Hundreds of millions of people worldwide are addicted to "betel nut" (areca), but unfortunately, to most people in Western nations, this addiction is perceived as little more than a curious Asian custom. Recent epidemiology has shown that betel use has concomitant health risks similar to tobacco use. Some of our recent research suggests that there are links between nicotine and betel nut addictions. On this page we provide links to a You-Tube video and some of our published work.

The use and subsequent addiction to betel quid has been endemic to south Asia for thousands of years. Quids, are made by wrapping slivers of the fruit of the areca palm tree (Areca catechu) with slaked line (calcium hydroxide) and other "flavorants" in a leaf from the betel vine (Piper betle). Although technically a berry or a drupe, the ripe areca fruits, which are hard, light brown in color, and about the size of a chestnut, are commonly referred to as "betel nuts". Areca products constitute the fourth most commonly used addictive substances in the world, after alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. The details of their preparation vary for one part of Asia to another and more recently they have been commercialized, especially in India, the form of foil packets known as Pan Masala.

Reflection on the complex carving of a Dayak mandau sword from Borneo got me curious enough about betel that we began experiments with areca nuts in my laboratory (links below). We discovered that there is likely to be a connection between betel and nicotine addictions. Indeed, as adults, many betel quid users add tobacco to their quids and Pan Masala users switch to Gutka, a preparation containing chewing tobacco in addition to the Pan Masala ingredients.

Betel use is a significant part of many Asian cultures and the artifacts associated with it, such as the nut cutters and storage boxes, can be striking, even beautiful. In many of the Asian cultures even the very young are introduced to the use of betel mixed with candy or other sweet additives and the addiction is likely to stay with them until they die. Betel use has a dark side, even beyond addiction; it is a major cause of oral disease and cancer in south Asian. In India, oral cancers are the most type of tumors because of betel use, accounting for over 40% of all cancers. In some cultures, blacken teeth and gums from betel use are accepted and even considered attractive. This special type of betel cutter, known as a pounder, is for the user who has lost their teeth but not their desire for the drug.

There is a need for greater public awareness of the health hazards associated with betel use and in April 2016 a symposium was held in Kula Lumpur Malaysia. Materials from that meeting are also available at the link below.