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Neem

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Aug 23, 2018.

Scientific Name(s): Azadirachta indica A. Juss.
Common Name(s): Arishtha, Margosa, Neem, Nim, Nimba, Nimbatiktam, Praneem

Clinical Overview

Use

Limited clinical trials exist to support therapeutic claims. Neem has been used as an insecticide, insect repellent, and oral dentifrice, and in traditional medicine to treat malaria, diabetes, worms, and cardiovascular and skin diseases. It reportedly has contraceptive, antiulcer, and fungicidal properties, as well as applications relevant to cancer.

Dosing

There are inadequate clinical trials to support specific therapeutic doses of neem.

Contraindications

Specific contraindications have not been identified. The use of oral neem oil in children cannot be supported due to reported deaths.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Avoid use.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Research reveals few or no adverse reactions in adults with the use of neem at normal doses.

Toxicology

Neem oil (made from neem seeds) contains low concentrations of aflatoxin that are poisonous in large doses. In a case report of a 35-year-old woman, bilateral vision loss occurred 5 days after consumption of approximately 150 mL of neem oil.

Severe poisoning in infants from neem oil have been reported.

Scientific Family

  • Meliaceae

Botany

The neem (formerly known as Melia azadirachta L.) is a large evergreen tree that grows up to 20 m in height, with spreading branches that form a broad crown. The plant is found throughout India and neighboring regions, where it is cultivated commercially. The plant is often confused with Melia azedarach L., the chinaberry or Persian lilac.1, 2 Leaves grow alternately with leaflets containing 8 to 19 leaves.2 The tree yields high-quality timber and a commercial gum.

History

Almost every part of the neem tree is used in traditional medicine (eg, Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha, Amchi) in many countries, with some 700 preparations described. The stem, root bark, and young fruits are used as a tonic and astringent, and the bark has been used as an analgesic and to treat malaria and cutaneous diseases. The tender leaves have been used in the treatment of worm infections, ulcers, and cardiovascular diseases, as well as in the treatment of leprosy. Indian farmers have used the leaves for hundreds of years as a pesticide and insect repellent.3, 4, 5

Chemistry

The seed kernels of neem yield about 10% of a fixed oil, comprised primarily of glycerides. The yellow, bitter oil has a garlic-like odor and contains approximately 2% of bitter principles including azadirachtin, azadiradione, azadirone, gedunin, nimbidin, nimbin, ninmbolide, nimbinin, nimbidol, margolene, mahmoodin, salanin, meldenin, vepinin, and other related limonoid triterpenes. Azadirachtin is the most active insecticidal component of neem, with a yield of about 5 g from 2 kg of seeds.2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 All parts of the tree yield beta-sitosterol. The leaves also contain quercetin, gallic acid, catechin, carotenes, and ascorbic acid.2 Low concentrations of aflatoxin have been reported.12, 13

Uses and Pharmacology

The variety of components in neem gives the plant and its extracts a number of pharmacologic activities. However, high-quality clinical trials are lacking.

Antimicrobial

In in vitro studies, neem oil exerted an antibacterial effect and antifungal action against numerous clinical isolates.2, 14 Neem has been traditionally used as an antimalarial.3 Neem leaf extracts (containing gedunin, nimbolide, meldenin, and nimocinol) showed in vitro action against chloroquin and pyrimethamine-resistant strains of Plasmodium falciparum.2, 3, 15, 16 Compared with eucalyptus oil and DEET, neem oil was a poor mosquito repellent.17

Clinical data

A small clinical study evaluated the effect of neem leaf extract 1,000 mg given daily for 30 days in HIV-positive patients. No other antiretroviral drugs were coadministered, and a difference in hemoglobin, CD4+ counts and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) was shown. In vitro studies in lymphocytes from the same patients revealed a protectant effect of neem extract on HIV invasion of the lymphocytes.15

Vaginal neem extract tablets have been studied in sexually active women based on in vitro studies showing efficacy against Neisserria gonorrhoeae, Chlamydia trachomatis, and Herpes simplex.2, 18

The use of Neem oil and chewing on neem twigs have demonstrated varying efficacy versus oral flora and microorganisms responsible for dental caries.19, 20, 21, 22, 23 Neem 2% mouthwash was found to have similar efficacy on plaque and gingivitis scores compared to 0.2% chlorhexidine gluconate mouthwash in a small double-blind, randomized crossover trial (n=40).52

