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Health benefits of herbs and spices: the past, the present, the future

February 17, 2012

We write about the connection between the past and the present on this blog.  This is one of the main objectives of this website.  There is a lot information about natural therapies and natural herbs and spices that can help to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  As you can see from the various articles on InnOrbit products we only use 100% natural herbs and spices in our products.  The products have even been given the seal of approval by The Vegetarian Society.  We base our recipes on “old” technology but it is old technology that has modern science backing it up too.

The adage of “Grandmother Knows Best” was always something we intuitively knew was right …from the simple cough mixtures containing honey lemon and ginger  …to the stomach settlers which contained a little bit of fennel.  Over the last 10 years modern clinical science and medicine have caught up again to these traditional ingredients.   We review a recent article of on the health benefits of natural herbs and spice and how modern science is slowly coming full circle and embracing the past.

Health benefits of herbs and spices: the past, the present, the future
Tapsell et al, (University of Wollongong, NSW)

Herbs and spices have a long history of use, from culinary to medicinal use.  Showing that certain of foods have benefits using scientific means remains a challenge.  In the case of Pharmaceuticals the industry generally use pure compounds with relatively low molecular weights and used in a concentrated form.  Food, on the other hand, is eaten in combinations, in relatively large, unmeasured quantities under highly socialised conditions.

There is a challenge in defining the benefits and developing the methods to expose them by modern scientific means.

There are various aspects which the review covers and includes:

CULTURAL ASPECTS:

  • Definitions of the food category.
  • The way in which benefits might be viewed and researched.
  • Research may focus on identifying bioactive substances in herbs and spices, or on their properties.

THE ROLE OF HERBS AND SPICES IN HEALTH:

There is increasing evidence of how herbs and spices can impinge on the health of individual and includes:

  • There is level III-3 evidence (National Health and Medical Research Council [NHMRC] levels of evidence) that consuming a half to one clove of garlic (or equivalent) daily may have a cholesterol-lowering effect of up to 9%.
  • There is level III-1 evidence that 7.2 g of aged garlic extract has been associated with anticlotting (in-vivo studies), as well as modest reductions in blood pressure (an approximate 5.5% decrease in systolic blood pressure).
  • A range of bioactive compounds in herbs and spices have been studied for anticarcinogenic properties in model systems, but the challenge lies in integrating this knowledge to ascertain whether any effects can be observed in humans.
  • There is level I and II evidence for the effect of some herbal supplements on psychological and cognitive function.
  • The writer concludes that more definitive research is required.

PUBLIC HEALTH AND DIETARY IMPLICATIONS:

Future consideration should be given to including clearer recommendations about the role and place of herbs and spices in a healthy diet.

“In addition to delivering antioxidant and other properties, herbs and spices can be used in recipes to partially or wholly replace less desirable ingredients such as salt, sugar and added saturated fat in, for example, marinades and dressings, stir-fry dishes, casseroles, soups, curries and Mediterranean-style cooking. Vegetable dishes and vegetarian options may be more appetising when prepared with herbs and spices.”

FUTURE DIRECTIONS:

Chronic disease is often associated with oxidative processes in the body and the use of herbs and spices as a source of antioxidants may help to combat this oxidation.

Future directions could include:

  • Immediate studies should focus on validating the antioxidant capacity of herbs and spices after harvest, as well as testing their effects on markers of oxidation.
  • Clinical trials to establish disease prevention.
  • Herb and spice properties as foods.
  • Health claims related to foods. With time, we can expect to see a greater body of scientific evidence supporting the benefits of herbs and spices in the overall maintenance of health and protection from disease.

Emblica officinalis

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