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Does Neem Leaf Work for Yeast and Bacterial Infections?

Updated 2/25/2021

Written By Pharmaceutical Scientist Dr. Harmeet Kaur, PhD

This article talks about Neem Leaf's effects on yeasts, bacteria and viral infections. Other health benefits and its possible safety issues and side effects.

Neem leaf (also named as Azadirachta indica, Antelaea azadirachta, Indian Lilac, Pride of China etc.) a member of the Meliaceae family, commonly found in Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and other tropical countries. Neem tree is highly prized in Homeopathy, Ayurveda, Unani, and modern medicine for the treatment of many metabolic, infectious, or cancer diseases. It is valued as Nature’s drug store on account of its extensive range of medicinal properties. 

All parts of the tree including bark, flowers, stem, seed, leaves, twig, and seeds are incorporated into the medicines, cosmetics, soaps, toothpaste, mosquito repellents, etc.

Neem leaves have also shown a plethora of medicinal values such as immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, antihyperglycaemic, antiarthritic, antioxidant, antipyretic, antimalarial, anti-gastric ulcer, antifungal, antibacterial, antimutagenic and anticarcinogenic properties due to the presence of many bioactive principles [1, 2].


Chemical Constituents Present in Neem leaf

Neem presents a broad range of biologically active compounds that are chemically diverse and structurally variable with more than 140 compounds isolated from various parts of the tree. The phytochemical screening of leaf extracts showed the presence of saponins, tannins, alkaloids, glycosides, flavonoids, polyphenols, reducing sugars, HCN, and terpenes in the ethanolic leaf extract. The ethanolic extract of neem’s leaves also shown the presence of fibers, vitamins, and micronutrients. 

The most vital active constituent found is triterpenoid azadirachtin and the others triterpenoids present are isomeldenin, nimbin, nimbolinin, 6-desacetylnimbinene, nimbidin, nimbidol, sodium nimbinate, gedunin, salannin, 7-desacetyl-7-benzoylazadiradione, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), n-hexacosanol (fatty alcohol), β-sitosterol (plant sterol), and quercetin (flavonoid). Two additional tetracyclic triterpenoids zafaral and meliacinanhydride have also been isolated from the methanolic extract of neem leaves [3].


Fig 2: Chemical constituents present in neem leaf

Mechanism of Action of Neem Leaf Compounds

It is believed that neem leaves show therapeutic potential due to the rich source of antioxidants and other valuable active compounds such as terpenoids, saponins, and flavonoids, etc. The various parts of the neem plant show an antimicrobial role via inhibition of microbial growth and have the potential of cell wall breakdown.

Due to the presence of antioxidants such as azadirachtin, nimbolide ascorbic acid, etc. neem plays a role as a free radical scavenging agent.

Neem ingredients play an effective role in the management of cancer via regulation of cell signaling pathway and by modulating the activity of several tumor suppressor genes (e.g., p53, pTEN), transcription factors (e.g., NF-κB), angiogenesis (VEGF), and apoptosis (e.g., bcl2, bax).

Neem also plays a role as an anti-inflammatory through the regulation of proinflammatory enzyme activities including lipoxygenase (LOX) and cyclooxygenase (COX), enzymes [3, 4].

Antimicrobial Activity of Neem Leaf

Neem leaves play role in the inhibition of growth of various pathogenic microbes such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. People still hang a cluster of neem leaves over their doors or sprinkle them near the bed of a flu-infected patient in a belief that the air crosses the neem leaves will be filtered of the disease-causing bacteria and virus. The role of neem leaves in the prevention of microbial growth is described individually as follows.

Neem Leaf's Antibacterial Activity

Neem leaves have a strong antibacterial activity that works wonders on the infections, burns, and any type of skin problems. Maragathavalli et al investigated the antimicrobial potential of neem leaves towards human pathogenic bacteria, including Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhimurium, Bacillus pumilus, and Staphylococcus aureus. The highest potential for B. pumillus, P. aeruginosa, and S. aureus was found in comparison with standard drug Gentamycin 200 mg [5]. 