Cancer

Chemical compounds with identified anticancer effects include limonin glucopyranoside, azadirone, azadirachtin, nimbolide and deoxonimbolide, quercetin, and kaemferol, as well as the antioxidants beta-carotene and ascorbic acid.2, 3, 9, 10, 11, 24, 25 Suggested mechanisms of action include up-regulation of immune response26, 27, 28 antioxidant/radical scavenging activity2, 3 antiandrogenic action29 inhibition of mitosis2 down-regulation of inflammation24 and modulation of phase 2 enzymes.2, 30

Animal data

Studies in mice and hamsters with neem leaf extracts showed decreased tumor burden and tumor incidence2, 31 reduced chromosomal aberrations in induced cancers, and induced apoptosis.31 Neem leaf extract showed an adjuvant immune response to tumor growth in mice as well as protection from leucopenia caused by chemotherapy.26

Clinical data

Clinical trials are lacking. Reports exist of the use of neem seed oil in individual patients with epidermal cancer and parotid tumor, but clinical outcome measures were not adequately reported.3 Human cancer cell line studies include antiandrogenic effects against prostate cancer cells29 induction of oral squamous cell cancer apoptosis3, 30 and cytotoxic effects on breast cancer cells.26 Nimbolide extracted from neem flowers interfered with the cell cycle of leukemic and melanoma cell lines and induced apoptosis.25, 31

Cardiovascular

Animal data

Ethanol extracts of neem leaf induced important and dose-dependent hypotensive action in rats, but bradycardia, as well as cardiac arrhythmia, was also observed.2 Crude extracts of neem root and stem bark have shown diuretic and hypotensive action.2, 3 Sodium nimbidinate induced diuresis in dogs to a greater extent than urea.

Clinical data

Deep intramuscular (IM) injection of sodium nimbidinate resulted in adequate diuresis in a small study of patients with congestive cardiac failure.3

Contraceptive

Animal data

Spermicidal action of the leaf extract has been demonstrated in mouse, rat, rabbit, monkey, and human spermatozoa in vitro.2, 3, 32, 33, 34 Salanin and sodium nimbidinate compounds are spermicidal to rat and human spermatozoa.3, 40 Antiandrogenic properties have been demonstrated in rats32 and oral neem extract decreased total sperm count and sperm motility in rats as well as increasing the proportion of abnormal sperm.3, 35, 36

Clinical data

Vaginal neem oil has been evaluated for safety in women. Endometrial biopsy was normal and no effect on menstrual or ovulatory cycles was shown in a small study. Intravaginal neem oil (1 mL) was shown to be spermicidal.3, 37 Transient genital itching/burning was noted among women given a neem-based vaginal tablet.18

Dermatology

Neem oil contains azadirachtin, deactyl-azadirachtinol, salannin, nimbin, and other chemical compounds that have demonstrated pesticidal action.16, 38, 39, 40

Scabies

Neem and tumeric paste, and ethanol extracts of neem in propylene glycol have been effective against scabies, as well as dermatophytes such as Trichophyton and other fungal infections in a limited number of clinical trials.2, 3, 41

Head lice

Neem seed extract was 80% to 97% effective against both adult and egg lice in small studies.2, 3, 42

Diabetes

Animal data

Numerous trials have investigated the effect of neem leaf extract on induced hyperglycemia in laboratory animals. Effects comparable with glibenclamide have been reported, with an extra-pancreatic action suggested by some researchers.2, 3, 43, 44

Clinical data

In a small trial of patients (N = 10) with type 2 diabetes, both ethanol and aqueous extracts of neem seeds decreased blood glucose levels.45

Gastrointestinal

Animal data

The aqueous extract of neem bark and seeds has been investigated in animals. Reduced free and total acidity, and reduced volume of gastric secretions was demonstrated. A protective action against aspirin-induced gastric lesions has also been demonstrated.2, 3, 8 Chemical constituents salanin, rimbidin, and nimbidin may have antisecretory/gastroprotective actions, while activity against H. pylori has also been shown in vitro.2

Clinical data

Clinical studies conducted in small numbers of patients have shown healing of duodenal ulcers with administration of neem bark extract over 30 days.2, 46

Dosing

There are inadequate clinical trials to support specific therapeutic doses of neem.

