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There is much more than meets the eye with the banana. A household favorite, a lost-leader at the grocery store, a metaphor for psychiatric problems, a mainstay of comic slap stick, the banana has woven itself deeply into human affairs, on both gut and mental levels. And this relationship is at least 10,000 years old, as far as conscious human cultivation of the species goes.
But, many do not realize that the banana is more than just an exceptionally starch-rich fruit, but has a complex biochemistry, with pharmacologically active properties. Bananas actually contain the catecholamines dopamine[i] and norepinephrine,[ii] the very same adrenal hormones released in the human body when it undergoes the typical "fight-or-flight" response. It is believed that the banana plant uses the biosynthetic pathway for catecholamines when under the stress of attack to fight off infectious pathogens such as in crown rot disease.[iii] Some varieties excrete a form of serotonin in their sap, [iv] and there is even mention in the biomedical literature of the discovery of the NSAID drug naproxen (trade name Aleve) within the banana cultivar Musa acuminate. Sound crazy? Well, that's to be expected from a fruit we commonly associate with a state of unbridled madness.
But the banana has a secret second life. It has been observed slyly practicing medicine without a license, and indeed, seems readily equipped with the following nutritional "super powers"....
Green Banana Is Anti-Diarrhea
Before a banana is ripened, while it is in its green state, it contains starches which are resistant to digestion, but have been studied in combination with pectin to significantly reduce intestinal permeability and fluid loss in those suffering with bouts of diarrhea.[v] [vi] Even when used without pectin, green banana has been found to hasten recovery of acute and prolonged childhood diarrhea when managed at home in rural Bangladesh.[vii]
Banana Is Anti-Ulcer Activity
Banana powder has been studied to prevent ulcer formation induced by a variety of drugs, including aspirin, indomethacin, phenylbutazone, prednisolone, cysteamine, and histamine. Researchers have found that banana powder treatment not only strengthens mucosal resistance against ulcerogens but also promotes healing by inducing cellular proliferation.[viii] One of the anti-ulcer compounds identified within unripe banana is the flavonoid known as leucocyanidin, and which is particularly effective against aspirin-induced erosion.[ix]
Banana Peel Suppresses Prostate Gland Growth
Banana peel has been found to suppress testosterone-induced prostate gland enlargement.[x]
Banana Stem Extract suppresses Oxalate Kidney Stones
A water extract of banana stem extract has been found to suppress the formation of oxalate-associated kidney stones in the animal model, leading researchers to conclude that it "may be a useful agent in the treatment of patients with hyperoxaluric urolithiasis."[xi]
Banana Consumption Protects the Skin Against UV-Light Damage
UV-B light induced skin damage may be prevented or reduced through the consumption of bananas, with a protective effect against loss of skin elasticity.[xii]
Banana Has Anti-Diabetic Properties
Banana flower extract has been studied in a type 1 diabetic model,[xiii] and has been found to have both antioxidant and blood sugar lowering effects. Banana root extracts have been discovered to contain blood sugar lowering properties comparable in efficacy to the drug glibenclamide (trade name Glyburide).[xiv] Also, unripe banana contain starches resistant to hydrolysis and therefore beneficial to diabetics.[xv]
Banana Contains a Variety of Anti-Infective Compounds
Banana contains compounds with demonstrable anti-MRSA activity,[xvi] anti-HIV replicative activity,[xvii] [xviii] and following metabolic transformation by fungi, anti-leishmanicidal activity.[xix] The leaves of the plant are used in many centers in India during the care of patients with toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN) and other extensive blistering disorders which can result in deadly sepsis in the absence of treatment.[xx]
- [i] K Kanazawa, H Sakakibara. High content of dopamine, a strong antioxidant, in Cavendish banana. J Agric Food Chem. 2000 Mar ;48(3):844-8. PMID: 10725161
- [ii] J M FOY, J R PARRATT. A note on the presence of noradrenaline and 5-hydroxytryptamine in plantain (Musa sapientum, var. paradisiaca). J Pharm Pharmacol. 1960 Jun ;12:360-4. PMID: 13824274