What is betel nut?
A deep red or purple smile is a common sight in many parts of Asia and the Pacific.
But what’s behind it?This red residue is the telltale sign of the betel nut, which is chewed by millions of people across the globe. In its most basic form, betel nut is a seed of the Areca catechu, a type of palm tree. It’s commonly chewed after being ground up or sliced and wrapped in leaves of the Piper betel vine that have been coated with lime. This is known as a betel quid. Tobacco or flavorful spices may also be added.
History of a habit
Betel nut has a long history in South and Southeast Asia and the Pacific Basin. In Guam and other Pacific islands, its use can be traced back as far as 2,000 years. A habit passed down through generations, chewing betel nut is a time-honored custom for 10–20 percent of the world’s population. Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 600 million people use some form of betel nut. It is one of the most popular psychoactive substances in the world, in fourth place after nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine. But while betel nut is an important cultural and social tradition in many countries, growing evidence points to serious health effects from regular use.
Oral cancer and other dangers
A study reports that betel nut users are at a higher risk for oral submucous fibrosis. This incurable condition can cause stiffness in the mouth and eventually the loss of jaw movement. Regular chewing of betel nut can also cause gum irritation and tooth decay. Teeth may become permanently stained deep red or even black.Betel nut may interact with other drugs or herbal supplements. It could cause toxic reactions in the body or reduce the effects of medications.
Medical conditions associated with betel nut use with tobacco: