Betel nut is actually the fruit of areca. Areca is a species of palm found in the tropics of Southeast Asia and on the islands of the pacific. Betel is derived from the betel pepper plant also found within the pacific region. The practice thus is that betel nut chewers usually wrap this areca fleshy fruit in a betel pepper leaf and garnish it with sweeteners, spices and mineral lime which is a type of stimulant with alkaloid properties.
Though betel nut sales rakes in billions of dollars across the globe, its medical implication on the chewers have become a source of concern to health experts due to the discovery of the carcinogenic effects it has on the oral health of its chewers. Let us examine the health implications of chewing betel nut.
For several centuries, Areca nut has been used in cultural and religious festivities in parts of Asia and the chewers of this nut usually explain that they have a feeling of wellbeing, excitement and euphoria after chewing it! Medical experts maintain that the alkaloids in betel nut can elicit a habitual instinct and make the chewer addicted to it. Furthermore, the teeth of betel nut chewers become reddish brown in color as a result of the stain contained in the alkaloids.
Betel nut addicts can develop a condition known as chewers’ mucosa which is a reddish-brown stain of the mucous membrane. These chewers can also develop a certain chronic oral mucosa referred to as oral submucous fibrosis. Most important of note, betel nut chewing can progressively lead to the emergence of a type of oral cancer known as Oral squamous cell carcinoma. This could be the reason why there is a high rate of oral cancer cases in Southeast Asia including Taiwan and Papua New Guinea.