Based on animal studies, an estimated safe dose of neem oil 0.2 mL/kg has been suggested in adults.12 Deep IM injections of sodium nimbidinate 250 mg daily have been used in a trial in congestive cardiac failure.3 Intravenous (IV) ethanol extracts of neem leaf caused cardiac arrhythmia in rats and should be avoided.2

Pregnancy / Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Avoid use. Antiandrogenic properties have been demonstrated in rats.3, 29, 32

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

The limited clinical trial data available report few or no adverse reactions in adults with the use of neem at normal doses.8 IV ethanol extracts of neem leaf caused cardiac arrhythmia in rats.2 Topical application caused contact allergy in 1 case report; however, no adverse reactions were reported in others over a 1-year period.3, 53 Transient genital itching/burning was noted among women using a neem-based vaginal tablet.18

Bilateral vision loss occurred in a 35-year-old woman approximately 5 days after a suicide attempt with 150 mL of neem oil. Vision improved to 20/200 in both eyes after 1 month of medical therapy and remained at 20/200 at her 2-month follow up.51

Toxicology

The seeds of neem, which are poisonous in large doses, resemble the more toxic drupes of M. azadarach, and the two are sometimes confused.4

Neem oil (made from neem seeds) contains low concentrations of aflatoxin that are poisonous in large doses. In a case report of a 35-year-old woman, bilateral vision loss occurred 5 days after consumption of approximately 150 mL of neem oil.51

Severe poisoning in 13 infants who had received oral doses of neem oil 5 to 30 mL has been reported. Toxicity was characterized by metabolic acidosis, drowsiness, seizures, coma, hepatoencephalopathy, and death.3, 4, 13, 47 Management of poisoning is largely symptomatic, with no specific antidote available.3, 13

Neem oil traditionally has been considered to be a relatively safe product in adults. The oral LD50 of neem oil is 14 mL/kg in rats and 24 mL/kg in rabbits. In rats, a dose of up to 80 mL/kg caused stupor, respiratory distress, depression of activity, diarrhea, convulsions, and death.48 Gross examination of all organs except the lungs was normal after acute dosing.

Neem oil was nonmutagenic in an Ames mutagenicity assay.49 Azadirachtin has been shown to be biodegradable, nonmutagenic, and nontoxic to warm-blooded animals, fish, and birds. The Environmental Protection Agency has approved the use of a neem formulation as a pesticide for limited use on nonfood crops.50

Index Terms

  • Melia azadirachta L.

