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There is much more than meets the eye with the banana. A household favorite, a loss-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 unique pharmacologically active properties which scientists have characterized.
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]
Whatever you do, don't slip up and buy non-organic bananas. Like other foods that are grown in massive monocultures, without crop rotation, they are a pesticide-intensive crop. And this concern extends beyond simply what agrochemicals you are exposing your body to. In conventional farming, the planet gets carpet-bombed as well with these nasty toxicants, and since we all live on the same Earth, eventually those pesticides make it back up the food chain to you, whether you choose to eat organic or not.
Still hungering for more information?
Learn more about the health benefits of banana, which include of 65 potential therapeutic applications, on the GreenMedInfo Banana database.
- [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
- [iii] L Lassois, C De Clerck, P Frettinger, L De Lapeyre De Bellaire, P Lepoivre, M Haïssam Jijakli. Catecholamine biosynthesis pathway potentially involved in banana defense mechanisms to crown rot disease. Commun Agric Appl Biol Sci. 2011 ;76(4):591-601. PMID: 22702179
- [iv] Pongsagon Pothavorn, Kasipong Kitdamrongsont, Sasivimon Swangpol, Siripope Wongniam, Kanokporn Atawongsa, Jisnuson Savasti, Jamorn Somana. Sap phytochemical compositions of some bananas in Thailand. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Aug 11 ;58(15):8782-7. PMID: 20681667
- [v] G H Rabbani, Telahun Teka, Shyamal Kumar Saha, Badiuz Zaman, Naseha Majid, Makhduma Khatun, Mohammad A Wahed, George J Fuchs. Green banana and pectin improve small intestinal permeability and reduce fluid loss in Bangladeshi children with persistent diarrhea. Dig Dis Sci. 2004 Mar;49(3):475-84. PMID: 15139502
- [vi] G H Rabbani, T Teka, B Zaman, N Majid, M Khatun, G J Fuchs. Clinical studies in persistent diarrhea: dietary management with green banana or pectin in Bangladeshi children. Gastroenterology. 2001 Sep;121(3):554-60. PMID: 11522739
- [vii] G H Rabbani, C P Larson, R Islam, U R Saha, A Kabir. Green banana-supplemented diet in the home management of acute and prolonged diarrhoea in children: a community-based trial in rural Bangladesh. Trop Med Int Health. 2010 Oct;15(10):1132-9. PMID: 20831671
- [viii] R K Goel, S Gupta, R Shankar, A K Sanyal. Anti-ulcerogenic effect of banana powder (Musa sapientum var. paradisiaca) and its effect on mucosal resistance. J Ethnopharmacol. 1986 Oct;18(1):33-44. PMID: 3821133
- [ix] D A Lewis, W N Fields, G P Shaw. A natural flavonoid present in unripe plantain banana pulp (Musa sapientum L. var. paradisiaca) protects the gastric mucosa from aspirin-induced erosions. J Ethnopharmacol. 1999 Jun;65(3):283-8. PMID: 10404428
- [x] Kiichiro Akamine, Tomoyuki Koyama, Kazunaga Yazawa . Banana peel extract suppressed prostate gland enlargement in testosterone-treated mice. Dermatol Surg. 2005 Jul;31(7 Pt 2):855-60; discussion 860. PMID: 19734683
- [xi] P K Poonguzhali, H Chegu. The influence of banana stem extract on urinary risk factors for stones in normal and hyperoxaluric rats. Br J Urol. 1994 Jul ;74(1):23-5. PMID: 8044524
- [xii] Jarupa Viyoch, Khuanrudee Mahingsa, Kornkanok Ingkaninan. Effects of Thai Musa species on prevention of UVB-induced skin damage in mice. Food Chem Toxicol. 2012 Sep 8 ;50(12):4292-4301. Epub 2012 Sep 8. PMID: 22986089
- [xiii] S P Dhanabal, M Sureshkumar, M Ramanathan, B Suresh. Hypoglycemic effect of ethanolic extract of Musa sapientum on alloxan induced diabetes mellitus in rats and its relation with antioxidant potential. J Nutr. 2010 Aug;140(8):1462-8. Epub 2010 Jun 16. PMID: 16260406
- [xiv] E O Adewoye, V O Taiwo, F A Olayioye. Anti-oxidant and anti-hyperglycemic activities of musa sapientum root extracts in alloxan-induced diabetic rats. J Med Chem. 2010 Oct 28;53(20):7365-76. PMID: 20175413
- [xv] J Thakorlal, C O Perera, B Smith, L Englberger, A Lorens . Resistant starch in Micronesian banana cultivars offers health benefits. Pac Health Dialog. 2010 Apr;16(1):49-59. PMID: 20968236
- [xvi] Qian Zhang, Wenyi Kang. [Active compounds from rhizomes of Musa basjoo]. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2010 Sep;35(18):2424-7. PMID: 21141492
- [xvii] Allen H K Cheung, Jack H Wong, T B Ng. Musa acuminata (Del Monte banana) lectin is a fructose-binding lectin with cytokine-inducing activity. Phytomedicine. 2009 Jun;16(6-7):594-600. Epub 2009 Feb 4. PMID: 19195858
- [xviii] Michael D Swanson, Harry C Winter, Irwin J Goldstein, David M Markovitz. A lectin isolated from bananas is a potent inhibitor of HIV replication. J Biol Chem. 2010 Mar 19;285(12):8646-55. Epub 2010 Jan 15. PMID: 20080975
- [xix] Juan Román Luque-Ortega, Silvia Martínez, José María Saugar, Laura R Izquierdo, Teresa Abad, Javier G Luis, José Piñero, Basilio Valladares, Luis Rivas. Fungus-elicited metabolites from plants as an enriched source for new leishmanicidal agents: antifungal phenyl-phenalenone phytoalexins from the banana plant (Musa acuminata) target mitochondria of Leishmania donovani promastigotes. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2004 May;48(5):1534-40. PMID: 15105102
- [xx] C R Srinivas, V Shanmuga Sundaram, B Appala Raju, S Karthick Prabhu, M Thirumurthy, A C Bhaskar. Achieving asepsis of banana leaves for the management of toxic epidermal necrolysis. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2006 May-Jun;72(3):201-2. PMID: 16766833
Originally published: 2017-10-03
Article updated: 2019-3-09