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There is a widely held belief that plant-based foods provide adequate protection against cancer through antioxidant activity. Frequent nut consumption, for instance, has been found associated with a reduced risk of some cancers. Other nuts, however, may do just the opposite. The areca nut, which is chewed to give users a boost of stamina and euphoria, has been identified as a major risk factor for oral cancer, according to WHO.
The areca nut, which originates from a palm tree, is widely consumed across the globe for its stamina-enhancing effects.
Because it contains alkaloids, it releases adrenaline into the body, providing a boost of energy.
Traditional use of the nut has aimed to treat ailments such as dry mouth and digestive problems, but clinical evidence supporting these health claims is scarce.
In fact, according to the health website Dental Update: “The use of areca nut and smokeless tobacco products are seen as a major risk factor for oral cancer.”
READ MORE: Cancer: The ‘kissing disease’ that may lead to nasopharyngeal cancer – symptoms
But despite its association with cancer, the website Drugwise states that betel nut is legal in the UK.
The health body adds: “[it] is used by populations settling from India, Asia, and East Africa where use of the nut is common.”
Early reports show areca nut, which is a key component of betel quid preparation, can cause oral submucous fibrosis, a pre-cancerous condition known to progress to malignant oral cancer.
Submucous fibrosis occurs when the lining of the mouth becomes inflamed and can develop to affect the oesophagus. The condition – characterised by a stiff jaw that can be difficult to open – can become irreversible in the advanced stages.
The connection between areca nut and submucous fibrosis led scientists to the widely held assumption that the areca nut is carcinogenic to humans.
According to the United Nations’ website: “Studies among Asian migrant communities have demonstrated a significantly higher risk for oral cancer compared with natives of countries where they have settled.
“Oral cancer is more common in parts of the world where betel quid is chewed.
“Of the 390,000 oral and oropharyngeal cancer estimated to occur annually in the world, 228,000 – or 58 percent – occur in South and Southeast Asia.”
The CDC states that using betel quid can cause an increased risk of developing white or reddened lesions in the mouth, which can progress to cancer.
Sometimes tobacco is added, which further increases the risk of cancer.
Authors of an early BMJ report, titled Areca nut use: an independent risk factor for oral cancer, explained: “Thin slices of the nut, either natural or processed, may be mixed with a variety of substances including slashed lime and spice such as cardamom, coconut and saffron.
“Both duration and daily frequency of areca use increase the risk of developing cancer, suggesting a dose-response relation.
“Other conditions that have all been associated with the use of areca nut include cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, and asthma, all conditions with a high prevalence in the Asian community in the United Kingdom.”
Oral cancer can cause difficulty or painful swallowing, as well as a growth or lump inside the mouth, ear and mouth pain, Cancer Research UK states that almost 80 percent of people survive their cancer one or more years after they’re diagnosed.
Finding the disease in its early stages significantly increases the odds of receiving curative treatment, however.
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