References

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3. Brahmachari G. Neem—an omnipotent plant: a retrospection. Chembiochem. 2004;5(4):408-421.15185362
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5. Azadirachta indica A. Juss syn. Melia azadirachta Linn. (Meliaceae). Medicinal & Aromatic Plants Abstracts (MAPA). 1987;9:465.
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11. Genupur A, Jesu JL, Srinivasan N, Kamalakaran AS, Sundar RS. Synthesis and cytotoxicity of novel isomeric C-seco limonoids. Eur J Med Chem. 2006;41(8):997-1002.16782238
12. Boeke SJ, Boersma MG, Alink GM, et al. Safety evaluation of neem (Azadirachta indica) derived pesticides. J Ethnopharmacol. 2004;94(1):25-41.15261960
13. Dhongade RK, Kavade SG, Damle RS. Neem oil poisoning. Indian Pediatr. 2008;45(1):56-57.18250509
14. Rao DV, Singh I, Chopra P, Chhabra PC, Ramanujalu G. In vitro antibacterial activity of Neem oil. Indian J Med Res. 1986;84:314-316.3102364
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16. Khalid SA, Duddeck H, Gonzalez-Sierra M. Isolation and characterization of an antimalarial agent of the neem tree Azadirachta indica. J Nat Prod. 1989;52(5):922-926.2607354
17. Moore SJ, Lenglet A, Hill N. Field evaluation of three plant-based insect repellents against malaria vectors in Vaca Diez Province, the Bolivian Amazon. J Am Mosq Control Assoc. 2002;18(2):107-110.
18. Joshi SN, Katti U, Godbole S, et al. Phase Ι safety study of Praneem polyherbal vaginal tablet use among HIV-uninfected women in Pune, India. Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg. 2005;99(10):769-774.16084547
19. Prashant GM, Chandu GN, Murulikrishna KS, Shafiulla MD. The effect of mango and neem extract on four organisms causing dental caries: Streptococcus mutans, Streptococcus salivavius, Streptococcus mitis, and Streptococcus sanguis: an in vitro study. Indian J Dent Res. 2007;18(4):148-151.17938488
20. Pai MR, Acharya LD, Udupa N. Evaluation of antiplaque activity of Azadirachta indica leaf extract gel—a 6-week clinical study. J Ethnopharmacol. 2004;90(1):99-103.14698516
21. Sharma S, Saimbi CS, Koirala B, Shukla R. Effect of various mouthwashes on the levels of interleukin-2 and interferon-gamma in chronic gingivitis. J Clin Pediatr Dent. 2008;32(2):111-114.
22. Patel VK, Venkatakrishna-Bhatt H. Folklore therapeutic indigenous plants in periodontal disorders in India (review, experimental and clinical approach). Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther Toxicol. 1988;26(4):176-184.3042642
23. Vanka A, Tandon S, Rao SR, Udupa N, Ramkumar P. The effect of indigenous Neem Azadirachta indica (correction of Adirachta indica) mouth wash on Streptococcus mutans and lactobacilli growth. Indian J Dent Res. 2001;12(3):133-144. Erratum in: Indian J Dent Res. 2001;12(4):193.
24. Kaul D, Shukla AR, Sikand K, Dhawan V. Effect of herbal polyphenols on atherogenic transcriptome. Mol Cell Biochem. 2005;278(1-2):177-184.16180103
25. Roy MK, Kobori M, Takenaka M, et al. Antiproliferative effect on human cancer cell lines after treatment with nimbolide extracted from an edible part of the neem tree (Azadirachta indica). Phytother Res. 2007;21(3):245-250.17163581
26. Mandal-Ghosh I, Chattopadhyay U, Baral R. Neem leaf preparation enhances Th1 type immune response and anti-tumor immunity against breast tumor associated antigen. Cancer Immun. Mar 30 2007;7:8.17394284
27. Bose A, Baral R. Natural killer cell mediated cytotoxicity of tumor cells initiated by neem leaf preparation is associated with CD40-CD40L-mediated endogenous production of interleukin-12. Hum Immunol. 2007;68(10):823-831.17961770
28. Bose A, Haque E, Baral R. Neem leaf preparation induces apoptosis of tumor cells by releasing cytotoxic cytokines from human peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Phytother Res. 2007;21(10):914-920.17562567
29. Kumar S, Suresh PK, Vijayababu MR, Arunkumar A, Arunakaran J. Anticancer effects of ethanolic neem leaf extract on prostate cancer cell line (PC-3). J Ethnopharmacol. 2006;105(1-2):246-250.
30. Niture SK, Rao US, Srivenugopal KS. Chemopreventative strategies targeting the MGMT repair protein: augmented expression in human lymphocytes and tumor cells by ethanolic and aqueous extracts of several Indian medicinal plants. Int J Oncol. 2006;29(5):1269-1278.17016661
31. Subapriya R, Bhuvaneswari V, Nagini S. Ethanolic neem (Azadirachta indica) leaf extract induces apoptosis in the hamster buccal pouch carcinogenesis model by modulation of Bcl-2, Bim, caspase 8 and caspase 3. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2005;6(4):515-520.16436003