Parashar et al reported the synergistic antibacterial effect with leaf extracts of neem and tantani (Lantana camara) on bacterial strains E. coli, P. aureginosa, S. aureus, and B. subtilis [6]. The neem oil extracted from leaves has strong activity against Gram-positive bacteria like B. pumilus, S. aureus, Enterococcus faecalis, Streptococcus dysenterae, Streptococcus salivarius, Streptococcus mutans, Streptococcus mitis, Streptomycin-resistant strains, and Gram-negative bacteria like P. vulgaris, E. coli, S. typhi, Klebsiella pneumoniae and mycobacteria like Mycobacterium tuberculosis [4, 7].

Mahmood et al found that the crude extraction of neem has antibacterial activity against infection of eyes and ear [8]. The antibacterial activity of extracts of guava and neem against 21 strains of foodborne pathogens like Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli O157:H7, S. aureus, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, S. Enteritidis, B. cereus, and five food spoilage bacteria like P. putida, P. aeroginosa, Alcaligenes faecalis, and Aeromonas hydrophila was evaluated. Both guava and neem extracts have shown higher activity towards Gram-positive bacteria in comparison to Gram-negative bacteria except for P. aeroginosa, V. parahaemolyticus, and A. hydrophila. Hence this study revealed that guava and neem extracts have compounds comprising of antibacterial properties and can be potentially used to control foodborne pathogens and food spoilage microorganisms [9].

In another study, the antibacterial activity of the leaf, bark, seed, and fruit extracts of neem was evaluated against bacteria (P. aeruginosa, Corynebacterium diphtheriae, and Bacillus spp) isolated from the adult mouth, and the results have shown that the bark and leaf extracts possessed considerable antibacterial activity against all the tested bacteria. Furthermore, fruit and seed extracts had shown antibacterial activity only at higher concentrations [10].

Neem Leaf's Antifungal Anti-Yeast Activity

The neem has gained increasing interest due to the isolation of natural ingredients with antifungal activity, one of them is terpenoids which have revealed to produce either fungistatic or fungicidal activity on various pathogenic fungi. Govindachari et al evaluated the hexane extract of neem leaf on spore germination inhibition of Colletotrichum lindemuthianum and Fusarium oxysporum against commercial fungicide Mancozeb and found that some fractions of the neem leaf extract were as effective as Mancozeb. They attributed this effect to the presence of the compound 10-undecyn-1-ol in these fractions [11].

Similarly, Song et al reported that many triterpenoids have antifungal activity against Colletotrichum gloeosporioides, in particular one compound with a 27 carbon chain and carboxylic groups [12].

The efficacy of various extracts of neem leaf was evaluated against seed-borne fungi Rhizopus and Aspergillus and results confirmed that the growth of both the fungal species was significantly inhibited and controlled with both alcoholic and aqueous extract. Furthermore, the alcoholic extract of neem leaves was more effective in comparison to the aqueous extract for inhibiting the growth of both fungal species. Another finding demonstrated the antimicrobial role of aqueous extracts of neem cake in the inhibition of spore germination towards three sporulating fungi such as H. pennisetti, C. lunata and C. gloeosporioides [13].

In another study, Mahmoud et al evaluated the effect of aqueous, ethanolic, and ethyl acetate extracts from neem leaves on the growth of selected human pathogens included four Aspergillus species (A. flavus, A. fumigatus, A. niger, A. terreus) which are known to cause aspergilloses, in addition to Microsporum gypseum (a dermatophyte) and Candida albicans, the causal agent of dermatophytosis and candidiases.  The organic extracts (in ethanol and ethyl acetate) exhibited higher antifungal activity in comparison to the aqueous ones.  The 20% ethyl acetate extract exhibited a higher inhibition in comparison to the same concentration of the other extracts. This antifungal activity has attributed to the presence of the main component nimonol.

