Reduce Inflammation in Your Body By Spicing Up Your Meals

Elizabeth Millard
Photo credit: Irina Lev - Getty Images
Photo credit: Irina Lev - Getty Images

From Bicycling

  • Adding certain spices to your meals can help lower inflammation in your body, according to new research.

  • Inflammation is a naturally occurring process in the body, and is, to some degree, a defense mechanism that helps control infection and injury. But when it starts to become a chronic issue, it’s been linked to a range of health conditions.

You probably never cook a meal without seasoning your food with a variety of spices for some flavor. But a strategically blended spice mix could actually add health benefits as well, even if you’re chowing down on less-than-ideal food choices, a recent study in The Journal of Nutrition suggests.

In a recent study, researchers created a spice combination of basil, bay leaf, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, ginger, oregano, parsley, red pepper, rosemary, thyme, and turmeric. Then they recruited 12 men between the ages of 40 and 65, who were either overweight or obese, and had at least one risk factor of cardiovascular disease.

Each person ate three versions of a meal high in saturated fat and refined carbohydrates—coconut chicken curry, a corn muffin, and a cinnamon biscuit—on three separate days. One meal had two grams of the spice blend, one had six grams of the mix, and one had no spices at all. Researchers found that after eating the meal that contained six grams of the spice mix, the participants had significantly lower levels of inflammation—both immediately after the meal and four hours later.

The researchers chose that particular spice blend because those are some of the most commonly used spices in the United States, said lead author Connie Rogers, Ph.D., an associate professor nutritional sciences and physiology at Penn State University.

She told Bicycling more research will need to be done to determine the effects of each spice on its own, as well as why they might provide these benefits in combination. But, she added, this and subsequent research will likely focus on anti-inflammation as its main mechanism.

“There are a number of bioactive ingredients in many plants—including spices—that might be contributing to the reduction in inflammation,” she said. “The ability to control that, especially when eating foods that increase it, is a direction worth pursuing with research.”

Inflammation is a naturally occurring process in the body, and is, to some degree, a defense mechanism that helps control infection and injury. But when it starts to become a chronic issue, it’s been linked to a range of conditions, including heart disease, dementia, cancer, and depression.

In addition to exercise, which has been shown to lower inflammation, diet plays a key role, and spices have been studied before as potential anti-inflammation tools. For example, a recent study in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition singled out turmeric (and its active compound curcumin) for improving athletic performance and muscle recovery because it may help lower inflammation.

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Why is there so much inflammation in your body in the first place? That’s also a complex question, but some research points to multiple factors like stress, being sedentary, infection, pollution, obesity, smoking, older age, and even sleep problems.

Diet can be another big cause, particularly the types of foods included in the recent study, such as deep-fried food, sugar-sweetened beverages, and refined carbohydrates.

Although the study was limited by its small number of participants and narrow demographic, Rogers says anti-inflammation efforts are important for everyone, and that these results would likely pertain to women as well as men.

Rogers doesn’t suggest you can eliminate the negative aspects of these foods with a couple shakes of a spice blend, but if you’re going to have an occasional indulgence of foods like these, getting more liberal with anti-inflammatory spices may be a good plan.

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