Selecting Spices for Their Medicinal Benefits
As a general rule, you really can’t go wrong when using herbs and spices and I recommend allowing your taste buds to dictate your choices when cooking. However, you can also choose spices based on their medicinal benefits.
To boost your immune system:
|Turmeric: a general immune system booster due to its high antioxidant capacity. Turmeric is 5 to 8 times stronger than vitamins C and E.|
|Black Pepper: Increases the bioavailability of just about all other foods — herbs and other compounds.||Oregano: The active agent is rosmarinic acid, a strong antioxidant.|
To reduce inflammation, and treat inflammatory and infectious conditions:
|Turmeric: Its potent anti-inflammatory properties come from curcumin — the pigment that gives turmeric its yellow-orange color, and which is thought to be responsible for many of its medicinal effects. There are an estimated three to five grams of curcumin in 100 grams of turmeric.||Cloves: One of the most potent anti-inflammatories with anti-bacterial and antioxidant properties. Beneficial against muscle pains from injuries, arthritis and rheumatism. Its mild anesthetic benefits are useful for toothaches, gum pain and sore throats. Also offers relief from respiratory ailments such as asthma and bronchitis, and eliminates intestinal parasites, fungi and bacteria.|
|Nutmeg: A study in the Journal of Bioscience and Bioengineering found that nutmeg extract has antibacterial activity that can significantly reduce certain strains of E. coli. Nutmeg is also beneficial for joint pain and gout, and has been traditionally used to treat toothaches.||Ginger: Has anti-inflammatory properties and helps protect against bacteria and fungi. Also eliminates intestinal gas and relaxes and soothes your intestinal tract, while boosting your immune system.|
|Peppermint: Traditionally used to sooth the digestive tract; a study published in the journal BMJ in 2008 found peppermint oil may even be beneficial in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. Also known to inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi, and can help relieve symptoms of allergies and asthma.||Cinnamon: A powerful antimicrobial agent that also enhances your antioxidant defenses. It’s been found to kill E. coli and many other bacteria. Its anti-inflammatory compounds help relieve pain and stiffness of muscles and joints due to arthritis. Also helps prevent urinary tract infections, tooth decay and gum disease.|
To boost mental health and/or reduce anxiety:
|Nutmeg: According to a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, an extract of nutmeg seeds elicited a significant antidepressant-like effect in mice; in some doses comparable in potency to the antidepressants imipramine and fluoxetine. In fact, reducing anxiety and treating insomnia are two ailments that nutmeg has been traditionally used for.||Natural Salt/Sea Salt: According to a 2008 study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, salt may be a natural mood-elevating substance. Sodium deficiency can induce behavioral changes such as reduced motivation, fatigue, and feelings of depression. However, it’s important to understand that common table salt and the salt used in processed foods is the highly processed variety, and NOT at all the same as the natural salt your body needs to perform its vital functions, including the maintenance of proper brain function. So when adding salt to your meal, make sure you’re using a natural unprocessed salt, such as Himalayan Pink Sea Salt.|
Turmeric—A Potent Cancer-Fighter!
A couple of spices deserve further review; one of which is turmeric. It was already mentioned twice above, both as an immune booster and potent anti-inflammatory. But perhaps its greatest value lies in its anti-cancer potential.
In India where turmeric is widely used, the prevalence of four common U.S. cancers — colon, breast, prostate and lung — is 10 times lower. In fact, prostate cancer, which is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in U.S. men, is rare in India and this is attributed, in part, to the curcumin in turmeric.
Dr. William LaValley from Austin Texas is one of the top natural medicine cancer physicians I know and he recently shared this important information with me. Interestingly, curcumin—the active ingredient in turmeric—actually has the most evidence based literature backing up its anti-cancer claims of any other nutrient!
Numerous studies have looked into this potential cancer-fighting link, with promising results. For instance, curcumin has been found to:
|Inhibit the transformation of cells from normal to tumor, as well as inhibit the proliferation of tumor cells already existing||Help your body destroy mutated cancer cells so they cannot spread throughout your body|
|Decrease inflammation||Enhance liver function|
|Inhibit the synthesis of a protein thought to be instrumental in tumor formation||Prevent the development of additional blood supply necessary for cancer cell growth (known as anti-angiogenesis)|
Curcumin affects over 100 different pathways once it gets into a cell. Interestingly, this also applies to the metabolite of curcumin and its derivatives, which also have anti-cancer properties. According to researchers from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, curcumin blocks a key biological pathway needed for development of melanoma and other cancers.
The spice actually stops laboratory strains of melanoma from proliferating and pushes the cancer cells to commit suicide by shutting down nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kB), a powerful protein known to induce abnormal inflammatory response that leads to an assortment of disorders such as arthritis and cancer.
Cinnamon—An Excellent Choice for Diabetics
The other spice I want to review further is cinnamon, simply because of its potential benefits against diabetes, which is a problem of epidemic proportions in the US.
Researchers have investigated the “insulin-like” effects of cinnamon for a number of years now, and it keeps proving it’s a viable contender in the fight against diabetes.
Among this spice’s most impressive health benefits is its impact on blood sugar and ability to improve glucose control. For example, just half a teaspoon of cinnamon a day has been shown to significantly reduce blood sugar levels, triglycerides, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes. In another earlier study, cinnamon was found to increase glucose metabolism 20-fold!
Interestingly, cinnamon lowers your blood sugar by acting on several different levels, including:
- Slowing the emptying of your stomach to reduce sharp rises in blood sugar following meals
- Improving the effectiveness, or sensitivity, of insulin
- Enhancing your antioxidant defenses. A study published in 2009 stated that “polyphenols from cinnamon could be of special interest in people that are overweight with impaired fasting glucose since they might act both as insulin sensitizers and antioxidants.” Yet another bioflavanoid compound called proanthocyanidin may alter the activity of insulin signaling in your fat cells.
Researchers have suggested people with diabetes may see improvements by adding 1/4 – 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to their food, and I see no reason not to give this a try if you enjoy cinnamon (along with doing the other essentials to improve diabetes, including eliminating fructose and grains from your diet and exercising daily).
Clearly, adding ample amounts of cinnamon to your diet is an incredibly inexpensive and great tasting tool for diabetics, and the likelihood of this food causing any long-term complications is very small.
Go Ahead, Spice Up Your Life!
All these benefits give you ample reasons to be adventurous in adding spices to your meals, and to be generous in the amounts you use. It will be worth it for the flavor enhancement alone, and the boost it will give your health is the icing on the cake!