The Spice of Life

Pungent aromas, bold tastes and festive colors; with spices, there is no shortage of flavors and they can also offer a plethora of health benefits, too. The good news is that your customers may not have to go farther than their own spice racks to find some of the healthiest options. Read further as we explore a smattering of spices, their medicinal properties and how they can improve the health of your customers.

A Spice a Day
Cinnamon has been used as a natural therapeutic for countless centuries. Today, it is a popular ingredient in dietary supplements because it is high in polyphenols, which may help lower glucose levels in those who have type-1 and type-2 diabetes (1). Cinnamon may also reduce one’s chances of developing heart disease, according to research, and may be suitable as an aid for ailments such as menstrual cramps and stomach ulcers. Furthermore, mounting research indicates that consuming cinnamon may lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels (2).

Garlic has much research backing for supporting heart health as well. To that end, Brigham Young University discovered that garlic might decrease total cholesterol and triglyceride levels by an average of 10% (2). But, garlic’s health offerings do not end there. It also is an excellent source of vitamin B6, manganese and other minerals thanks to its rich organosulfur compounds like allyl sulfides. Organosulfur compounds may account for some of garlic’s best-established benefits such as decreasing cholesterol synthesis in the liver, inhibiting platelet aggregation, stopping inflammation responses, stimulating glutathione synthesis (an important antioxidant) and more (3).

Ginger is notably used to help stomach indigestion, stomach pain and nausea (1). Recent studies point to gingerol (a component of ginger) as working the same as anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin and ibuprofen) by inhibiting an enzyme that causes inflammation (1).

Oregano contains among the highest levels of antioxidants in the spice category. When used as a natural preservative in foods, oregano may inhibit the growth of bacteria and may have similar benefits in the body (1). A study published in Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology outlines the antimicrobial effects of oregano on the bacteria associated with ulcers. In a small animal study, a group taking oregano oil experienced less colitis symptoms, ulcers, abscesses and edema than those that did not. “A few other, smaller studies have proved oil of oregano to positively decrease inflammation from colitis, mortality rate among the rodents, and tissue damage as well as helping to regenerate the livers of rats” (4).

Turmeric (which contains a chemical called curcumin) is another spice that can offer improved health benefits, as it may stop blood cells from fusing together, thus preventing potentially fatal blood clots from forming (5). It may also quell inflammation, which can play a part in the onset of obesity and type-2 diabetes. Drew Tortoriello, M.D., research scientist at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University Medical Center, and his team investigated the effects turmeric had on diabetic mice (5). It was unearthed that the mice given turmeric were less likely to develop type-2 diabetes and had reduced inflammation levels in their fat tissue and liver (5). Tumeric/curcumin also may be suitable for those with arthritis, colitis, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and bursitis. Turmeric also has antihepatotoxin, antiprotozoal, antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-fungal qualities.

Thyme contains high levels of antioxidants and a variety of beneficial compounds (flavonoids). Research suggests that the antioxidants in thyme may provide age-related benefits, including helping to maintain heart and cognitive health. A study published in the British Journal Nutrition suggests that thyme may also support brain wellness. One group of rats was given a thyme supplement and another group received a control. The control group did not receive any form of supplementation (6). After the study was completed, researchers analyzed the rats’ brains to determine whether the thyme supplementation produced any positive or adverse changes.Clinicians established that the levels of antioxidants in the brains of the mice receiving thyme were comparable to antioxidant levels of much younger mice (6).

Last, hot red pepper not only gives food an extra kick, but it also contains capsaicinoids that have been studied in supplement form as beneficial for weight management (7). Specifically, hot red pepper extract is said to act as a fat-burning agent, appetite reducer and blood sugar/insulin reducer. These positive effects, according to researcher, resulted in a reduction in body mass among those taking capaiscinoids. WF

1. McCormick & Company, Inc., “Spices for Health,”, accessed Sept. 10, 2009.
2. M. Karns, “5 Spices with Health Benefits,” Ladies Home Journal,, accessed Sept. 10, 2009.
3. Linus Pauling Institute, “Garlic and Oranosulfur Compounds,”, accessed Sept. 18, 2009.
4. L. Endreszl, “Take Some Oregano and Call Me in the Morning,”, accessed September 14, 2009.
5. K. Williams, “Ayurveda: Transforming the Face of Natural Healing,” WholeFoods Magazine, 32 (9), 66–67 (2009).
6., “Rosemary and Thyme for Brain Health,”, accessed September 14, 2009.
7. OmniActive Health Technologies, “Capsaicinoid and Hot Red Pepper Fact Sheet.”


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, Nov. 2009