I never recommend Big Pharma’s over-the-counter decongestants to my patients. First of all, there’s enough evidence out there to tell you they can make you even more congested than you were to begin with — and for longer.
They also come with a slew of nasty side effects, including raised blood pressure, nosebleeds, agitation and insomnia.i,ii
And decongestant nasal sprays can interfere with some blood pressure medications.
If you already have high blood pressure — or if you have diabetes, enlarged prostate, ischemic heart problems, thyroid disorders, glaucoma or suffer from seizures — my advice is to avoid using nasal decongestants altogether.
But another major problem with over-the-counter congestion meds is that while they can ease your symptoms in the short-term, they actually make your congestion worse — especially if you’re using a nasal decongestant for three days or more.
For safer, more reliable relief from congestion, I recommend the leaf of a special vine. I was taught this powerful natural remedy while I was in Bali last year researching my new book — and in many ways, it works wonders.
I’m talking about Piper betel Linn, which grows wild all over Bali.
Often referred to as “green gold,” the leaves of the Piper betel plant trace their medicinal use back thousands of years and are even mentioned in the ancient Vedic literature of India. Betel leaf is commonly chewed in India and is even consumed as a condiment in Africa and Asia.
Among its many therapeutic benefits, Piper betel is widely known among traditional healers because it relieves respiratory congestion naturally and safely.
Yet this ancient healing herb is barely heard of in America, let alone recommended for medicinal use. But it’s been used for almost 7,000 years to prevent cancer, gum disease and bad breath and to treat bronchitis, coughs, asthma, as well as chest congestion.
Betel leaves possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties — thanks to the presence of an organic compound called phenol — the same phenol used as an oral anesthetic/analgesic in several brand-name and generic pharmaceutical products to treat a sore throat.
The phenol in betel is called chavicol, which has powerful antiseptic properties.
Piper Betel’s medicinal power also comes from its incredible range of biophenolics. These are plant nutrients that stop and reverse disease. Compounds like hydroxychavicol, eugenol, chavibetol, and piperols work together to stop free radical damage and help keep healthy cells alive, while killing cancer cells.iii
Maybe this helps explain why cancer has been so rare in Bali.
But I’ve found that betel leaf oil is incredibly effective against colds, congestion and bronchial problems.iv
Betel leaf extract mixed with honey is used often as a home remedy for coughs and chest phlegm by many traditional healers on Bali.
Now science is just beginning to reveal to the world what many cultures have recognized in Piper betel. Its leaves contain antimicrobial activity, antifungal, insecticidal, antioxidant, pain numbing, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory and gastro-protective activities. It has also been found to be safe in terms of liver, kidney, and blood toxicity as well as organ weight.v, vii
Betel leaves also contain ample quantities of B vitamins, ascorbic acid and carotene. And they’re a great source of calcium and iron.
Traditional healers on Bali often combine with betel leaves with clove, the unopened pink flower buds of the evergreen clove tree, which is native to Bali. Clove contains a large amount of the key compound, eugenol.vii
Studies show that eugenol increases levels of the body’s most powerful antioxidants, glutathione and superoxide dismutase.
To relieve congestion, I recommend what traditional healers on Bali recommend:
- Wrap clove in a betel leaf
- Then chew.
In a short time, your mucous will break up and airways will clear.
You can find pure Piper betel leaf extract or betel leaf oil, as well as, clove, in Asian markets or online.
You can also try steam inhalation. Include two drops of betel leaf oil in boiling water to accelerate the effects of the vapors and breathe it deeply into your lungs.
Thanks to Piper betel’s expectorant qualities, the phlegm will loosen up and your chest, throat and nasal passages will feel lighter.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD, CNS
iPreszler LB, Pharm.D., R.Ph., Mayo Clinic Pharmacy, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Decongestants can cause harm. The Standard Times. January 6, 2016.
iiErickson CH, McLeod RL, et al. ‘Comparative oral and topical decongestant effects of phenylpropanolamine and d-pseudoephedrine.’ Am J Rhinol. 2001 Mar-Apr;15(2):83-90.
iiiGundala S, Aneja R. “Piper betel leaf: a reservoir of potential xenohormetic nutraceuticals with cancer-fighting properties.” Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2014;7(5):477-86.
ivKumar N . (2010) Piper betel Linn. a maligned Pan-Asiatic plant with an array of pharmacological activities and pospects for drug discovery. Curr. Sci., 99 922–932
vArambewela L, et al. “Investigations on Piper betel grown in Sri Lanka.” Pharmacogn Rev. 2011; 5(10): 159–163.
viSuprapta D. “Anti-fungal activities of selected tropical plants from Bali Island.” Phytopharmacology 2012, 2 (2) 265-270.
viiNagababu E1, Rifkind JM, Boindala S, Nakka L. Assessment of antioxidant activity of eugenol in vitro and in vivo. Methods Mol Biol. 2010;610:165-80. doi: 10.1007/978-1-60327-029-8_10.
viiiToprani R, Patel D. Betel leaf: Revisiting the benefits of an ancient Indian herb. South Asian Journal of Cancer 2013;2(3):140-141. doi:10.4103/2278-330X.114120.