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Diet & Nutrition
Heart Health

Herbs, Spices and Heart Disease

Spices and herbs may do more than add a flavorful touch to food – researchers say it’s possible that they may help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Penn State nutritionists said that spices and herbs do that by improving triglyceride concentrations and other blood lipids.

It’s well known that triglyceride levels rise after eating a high-fat meal, and that can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

But if a spice blend rich in antioxidants is added to the meal, the nutritionists said, triglyceride levels could be reduced by as much as 30 percent when compared with eating the same meal without spices.  The spiced meal included garlic powder, rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, paprika, turmeric, ginger and black pepper.

The findings were published in the journal Nutrition Today.

“The metabolic effects of spices and herbs and their efficacy and safety relative to traditional drug therapy represent an exciting area for future research given the public health significance of cardiovascular disease,” the researchers wrote.

In reaching their conclusion, Sheila G. West, professor of biobehavioral health and nutritional sciences, and Ann C. Skulas-Ray, looked at three categories of studies — spice blends, cinnamon and garlic.

After studying the data, the researchers found that cinnamon helps diabetics by significantly reducing cholesterol and other blood lipids in the study participants. But it didn’t have the same benefits for those who didn’t have diabetes.

The garlic studies reviewed were inconclusive, but this is probably because the trials had a wide range of garlic doses. However, the reviewers noted that across the studies there was an eight percent decrease in total cholesterol with garlic consumption, which was associated with a 38 percent decrease in risk of heart problems in 50-year-old adults.

West, Skulas-Ray and colleagues also conducted a study in which they prepared meals on two separate days for six men between the ages of 30 and 65 who were overweight, but otherwise healthy. The meals were identical — consisting of chicken, bread and a dessert biscuit – but the researchers added two tablespoons of a high-antioxidant culinary spice blend to the test meal.

Drawing blood from the subjects every thirty minutes for three hours after a meal, the researchers found that antioxidant activity increased by 13 percent after the men ate the test meal when compared to the control meal. That may help prevent cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases.

West and colleagues are currently working on a study to monitor study participants for eight hours after eating a meal with a high-antioxidant spice blend.

“We live in a world where people consume too many calories every day,” said West. “Adding high-antioxidant spices might be a way to reduce calories without sacrificing taste.”

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