Leaf extracts of neem were also found to have a potent antidermatophytic activity against Trichophyton violaceaum, Trichophyton rubrum (an athlete’s foot fungus that infects hair, nails, and skin), Microsporum nanum (ringworm that invades hair, skin, and rarely nails) and Epidrmophyton floccosum ((ringworm that invades skin and nails of the feet). The same extracts were also found to have an interesting inhibitory action on a broad spectrum of microorganisms, including C. albicans, C. tropicalis, Neisseria gonorrhea, multi-drug resistant S. aureus, urinary tract E. coliHerpes simplex-2, and HIV [8, 14].

Lyer and Williamson attributed antifungal properties of neem leaf extract to the inhibition in protease activity of dermatophytes. Cell surface hydrophobicity (CSH) of Candida species increases virulence via promoting adhesion to the host tissues. The changes in hydrophobicity of candidal cells throughout assays in yeast adhesion is the main cause for inhibition of the growth of dermatophytes. Later on, this anti-adhesive mechanism was confirmed by De Rezende Ramos et al. who explored the effect of neem leaf extracts on the cell surface hydrophobicity and biofilm formation, which affect colonization by C. albicans [15,16].

Neem Leaf's Antiviral Activity

The efficacy of neem leaves against the pox virus is intensely believed.  Chickenpox, smallpox, and warts have been treated with neem leaves by rubbing a paste directly to the infected skin since ancient times. The neem leaf extract effectively absorbed the virus and prevent them from entering the uninfected cells. The aqueous extract of neem leaves has also shown moderate inhibition of viral DNA polymerase of the hepatitis B virus. Neem leaves also work effectively against a fungus called Malassezia, the main cause of dandruff. The gigantic healing properties of neem have also earned the name of the scalp savior too [17].

The methanolic extract of neem leaves (NCL-11) inhibited in vitro plaque formation in 6 antigenic types of Coxsackie virus B-4 at a concentration of 1000 µg/mL. Furthermore, yield reduction, virus inactivation, and effect of time of addition assays suggested that NCL-11 was most effective as a virucidal agent against Coxsackie virus B-4 besides interfering at an early stage of its replicative cycle. The trypan blue dye exclusion test confirmed that the MIC concentrations of NCL-11 were not toxic to Vero (African green monkey kidney) cells; subtoxic concentration was 8 mg/mL, and cytotoxic concentration 10 mg /mL [18].

Parida et al evaluated the in vitro and in vivo inhibitory potential of pure neem compound (Azadirachtin) and crude aqueous extract of neem leaves on the replication of Dengue virus type-2. The aqueous extract of neem leaves was evaluated for in vitro antiviral activity in C6/36 (cloned cells of larvae of Aedes albopictus) cells by employing virus inhibition assay and has shown inhibition in a dose-dependent manner. The neem leaves aqueous extract completely inhibited 100-10,000 TCID50 (Median tissue culture infectious dose) of the virus at its maximum non-toxic concentration of 1.897 mg/mL as indicated by the absence of cytopathic effects. The in vivo protection studies with extract of neem leaves resulted in the inhibition of the virus replication at its maximum non-toxic concentrations 120-130 mg/mL as established by the disappearance of clinical symptoms related to Dengue in suckling mice and the absence of virus-specific 511 bp amplicon in RT-PCR. The pure ingredient i.e. Azadirachtin did not affect the Dengue virus type-2 replication both in vitro and in vivo systems [19].

Neem Leaf's Other Health Benefits

Neem leaves are loaded with various health and skin benefits. The consumption of neem leaves in the form of a paste, in tea, or just chewing a freshly plucked twig has reaped numerous benefits for people since ancient times.

The paste of turmeric and neem leaves can be used for the treatment of itching, eczema, insect bites, ringworms, and some mild skin diseases. Neem due to its high levels of antioxidants protects the scalp from oxidative stress instigated by the free radicals hence prove beneficial for hair too.  Neem leaves also promote healthy cell division and improve hair follicle growth around the scalp region.

