How Herbs and Spices Reduce Inflammation In Your Body
Chinese and Ayurvedic medical practitioners have used herbs and spices to treat all manner of ailments, thanks in large part to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and probably due to changes they cause in the gut biome.
Inflammation and oxidation are closely related: antioxidants quell free radicals that damage cells and lead to inflammation. Nutrients can also prevent inflammation through other pathways, notably by turning off genes that trigger inflammatory proteins or processes, by boosting the concentration of proteins that counter inflammation, or modulating the gut biome.
This power is highly concentrated in herbs and spices; just half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon has as many antioxidants as half a cup of blueberries, and half a teaspoon of dried oregano has the antioxidant power of three cups of raw spinach.
If ever a spice were life-enhancing, turmeric is it.
Used for centuries in Indian (Ayurvedic) and Chinese medicine for everything from liver disease to arthritis to immune disorders, rigorous scientific studies in recent decades confirm that turmeric has “antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer activities and thus has a potential against various malignant diseases, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and other chronic illnesses.
Turmeric’s benefits are largely pinned to curcumin, a potent antioxidant that dramatically reduces inflammation (while also giving the spice its vibrant yellow color). Curcumin inhibits the growth of tumor cells in a variety of cancers and improves insulin resistance in subjects with altered metabolic function. It’s bioavailability is low and increases dramatically when taken with black pepper extract.
But the story doesn’t end with curcumin. Turmeric contains two dozen other anti-inflammatory compounds, including six different COX-2 inhibitors (the COX-2 enzyme speeds up the formation of substances that cause inflammation and pain, and causes tumor cells to grow).
Turmeric also blocks the formation of the beta-amyloid plaques that cause Alzheimer’s disease, in part by turning off the NF-kappa B family of molecules that trigger inflammatory proteins uncontrollably during stress[.
Include turmeric in your diet by adding it to salad dressings and meat or fish marinades, or by making a turmeric-infused tea or latte.
2. Cayenne Pepper
Capsaicin is the compound responsible for both the medicinal properties of cayenne pepper and its spicy taste. The hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin it contains. It’s used widely in ointments and creams as a pain-relief aid because it depletes nerve cells of substance P, a chemical that transmits pain signals to the brain.
Native Americans used cayenne as a food and medicine for thousands of years, and the spice has been used widely by healers in India, China, and other parts of Asia for centuries to relieve digestive and circulatory problems.
Warning: cayenne is a member of the nightshade family, and you may be sensitive to it. It is also almost as likely as black pepper to have high amounts of mold toxins in it. Quality matters, and storage conditions matter greatly for this spice.
Cayenne contains a range of flavonoids and carotenoids — antioxidants that scavenge free radicals to protect against the cellular damage that leads to inflammation and disease. Research is underway now to determine whether cayenne can prevent or slow cancer cell growth, and some studies suggest the spice can prevent prostate cancer; however, the science here is young and some results are contradictory.
Cayenne may also promote weight loss by raising core body and skin temperature, thus inducing greater energy expenditure.
Ginger is another spice that’s been used for centuries for inflammation and pain, to soothe sore muscles and throats, and combat general aches and fatigue. Ginger attacks inflammation through the action of gingerols, shogaols, and paradols.
The potent antioxidant 6-gingerol inhibits production of the free radical peroxynitrite that causes inflammation and pain. (Overgrowth of gut bacteria is linked with excessive peroxynitrite.) As a group these ginger compounds act like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) (e.g., ibuprofen, Aleve, Celebrex) used widely in this country to relieve arthritis pain. But why turn to drugs when ginger blocks the pain-causing chemicals associated with arthritis? Systematic reviews of clinical trials confirm the effect of ginger in relieving osteoarthritic pain.
Cinnamon’s claim to fame is its ability to lower blood sugar in diabetics by activating insulin receptors. Like many other herbs and spices, cinnamon also has a host of compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can lessen the likelihood of cellular damage and chronic disease.
Cinnamaldehyde inhibits the NF-kappaB proteins, transcription factors for pro-inflammatory genes and genes involved in immune, growth, and cell death responses, and it prevents blood platelets from clumping — all of which protect against heart disease, among other diseases of inflammation.
Cinnamon also blocks growth factors associated with abnormal cell growth, thus protecting against cancer
Cumin has been found to be beneficial for alleviating digestive problems. It is also a carminative, which means that it relieves you from gas troubles. Due to its essential oils, magnesium, and sodium content, it promotes digestion and also gives relief from stomachaches when taken with hot water. Irritable bowel syndrome is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders.
Cumin is a good source of iron, a mineral which helps in increasing hemoglobin levels, improving blood flow and also promoting a healthy menstrual cycle.
As previously discussed, key nutrients in cumin including iron, essential oils, vitamin C, and vitamin A boost our immune system in a number of ways. Vitamin C is one of the most powerful antioxidants that stimulate the function and activity of white blood cells. It further helps neutralize free radicals that lead to many diseases, including, but not limited to, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
The presence of caffeine (a stimulating agent), and the richly aromatic essential oils (the disinfectants) make cumin an ideal anti-congestive combination for those suffering from respiratory disorders such as asthma and bronchitis. It can act as an expectorant, meaning that it loosens up the accumulated phlegm and mucus in the respiratory tracts, and making it easier to eliminate them from the system via sneezing or coughing up and spitting. By eliminating as much mucus and phlegm as possible, it can inhibit the formation of additional material and help heal the initial condition that led to its formation in the first place.
It is simultaneously a stimulant as well as a relaxant. Some of the components of cumin essential oil are hypnotic in nature and have tranquilizing effects, which also help relieve stress and anxiety that commonly cause insomnia.
It aids in diabetes prevention by reducing the chances of hypoglycemia. A report published in Pharmacological Research revealed cumin seeds may help in preventing diabetes. The study which utilized a population of diabetic rats, orally administered a set dosage of cumin seeds for six weeks, during which they were monitored closely. The consumption of cumin resulted in a significant reduction in blood glucose and decrease glucosuria, which is a condition where the urine contains too much glucose, also resulting in hypoglycemia and diabetes. Studies such as this have positive implications for the usage of this seed on the reduction of glucose in human populations.
Cumin has hypolipidemic properties, which helps to control high levels of cholesterol in the body. Other benefits include aiding in weight reduction.
6. Black Pepper
The nutritional content of black pepper is far more diverse than you might think. The innocuous-looking substance contains a generous quantity of vitamin A and is rich in vitamins C and K. Other vitamins and minerals in black pepper include:
- Folic acid
Black pepper is also an antioxidant haven. Various studies conducted over the last quarter century show that increased antioxidant consumption has a positive effect on certain health conditions.
Black pepper health benefits don’t stop there. Piperine, the compound responsible for pepper’s taste, also aids the absorption of other nutrients. Several recent studies have shown that piperine actually increases the bioavailability—and consequent effectiveness—of certain other substances, including curcumin. Curcumin, which is found in turmeric, may reduce the severity of several major diseases in humans, including pancreatic cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and psoriasis. If piperine can help the body absorb curcumin, the combination could lead to new medical treatments.