasoconstricting properties. The betel leaf chewed along with the nut contains eugenol, another vasoconstrictor. Many chewers also add small pieces of tobacco leaf to the mixture, thereby adding the effect of nicotine, which causes greater addiction than the drugs contained in the nut and the betel leaf.
In almost all parts of India, Sri Lanka and southern China, areca nuts are not only chewed along with betel leaf, but are also used in the preparation of Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines. Powdered areca nut is used as a constituent in some dentifrices. Other medicinal uses include the removal of tapeworms and other intestinal parasites by swallowing a few teaspoons of powdered areca nut, drunk as a decoction, or by taking tablets containing the extracted alkaloids. According to traditional Ayurvedic medicine, chewing areca nut and betel leaf is a good remedy against bad breath. Diplomat Edmund Roberts noted that Chinese people would mix areca nut with uncaria gambir during his visit to China in the 1830s.
Recently it has been reported that areca nut powder extract is capable of reducing silver ions to silver nanoparticles, which may be useful as antimicrobial agents.
Chewing the mixture of areca nut and betel leaf is a tradition, custom or ritual which dates back thousands of years in much of the geographical areas from South Asia eastward to the Pacific. It constitutes an important and popular cultural activity in many Asian and Oceanic countries, including Pakistan, the Maldives, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma (Myanmar), China, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Palau, Yap, Guam, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. It is not known how or when the areca nut and the betel leaf were first combined into one psychoactive drug. Archaeological evidence from Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines suggests they have been used in tandem for at least 4000 years.
In Vietnam, the areca nut and the betel leaf are such important symbols of love and marriage that in Vietnamese the phrase "matters of betel and areca" (chuyện trầu cau) is synonymous with marriage. The tradition of chewing areca nuts starts the talk between the groom's parents and the bride's parents about the young couple's marriage. Therefore, the leaves and juices are used ceremonially in Vietnamese weddings. The folk tale explaining the origin of this Vietnamese tradition is a good illustration of the belief that the combination of areca nut and the betel leaf is ideal to the point they are practically inseparable, like an idealized married couple.
Areca nut cutter from Bali/Indonesia
Malay culture and tradition hold betel nut and leaves in high esteem. Traditionally, guests who visit a Malay house are presented with a tray of areca nuts and betel leaves, in much the same way as drinks are offered to guests in many cultures around the world. There is even a Malay proverb about the betel nut, "bagaikan pinang dibelah dua", loosely translated, like a betel nut divided in half. It usually refers to newlyweds, who are compatible to each other, just like a betel nut when divided in half. The proverb is analogous to the English "two peas in a pod".
In the Indian subcontinent, the chewing of betel and areca nut dates back to the pre-Vedic period Harappan empire. Formerly, in both India and Sri Lanka, it was a custom of the royalty to chew areca nut with betel leaf. Kings had special attendants whose duty it was to carry a box with all the necessary ingredients for a good chewing session. There was also a custom for lovers to chew areca nut and betel leaf together, because of its breath-freshening and relaxant properties. A sexual symbolism thus became attached to the chewing of the nut and the leaf. The areca nut represented the male principle, and the betel leaf the female principle. Considered an auspicious ingredient in Hinduism and some schools of Buddhism, the areca nut is still used along with betel leaf in religious ceremonies, and also while honoring individuals in much of southern Asia.
In Assam, it is a tradition to offer pan-tamul (betel leaves and raw areca nut) to guests, after tea or meals, served in a brass plate with stands called bota. Among the Assamese, the areca nut also has a variety of uses during religious and marriage ceremonies, where it has the role of a fertility symbol. A tradition from Upper Assam is to invite guests to wedding receptions by offering a few areca nuts with betel leaves. During Bihu, the husori players are offered areca nuts and betel leaves by each household while their blessings are solicited.
Spanish mariner Álvaro de Mendaña reported observing Solomon Islanders chewing the nut and the leaf with caustic lime, and the manner in which the habit stained their mouths red. He noted the friendly and genial chief Malope, on Santa Isabel Island, would offer him the combination as a token of friendship every time they met.
