Spice up your life… and your health

3rd June 2020 | Eativity editors

Adding spices to your meal will certainly make it taste pretty darn good, but new research from Penn State University in the US has revealed it could boost its health benefits, too.

In a randomised, controlled feeding study, researchers found that when study participants ate a meal high in fat and carbs that had six grams of a spice blend added to it, they had lower inflammation markers compared to when they ate a meal with fewer or no spices.

“If spices are palatable to you, they might be a way to make a high-fat or high-carb meal more healthful,” says researcher Connie Rogers. “We can’t say from this study if it was one spice in particular, but this specific blend seemed to be beneficial.”

The researchers used a blend of basil, bay leaf, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, ginger, oregano, parsley, red pepper, rosemary, thyme and turmeric for the study.

Adding a spice blend to an unhealthy meal could make it less harmful.

According to Rogers, previous research has linked a variety of different spices, like ginger and turmeric, with anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation has previously been associated with poor health outcomes like cancer, cardiovascular disease and obesity.

In more recent years, researchers have found that inflammation can spike after someone eats a meal high in fat or sugar. While it’s not clear whether these short bursts – called acute inflammation – can cause chronic inflammation, Rogers says that it’s suspected they play a factor, especially in people who are overweight or obese.

“Ultimately, the gold standard would be to get people eating more healthfully and to lose weight and exercise, but those behavioural changes are difficult and take time,” Rogers says. “So, in the interim, we wanted to explore whether a combination of spices that people are already familiar with and could fit in a single meal could have a positive effect.”

In further spicy developments, a second study using the same subjects found that six grams of spices resulted in a smaller post-meal reduction of “flow mediated dilation” in the blood vessels – a measure of blood vessel flexibility and marker of blood vessel health.

Turmeric’s active compound could help to beat Alzheimer’s.

Here in Australia, researchers from the University of South Australia, together with colleagues from Canada and the United States, have developed a way to deliver curcumin – the active compound of turmeric – into human cells via tiny nanoparticles.

While curcumin has many potential health benefits, it isn’t absorbed easily by the human body, which has made it frustrating for medical researchers seeking scientific proof that the compound can successfully treat cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and many other chronic health conditions.

This new method changes curcumin’s behaviour to increase its oral bioavailability by 117%, and researchers say that it not only prevents cognitive deterioration but also reverses damage. This finding paves the way for clinical development trials for Alzheimer’s.

“Curcumin is a compound that suppresses oxidative stress and inflammation, both key pathological factors for Alzheimer’s,” says study co-author Professor Xin-Fu Zhou, a UniSA neuroscientist. “It also helps remove amyloid plaques, small fragments of protein that clump together in the brains of Alzheimer patients.”

If that’s not an excuse for a nice bowl of curry, we don’t know what is.