Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Spices That Heal

I saw this picture going around on Facebook recently, and it struck me as one of those "don't believe everything you hear" types of claims. Herbs and spices certainly can have health benefits, of course; many modern medicines are derived from such things. On the other hand, it should be possible to find supporting evidence for claims like these pretty easily.

A little web browsing doesn't find much supporting evidence.

Cumin: Unsurprisingly, Organic Facts supports the claim that cumin helps prevent cancer, although it doesn't cite any studies. Sources that I consider less biased, like LiveStrong.com and WebMD, don't mention cancer prevention as potential benefits.

Ginger: Studies referenced by the University of Maryland Medical Center show that ginger is more effective than a placebo at reducing nausea. It's not as effective as medications, but it also has fewer side effects.

Thyme: There doesn't seem to be any conclusive evidence for thyme helping treat coughing. Some preliminary studies suggest it may be helpful, but there's nothing solid.

Rosemary: I remember Gingko being the big herbal solution to memory problems a few years ago. It turned out to be nothing. Similarly, I don't even find mention of memory benefits being connected to rosemary on the internet. It's best recommendation is for treating hair loss.

Nutmeg: Several sites mention studies showing that nutmeg helps to reduce blood pressure, but I've yet to find one that gives a reference that says who conducted such a study, where it was done, or when it was done.

Basil: My search did not produce any support for claims that basil helps to reduce the severity or duration of colds, although it apparently does contain an assortment of vitamins and minerals.

Clove: I don't think Organic Facts is an unbiased source, but even they don't list relief of arthritis pain as a benefit of cloves.

Cinnamon: Studies have been conducted on the effects of cinnamon on blood sugar, but they have not yielded anything conclusive: some show a benefit, others don't.

Tumeric: Tumeric is apparently being studied for possible medicinal value, but there doesn't seem to be anything reliable about reducing inflammation.

Garlic: Studies on the effects of garlic on "bad" cholesterol are, so far, inconclusive.

I use every one of these herbs and spices frequently, but not for any supposed medicinal properties. Some of the claims made in the "RawForBeauty" image have some support, but even that tends to be tenuous. Enjoy herbs and spices for the enjoyment they can add to your meals, but don't get them expecting any particular health benefit unless reliable studies have been done to show that those benefits are real.

1 comment:

Christine said...

Interesting. I had always thought that the reason that cloves helped toothaches was partially an anti-inflammatory property. Reading this inspired me to look it up, and it's just analgesic (and anti-bacterial).

Ginger was actually recommended to me by my doctor for pregnancy nausea (it helped, so it's not just for motion sickness). I agree that it wasn't as effective as the medication, but it was a lot cheaper. It's effective enough, and has been used for long enough, that it's pretty universally recommended during pregnancy, even though they haven't done formal studies yet.