Neem leaves also very effective in strengthening the immune system by preventing the damage caused by free radicals, thus lower down the risk of several diseases extending from common flu to heart disease or cancer.

Chewing of neem leaves also has multiple oral and dental benefits. Neem leaves being antibacterial hence fights germs and sustains the alkaline level of the saliva. It is also effective against plaque formation and gum infections (gingivitis).

Neem leaves are also used for eye disorders, leprosy, intestinal worms, bloody nose, loss of appetite, stomach upset, skin ulcers, diseases of the heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular disease),  diabetes, fever, and liver problems.

Neem has been used in the treatment of malaria traditionally for centuries. Chewing a couple of leaves daily diminishes the possibility of contracting malaria.  The ethanol extract of neem leaves is also effective against chloroquine-sensitive and chloroquine-resistant strains of the malaria parasite. 

The leaves are also used for birth control and to cause abortions [20, 21, 22].

Neem Leaf Side Effects

The consumption of neem is safe for up to 10 weeks in case of most adults when taken by mouth, for up to 6 weeks when applied inside the mouth, or 2 weeks when applied to the skin.

In large doses or for long periods, it might harm the liver and kidneys.

Serious side effects such as diarrhea, vomiting, drowsiness, blood disorders, loss of consciousness, seizures, coma, brain disorders, and even death can occur in infants within hours after taking neem oil.

Neem oil is likely unsafe and can cause miscarriage when taken by mouth during pregnancy [23].

Neem Leaf Conclussion

Every single part of the neem plant is used in traditional medicine. Neem and its ingredients are gaining popularity in the treatment of various microbial infections and other diseases due to increased resistance to current antibiotics and fewer side effects.

The phytoconstituents glycosides, alkaloids, flavonoids, terpenoids, and saponins are the main antibiotic principles present in neem leaves and play a pivotal role in the treatment of several diseases. 

Neem leaves possessed good antimicrobial activity against various pathogenic bacteria, fungus, and viruses, confirming the great potential of bioactive compounds and emphasize the rational use of this plant in primary health care.

About the Author

Dr. Harmeet Kaur received her Bachelors in Pharmacy from Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, India in 2000. Guru Nanak Dev University is a state owned university with an "A" grade nationally.

Dr. Kaur received her Masters in Medicinal Chemistry from the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research in 2002.

In 2015 Dr. Kaur was awarded her Ph.D in Pharmaceutical Sciences from Maharshi Dayanad University in Rohtak, India.

Dr. Kaur is presently a Senior Research Scientist at Maharshi Dayanand University in India.

Dr. Kaur has over 35 published Research papers concerning infectious diseases caused by yeasts, fungi, and bacteria using both prescription drugs and natural plant compounds. She has also performed many studies on cancer cells.

Of particular importance to us, is her multiple experiments performed on
Candida albicans and pathogenic bacteria using natural compounds. Because of this experience, we are thrilled to have her on the YeastInfectionAdvisor team.

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Any questions about Neem leaf or yeast infections in general, please contact us from the contact page of this website or talk to your doctor.

