Peppering up your diet: How adding spices can boost your health

Spices are known to boost your immune system due to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Eating spices can serve as an anti-inflammatory for stress-triggered conditions. When you experience major life events and relationship troubles, your body’s immune system may become weaker. Fortunately, spices can help protect you against this particular type of inflammation. 

Interestingly, spices also contain antioxidants that are known to boost immune cells that protect you against harmful substances called free radicals. 

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9 healthy spices and how they can boost your health 

1. Cinnamon lowers blood sugar

The popular spice cinnamon comes from the bark of the cinnamon tree that is added to all sorts of recipes and baked goods. You may be adding cinnamon to your pancakes for added sweetness, but it actually offers you more than boosting your taste palate.

Cinnamon has a compound called cinnamaldehyde, which is found to be the main reason for cinnamon’s medicinal properties [1]. In general, it provides a potent antioxidant activity that aids in fighting inflammation. The recommended dose is commonly around 0.5 to 2 teaspoons of cinnamon per day or 1-6 grams. 

Peppering up your diet: How adding spices can boost your health

Particularly, cinnamon is great for people who struggle with high blood sugar. The spice can lend a sweet taste to various food without actually adding sugar, considering that sugar in great amounts can cause obesity and type 2 diabetes. 

Furthermore, there are several studies indicating that cinnamon is beneficial in lowering blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Cinnamon is not only a good alternative to sugar, but it can lower blood sugar levels by several mechanisms, such as slowing the breakdown of carbs in the digestive tract and enhancing insulin sensitivity [2].

Research shows that cinnamon can reduce fasting blood sugars by 10 to 29 percent in people with diabetes, which is considered a huge amount [3]. However, cinnamon is not a replacement for diabetes medication, treatment or a carbohydrate-controlled diet. It can only be a helpful addition to a healthy lifestyle. 

Additionally, cinnamon can provide heart-healthy benefits, including lowering high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels [4]. In short, cinnamon is incredibly helpful for people with diabetes who are at a higher risk of developing heart disease.

2. Peppermint relieves IBS pain and reduces nausea

Peppermint has been long used in the history of folk medicine and aromatherapy. It is the oily component that has agents offering positive health effects.

Numerous studies found that peppermint oil can help in pain management for people with irritable bowel syndrome or IBS [5]. Peppermint shows a benefit in relaxing smooth muscles in the colon and relieving pain experienced during bowel movements. This spice also aids in reducing abdominal bloating, which is one common digestive symptom. 

Moreover, some studies indicated that peppermint in aromatherapy could help fight nausea. For instance, one study involving 1,100 women in labor concluded that peppermint aromatherapy could lower nausea. Peppermint has also been shown to decrease nausea experienced after surgery and C-section births [6]. 

3. Turmeric lowers inflammation

When you hear about turmeric, you may think about Indian curry dishes as the cuisine primarily added this spice to their various food. Plus, turmeric has become a trendy superfood for its benefits in reducing inflammation, which is a common cause of discomfort and illness.

Curcumin is one of the component substances of turmeric, and research suggests it may lower inflammation of the brain, which is found to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease and depression. 

A small study involved adults over 50 and asked them to consume curcumin supplements within 18 months. The researchers found that there were improvements in their memory test scores and reported being in better spirits. Moreover, there were some scans of the participants’ brains indicated significantly fewer markers linked to cognitive decline [7]. 

With its anti-inflammatory qualities, curcumin is also helpful in reducing pain and swelling in people suffering from arthritis. Also, some animal studies reported that curcumin could have significant anti-cancer properties. 

4. Ginger gets rid of nausea

Ginger refers to a tropical plant that has been normally used in Asian cultures for thousands of years to treat different gut issues, including stomach upset, diarrhea and nausea. 

Research suggests that ginger is beneficial in calming pregnancy-related nausea and lowering upset tummy experiences after surgery. Some other studies further found that ginger reduces the severity of motion sickness and wards off the symptoms altogether [8].

Also, ginger may even help manage chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting when taken along with anti-nausea medications. However, you should ask your doctor first before taking ginger while on chemotherapy medications because it can negatively interact with some medications.

Ginger products come in a variety of commercial forms, such as lollipops, candies, capsules and teas. You can also use the dried powder and still get the benefits of ginger. 