In Bhutan areca nut is called doma. The raw areca nut, which is soft and moist is very potent and when chewed can cause palpitation and vasoconstricting. This form is eaten in the lower regions of Bhutan and in North Bengal, where the nut is cut into half and put into a local paan leaf with a generous amount of lime. In the rest of Bhutan the raw nut, with the husk on, is fermented such that the husk rots and is easy to extract. The fermented doma has a putrid odour, which can be smelled from miles. Traditionally, this fragrant nut is cut in half and placed on top of a cone made of local betel leaf, which has a dash of lime put into it. "Myth has it that the inhabitants of Bhutan traditionally known as Monyul, the land of Monpas where Buddhism did not reach lived on raw flesh, drank blood and chewed bones. After the arrival of Guru Rinpoche in the 8th century, he stopped the people from eating flesh and drinking blood and created a substitute which is betel leaf, lime and areca nut. Today, chewing doma has become a custom. Doma is served after meals, during rituals and ceremonies. It is offered to friends and is chewed at work places by all sections of the society and has become an essential part of Bhutanese life and culture."
The addition of tobacco leaf to the chewing mixture is a relatively recent innovation, as tobacco was not introduced from the American continent until the colonial era.
Effects on health
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) regards the chewing of betel and areca nut to be a known human carcinogen. The media has reported that regular chewers of betel leaf and areca nut have a higher risk of damaging their gums and acquiring cancer of the mouth, pharynx, esophagus and stomach. Studies have found tobacco and caustic lime increase the risk of cancer from areca nut preparations.
Studies have been conducted on the use of a "pure" paan preparation: areca nut, betel leaf, and lime only. One animal study done in 1989 found that unprocessed areca nuts, even at high doses, displayed only a very weak carcinogenicity in mice, whereas use of processed areca nuts, as commonly used in paan preparations, caused cancer. Since 1971, many studies have showed areca nut extracts to cause cancer in rodents. In 2003 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reached the conclusion that there is sufficient evidence that the habit of chewing betel quid, with or without tobacco, is carcinogenic to humans. Support for this conclusion is provided by a recent study which found that paan, even without concurrent tobacco use, is a risk factor for oral cancer. The Merchant et al. study further determined that paan, when consumed with and without tobacco, increased oral cancer risk by 8.4 and 9.9 times, respectively, compared to those who do not consume paan.
Chewing areca nut alone has been linked to oral submucosal fibrosis. According to Medline Plus, "Long-term use [of betel-areca preparations] has been associated with oral submucosal fibrosis (OSF), pre-cancerous oral lesions and squamous cell carcinoma. Acute effects of betel chewing include asthma exacerbation, hypertension, and tachycardia. There may additionally be a higher risk of cancers of the liver, mouth, esophagus, stomach, prostate, cervix, and lung with regular betel use. Other effects can include a possible effect on blood sugar levels, which may in turn increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes."
The use of areca nut paste to clean teeth is mentioned in fiction, notably in James Joyce's Ulysses, set in 1904. However, the increase in mouth ulcers and gum deterioration caused by chewing areca nut and betel may outweigh any positive effects.
Use of areca nut has been associated with deterioration of psychosis in patients with preexisting psychiatric disorders
In October, 2009, 30 scientists from 10 countries met at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a World Health Organization sponsored group, to reassess the carcinogenicity of various agents including areca nut, and mechanisms of carcinogenesis. They concluded there is sufficient evidence that areca nut, with or without tobacco, can cause cancer.
Teratogenic effects of areca nuts
Scientific teams from Taiwan, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea have reported that expectant mothers who chew paan (and/or other areca nut and betel leaf formulations) during pregnancy significantly increase adverse outcomes for the baby. The effects were similar to those reported for mothers who consume alcohol or tobacco during pregnancy. Incidences of lower birth weight, reduced birth length and early term were found to be significantly higher.
Thanks to wikipedia.org