Dr. Kaur's Medical References

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Indian Journal of Experimental Biology 2016;54(11):708-718.
[3]. Alzohairy MA. Therapeutics role of Azadirachta indica (Neem) and their active constituents in diseases prevention and treatment. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2016;2016. 
[4] Herrera-Calderon O, Ejaz K, Wajid M, Shehzad M, Tinco-Jayo JA, Enciso-Roca E, Franco-Quino C, Yuli-Posadas RÁ, Chumpitaz-Cerrate V. Azadirachta indica: Antibacterial activity of neem against different strains of bacteria and their active constituents as preventive in various diseases. Pharmacognosy Journal. 2019;11(6s).
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[8] Mahmoud DA, Hassanein NM, Youssef KA, Abou Zeid MA. Antifungal activity of different neem leaf extracts and the nimonol against some important human pathogens. Brazilian Journal of Microbiology. 2011;42(3):1007-16.
[9]. Mahfuzul Hoque MD, Bari ML, Inatsu Y, Juneja VK, Kawamoto S. Antibacterial activity of guava (Psidium guajava L.) and neem (Azadirachta indica A. Juss.) extracts against foodborne athogens and spoilage bacteria. Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. 2007;4(4):481-488.
[10] Yerima MB, Jodi SM, Oyinbo K, Maishanu HM, Farouq AA, Junaidu AU, Al-Mustapha MN, Shinkafi AL. Effect of neem extracts (Azadirachta indica) on bacteria isolated from adult mouth. Nigerian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences. 2012;20(1):64-67.
[11] Govindachari TR, Suresh G, Gopalakrishnan G, Banumathy B, Masilamani S. Identification of antifungal compounds from the seed oil of Azadirachta Indica. Phytoparasitica. 1998;26(2):109-16.
[12]. Song QY, Qi WY, Li ZM, Zhao J, Chen JJ, Gao K. Antifungal activities of triterpenoids from the roots of Astilbe myriantha Diels. Food chemistry. 2011;128(2):495-9.
[13] Mondall NK, Mojumdar A, Chatterje SK, Banerjee A, Datta JK, Gupta S. Antifungal activities and chemical characterization of Neem leaf extracts on the growth of some selected fungal species in vitro culture medium. Journal of Applied Sciences and Environmental Management. 2009;13(1):49-53.
[14] Ospina Salazar DI, Hoyos Sanchez RA, Orozco Sanchez F, Arango Arteaga M, Gomez Londono LF. Antifungal activity of neem (Azadirachta indica: Meliaceae) extracts against dermatophytes. Acta Biológica Colombiana. 2015;20(3):181-92.
[15] Iyer SR, Williamson D. Efficacy of some plant extracts to inhibit the protease activity of Trichophyton species. Geobios. 1991;18:3-6.
[16] Resende Ramos AD, Falcao LL, Barbosa GS, Marcellino LH, Gander ES. Neem (Azadirachta indica a. Juss) components: candidates for the control of Crinipellis perniciosa and Phytophtora spp. Embrapa Recursos Genéticos e Biotecnologia-Artigo em periódico indexado (ALICE). 2007.
[17] Anushka S, Rajendran P, Vedha V, Ashok G, Kannan M, Karthikeyan M. A study on the anti-viral properties of Azadirachta indica (A.Juss, Neem) against HBV, HIV, HSV-I, Vaccinia and Varicella zoster viruses and Coscinium fenestratum (Gaertn.) Colebr, Tree turmeric against HBV and HIV. Biomedicine.2011; 31:482-486.
[18] Badam L, Joshi SP, Bedekar SS. 'In vitro antiviral activity of neem (Azadirachta indica. A. Juss) leaf extract against group B coxsackieviruses. The Journal of communicable diseases. 1999;31(2):79-90.
[19] Parida MM, Upadhyay C, Pandya G, Jana AM. Inhibitory potential of neem (Azadirachta indica Juss) leaves on dengue virus type-2 replication. Journal of ethnopharmacology. 2002;79(2):273-278.
[20] https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-577/neem#:~:text=Neem%20leaf%20is%20used%20for,control%20and%20to%20cause%20abortions.
[21] Kumar VS, Navaratnam V. Neem (Azadirachta indica): Prehistory to contemporary medicinal uses to humankind. Asian Pacific journal of tropical biomedicine. 2013;3(7):505-514.
[22] Yusuf H. The antimalarial activity of the extract of the neem leaves (Azadirachta indica, A. Juss) on Plasmodium falciparum in vitro. In Proceedings of The Annual International Conference, Syiah Kuala University-Life Sciences & Engineering Chapter 2011 Dec 15 (Vol. 1, No. 1).
[23] https://www.drugs.com/npc/neem.html

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