Cultures for thousands of years have hailed spices as the root of social dishes, preservation, health and long life. Battles have been fought for them, much trouble has been gone through to get them and whole nations have relied on their sale and trade. Ancient customs still prevalent today regard them as healing agents and use them as a main source of medicine in treatment and supplementation. These practices based on the use of herbs and spices were used as the primary medicine in the United States up until shortly after the first world war ("History of Spices," n.d.). Spices have been claimed to help aches and pains, muscle cramps, indigestion, preserve food, mask vile tastes and smells, and halt disease. What modern science has been able to reveal is the wealth of promise for healing these plants have because of their bioactive compounds. Research in the past has expanded on the health effects of spices in conjunction with disease states, but not on the digestive talents of spices.
Where we are today
Newly founded research has buoyed the premise that herbs and spices significantly improve uptake, bio-availability of nutrients, and adjust microbe masses in the gut by helping to reject and reduce harmful bacteria (Peterson, Vaughn, & Sharma, 2018; Lu et al., 2017). Other health benefits found included: properties harmful to microbes, antioxidant actions, better immune response and anti-inflammatory assets (Van Hecke, Ho, Goethals, & De Smet, 2017).
Basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme and turmeric were found to be active in limiting oxidation of Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) into free radicals during breakdown of animal foods after eating if these spices were added before the meat was to be cooked. Phenolic compounds and biologically active compounds found in plants have been linked to antioxidant actions within the body (Alsherbiny et al., 2019). Paprika, garlic, ginger, cloves and cinnamon were also found to help, but only slightly compared to basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme and turmeric (Van Hecke, Ho, Goethals, & De Smet, 2017).
Effects on intestinal bacterial communities (microbiota)
Ginger in concert with inulin, a prebiotic found in vegetables like artichokes, have shown worthy efforts as a substitute in pig feed for antibiotics without the side effects of bacterial resistance while decreasing the number of harmful bacteria in the microbiota (Samanta et al., 2015). Ginger had also shown to be a killer of Helicobacter pylori known to cause stomach ulcers.
Turmeric was found to be helpful in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis, but not for the original reason thought. Turmeric was thought at first to diminish inflammation by directly affecting intestinal cells. However, it was exposed that the inflammation and rapid turnover of intestinal cells in these disease states was halted because of turmeric’s ability to stop harmful inflammation-causing bacteria from forming the biofilms they need to live without oxygen, helped to slow their growth, inhibited their motility, and decreased their ability to create substances that caused intestinal cell death (McFadden et al., 2015).
Herbs with Proven digestive benefits
Make your own personal spice blend!
Adding spices to food can be hard to do when you eat out or are on the go. An easy way to have your spices and eat them too is to make your own spice blend in a container with a pierced lid. Below are a few ideas for making your own on-the-go or at home spice blend. Turmeric is relatively tasteless and so it can be added to any spice mixture. These are just a few ideas, but the sky is truly the limit for what you can create. These blends can use used on soups, salads, oatmeal, eggs, pasta, or any other dish of your choosing.
Disclaimer: This information is not a substitute for advice made by a medical professional and is for purely educational purposes only.
Alsherbiny, M., Abd-Elsalam, W., Badawy, S., Taher, E., Fares, M., Torres, A., . . . Li, C. (2019). Ameliorative and protective
effects of ginger and its main constituents against natural, chemical and radiation-induced toxicities: A comprehensive
review. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 123, 72-97. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fct.2018.10.048
History of spices. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2019, from McCormick Science Institute website:
Lu, Q., Summanen, P., Lee, R., Huang, J., Henning, S., Heber, D., . . . Li, Z. (2017). Prebiotic potential and chemical composition
of seven culinary spice extracts. Journal of Food Science, 82(8), 1807-1814. https://doi.org/10.1111/1750-3841.13792
McFadden, R., Larmonier, C., Shehab, K., Midura-Kiela, M., Ramalingam, R., Harrison, C., . . . Jobin, C. (2015). The role of
curcumin in modulating colonic microbiota during colitis and colon cancer prevention. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases,
21(11), 2483-2494. https://doi.org/10.1097/MIB.0000000000000522
Peterson, C., Vaughn, A., & Sharma, V. (2018). Effects of turmeric and curcumin dietary supplementation on human gut
microbiota: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled pilot study. Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative
Samanta, A., Jayaram, C., Jayapal, N., Sondhi, N., Kolte, A., Senani, S., . . . Dhali, A. (2015). Assessment of fecal microflora
changes in pigs supplemented with herbal residue and prebiotic. PLoS ONE, 10(7). https://doi.org/10.1371
Van Hecke, T., Ho, P., Goethals, S., & De Smet, S. (2017). The potential of herbs and spices to reduce lipid oxidation during
heating and gastrointestinal digestion of a beef product. Food Research International, 102, 785-792. https://doi.org
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