32. Khillare B, Shrivastav TG. Spermicidal activity of Azadirachta indica (neem) leaf extract. Contraception. 2003;68(3):225-229.14561544
33. Tewari RK, Pathak S, Prakash AO. Biochemical and histological studies of reproductive organs in cyclic and ovariectomized rats supporting a non-hormonal action for neem oil. J Ethnopharmacol. 1989;25(3):281-293.2747262
34. Prakash AO, Tewari RK, Mathur R. Non-hormonal post-coital contraceptive action of neem oil in rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 1988;23(1):53-59.3419204
35. Sinha KC, Riar SS, Tiwary RS, et al. Neem oil as a vaginal contraceptive. Indian J Med Res. 1984;79:131-136.6724648
36. Riar SS, Devakumar C, Ilavazhagan G, et al. Volatile fraction of neem oil as a spermicide. Contraception. 1990;42:479-487.2257744
37. Lal R, Sankaranarayanan A, Mathur VS, Sharma PL. Antifertility effect of neem oil in female albino rats by the intravaginal & oral routes. Indian J Med Res. 1986;83:89-92.3699874
38. Kubo I, et al. New insect ecdysis-inhibitory limonoid deacetylazadirachtinol isolated from Azadirachta indica (meliaceae) oil. Tetrahedron. 1986;42:489.
39. Salehzadeh A, Jabbar A, Jennens L, et al. The effects of phytochemical pesticides on the growth of cultured invertebrate and vertebrate cells. Pest Manag Sci. 2002;58(3):268-276.11975173
40. Siddiqui BS, Afshan F, Faizi S, Naeem-Ul-Hassan Naqvi S, Tariq RM. Two new triterpenoids from Azadirachta indica and their insecticidal activity. J Nat Prod. 2002;65(8):1216-1218.12193038
41. Heukelbach J, Feldmeier H. Scabies. Lancet. 2006;367(9524):1767-1774.16731272
42. Abdel-Ghaffar F, Semmler M. Efficacy of neem seed extract shampoo on head lice of naturally infected humans in Egypt. Parasitol Res. 2007;100(2):329-332.16900389
43. Saxena A, Vikram NK. Role of selected Indian plants in management of type 2 diabetes: a review. J Altern Complement Med. 2004;10(2):369-378.15165418
44. Khosla P, Bhanwra S, Singh J, Seth S, Srivastava RK. A study of hypoglycaemic effects of Azadirachta indica (Neem) in normaland alloxan diabetic rabbits. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2000;44(1):69-74.10919098
45. Waheed A, Miana GA, Ahmad SI. Clinical investigation of hypoglycemic effect of seeds of Azadirachta-indica in type-2 (NIDDM) diabetes mellitus. Pak J Pharm Sci. 2006;19(4):322-325.17105712
46. Bandyopadhyay U, Biswas K, Sengupta A, et al. Clinical studies on the effect of Neem (Azadirachta indica) bark extract on gastric secretion and gastroduodenal ulcer. Life Sci. 2004;75(24):2867-2878.15454339
47. Sinniah R, Sinniah D, Chia LS, Baskaran G. Animal model of margosa oil ingestion with Reye-like syndrome. Pathogenesis of microvesicular fatty liver. J Pathol. 1989;159(3):255-264.2593049
48. Gandhi M, Lal R, Sankaranarayanan A, Banerjee CK, Sharma PL. Acute toxicity study of the oil from Azadirachta indica seed (neem oil). J Ethnopharmacol. 1988;23(1):39-51.
49. Polasa K, Rukmini C. Mutagenicity tests of cashewnut shell liquid, rice-bran oil and other vegetable oils using the Salmonella typhimurium/microsome system. Food Chem Toxicol. 1987;25(10):763-766.3315902
50. Plants' natural defenses may be key to better pesticides. Chem Eng News. 1985;63:47.
51. Suresha AR, Rajesh P, Anil Raj KS, Torgal R. A rare case of toxic optic neuropathy secondary to consumption of neem oil. Indian J Ophthalmol. 2014;62(3):337-339.24722271
52. Jalaluddin M, Rajasekaran UB, Paul S, Sudeep CB, Adarsh VJ. Comparative evaluation of neem mouthwash on plaque and gingivitis: a double-blind crossover study. J Contemp Dent Pract. 2017;18(7):567-571.28713109
53. de Groot A, Jagtman BA, Woutersen M. Contact allergy to neem oil. Dermatitis. 2017;28(6):360-362.29059091

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This information relates to an herbal, vitamin, mineral or other dietary supplement. This product has not been reviewed by the FDA to determine whether it is safe or effective and is not subject to the quality standards and safety information collection standards that are applicable to most prescription drugs. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to take this product. This information does not endorse this product as safe, effective, or approved for treating any patient or health condition. This is only a brief summary of general information about this product. It does NOT include all information about the possible uses, directions, warnings, precautions, interactions, adverse effects, or risks that may apply to this product. This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your health care provider. You should talk with your health care provider for complete information about the risks and benefits of using this product.

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