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5. Garlic for heart health

Garlic’s benefits go beyond your everyday cooking. It can actually protect your heart from developing a disease.

Your arteries may get hardened when you age, and it is considered normal. The phenomenon is called atherosclerosis, which occurs as fatty deposits encompassing cholesterol and other substances that build up inside the artery walls. 

Several major factors can contribute to atherosclerosis, such as smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. When the build-up increases over time, the arteries become narrow, which makes you susceptible to experiencing heart attacks and strokes.

Moreover, research has associated garlic intake with keeping blood vessels flexible, especially in women. Also, it suggests that eating garlic may lower cholesterol and triglycerides. 

Peppering up your diet: How adding spices can boost your health

6. Cayenne relieves pain and reduces appetite

Cayenne refers to a type of chili pepper that can be found in Southwestern American cuisines, Mexican, Creole and Cajun dishes. These peppers have a beneficial substance called capsaicin, which is what makes them spicy and the reason they can provide pain relief.

Capsaicin is found to reduce the number of pain signals sent to the brain. As a result, you can’t register a lot of discomforts. This substance works on pain brought on by arthritis and diabetes-related nerve damage. Also, it is found to be helpful when applying creams with capsaicin directly on joints and muscles.

Animal studies suggest that eating cayenne peppers can help manage ulcers. Despite spicy foods being associated with stomach upset, capsaicin is found to help reduce ulcers as it restricts the development of an ulcer-causing bacteria called Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori. Consequently, it reduces excess stomach acid and promotes blood flow [9]. 

Capsaicin also shows benefits in reducing appetite and increasing fat burning in many studies [10]. Given this, cayenne peppers have been a common ingredient in many commercial weight loss supplements. 

In fact, adding one gram of red peppers to your meals can help in reducing appetite and increase fat-burning, especially for people who do not regularly eat peppers. 

Take note, though, that red peppers have no effect on people who are used to eating spicy food regularly, meaning it is related to eating tolerance, and its effects die down eventually. 

Furthermore, the researchers in animal studies further added that capsaicin might combat certain forms of cancer, like lung, liver and prostate cancer [11]. However, the observed anti-cancer benefits of capsaicin are far from being proven in humans; hence, you must take all of this with a big grain of salt.

7. Fenugreek helps control blood sugar

Fenugreek is commonly used in Ayurveda for libido and masculinity enhancement purposes. However, its effects on testosterone levels are a bit blurry and still inconclusive. 

But what shines brighter about fenugreek is its ability to help control blood sugar. Fenugreek has the plant protein 4-hydroxy isoleucine content, which is known to help with the function of the hormone insulin [12]. 

Numerous human studies recommended taking at least one gram of fenugreek extract on a daily basis to lower blood sugar levels, particularly in people with diabetes [13]. 

8. Sage improves brain function and memory

Sage derives its name from the Latin word Salvere, meaning to save. This spice had a long history for its healing benefits during the middle ages and was even utilized in preventing the plague.

Present research reported that sage might be able to enhance brain function and memory, particularly in people with Alzheimer’s disease, which is attributed to a drop in the level of acetylcholine (referring to a chemical messenger in the brain). Sage prevents the breakdown of acetylcholine [14]. 

In addition, a 4-month study was conducted among 42 people suffering from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers found that the sage extract was shown to release great improvements in brain function [15]. 

9. Holy basil fights infections and boosts immunity

This is not regular basil or Thai basil, holy basil is, in fact, a sacred herb in India. Research studies have proven that holy basil can stop the growth of a range of bacteria, yeasts and molds [16]. 

In another study, health experts also found that holy basil can strengthen the immune system by increasing particular immune cells in the blood [17].

Holy basil has also been linked to lowered blood sugar levels before and after eating, as well as managing anxiety and anxiety-related depression [18]. 

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[1] http://www.academicjournals.org/journal/AJBR/article-abstract/8D4DEA111465
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21538147 
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19930003 
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16190627 
[5] http://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a2313 
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10784271
[7] https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01383161 
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4818021/ 
[9] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16621751/ 
[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22378725 
[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2519832 
[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19337956 
[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11868855 
[14] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12895683 
[15] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1365-2710.2003.00463.x/abstract 
[16] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12732427 
[17] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21619917 
[18] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8880292 

Photograph: NoShanti/Envato
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