Historically, many herbs and spices have been used for medicinal purposes. Many of these herbs have a strong traditional and cultural background, and are still used today. Herbs and spices, in the form of supplements, have become very trendy.
This is due to an increase in health blogs, false scientific claims found on the internet, affordability and easy access. While most herbs and spices are safe to use in moderation while cooking, over-consumption could be problematic. We decided to have a look at some of the most trendy herb and spice supplements:
Don’t be tricked by Turmeric!
Claim: Turmeric contains a substance called curcumin. Curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties and this proposes many benefits. Reducing inflammation in the brain, may decrease the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and depression. Reducing whole body inflammation may alleviate pain and swelling experienced by those with arthritis. Animal studies indicate that curcumin may have anti-cancer properties.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a biological response of the immune system that can be triggered by a variety of factors. These factors may result in inflammatory responses in the heart, pancreas, liver, kidney, lung, brain, intestinal tract and reproductive system, potentially leading to tissue damage or disease.
DNAfit Snapshot tests for CRP levels, which is an indicator of inflammation. DNAfit Dietfit test will reveal whether you have a higher tendency for inflammation.
Truth behind the claim: Although curcumin compounds in turmeric are said to reduce inflammation, there aren’t strong studies to support these claims. Turmeric is generally safe to use in cooking however, long term high dose use of turmeric can result in digestive problems.
Claim: Ginger is said to decrease nausea related to pregnancy, motion sickness and chemotherapy. It helps to reduce stomach disruptions post-surgery and vomiting related to chemotherapy.
Truth behind the claim: There is some evidence that indicates that ginger may help to reduce nausea related to pregnancy. Ginger may help to control nausea caused by chemotherapy but only when used in combination with conventional anti-nausea medication. There is not enough evidence to support the use of ginger for motion sickness, nausea post surgery and arthritis. Ginger is safe to use in cooking but should not be used by those with gallstones or those on blood thinners.
Cinnamon, not so sweet...
Claim: Cinnamon is used to reduce blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Truth behind the claim: Human studies do not support the use of cinnamon in any health condition. Systematic reviews prove that cinnamon does not reduce blood sugar levels. Although not effective, low dose short term cinnamon supplements should not cause any harm. Cinnamon should not be used by those with liver conditions and should not be used to replace conventional medication.
Have you got Sage on the brain?
Claim: Sage is used to improve mental processes, such as brain function and memory. It is said to be particularly useful in those with Alzheimer's disease.
Truth behind the claim: Very little scientific research on humans has been conducted regarding sage. Available studies show no benefit of sage supplementation for any health condition. Studies showing an effect of sage on mental processes are poor quality studies. The FDA approves sage usage as a seasoning, but twelve drops or more of sage essential oil is considered a toxic dose and can result in: restlessness, vomiting, vertigo, rapid heart rate, tremors, seizures and kidney damage; if taken for a prolonged period of time.
Pass on the Parsley!
Claim: Parsley is proposed to decrease bad breath, inflammation, risk for kidney stones, stomach disruptions, skin ailments, bladder infections and oxidative stress. It is labelled as an excellent source of vitamin A, C and K, making it high in antioxidants. This gives parsley the ability to strengthen your immune system.
So what are antioxidants?
Antioxidant defense systems, including antioxidant enzymes, influence oxidative stress. Elevated oxidative stress can induce production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Oxidative stress is associated with multiple diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and aging.
DNAfits, Dietfit tests for 3 genes (SOD2, CAT, GPX1) which are associated with inflammatory response. In the event of elevated risk, dietary antioxidants are recommended, these include Vitamin A rich foods such as dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale; Vitamin C rich foods such as citrus fruit and berries; Vitamin E rich food such as avocados, sunflower seeds and almonds; and Selenium which is found mainly in brazil nuts.
Truth behind the claim: Parsley leaves can be used as a breath freshener, whereas parsley tea or parsley extract is effective as a mild laxative. There is no strong evidence showing that parsley improves immune function. High concentrations of parsley infusions can result in inflammation, involuntary termination of pregnancy and digestive tract damage.
Rosemary, not so rosy...
Claim: Rosemary is used to reduce nasal congestion and allergic responses.
Truth behind the claim: Rosemary has been shown to improve scalp circulation and hair growth, based on historic reports. There is limited research supporting the use of rosemary oil for the treatment of sudden hair loss.
Ginkgo Biloba, it’s just a mouthful!
Claim: Ginkgo Biloba is used because of its strong antioxidant properties. It is used to treat a wide array of conditions, including: dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression, anxiety, headaches, PMS related symptoms and ADHD. It is often also used to improve eye health and libido.
Truth behind the claim: There isn’t conclusive evidence that indicates that Ginkgo Biloba is effective in treating or assisting in treating any health condition. The long-term Gingko Evaluation Study proves that Ginkgo doesn’t slow or prevent the formation of dementia or cognitive decline. Strong evidence is lacking regarding the use of Ginkgo Biloba for memory improvement, blood pressure, eye health, heart health and tinnitus. Ginkgo Biloba is safe for most healthy adults but may result in headaches, stomach disruptions and skin breakouts. It should not be used when pregnant or when on anticoagulants as it can increase the risk of bleeding.
Don’t make a stink about Garlic!
Claim: Garlic is recommended to improve heart health as it claims to ensure blood vessel flexibility. It also helps to reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Truth behind the claim: Garlic may slightly reduce total and LDL (bad) cholesterol and high blood pressure, although evidence is weak and conflicting. The National Cancer Institute identifies garlic as having anticancer properties but does not recommend using garlic supplements to assist with cancer prevention. Garlic is safe to eat in cooking. It may result in bad breath, poor body odour, heartburn, stomach disruptions and increased bleeding.
Is Fenugreek all Greek to you?
Claim: Fenugreek helps to improve blood sugar levels.
Truth behind the claim: Evidence to support the use of fenugreek for any health condition is weak. Evidence supporting the use of fenugreek for lowering sugar is available but weak and therefore fenugreek should not be used to replace conventional medication. It is important that pregnant women avoid fenugreek as it can result in uterine contractions.
Don’t stress about Ginseng!
Claim: Ginseng is recommended to reduce stress, inflammation and blood sugar levels. It improves brain function, lung function, sexual dysfunction and boosts your immune system. It is widely used to assist with weight loss and to prevent cancer.
Truth behind the claim: There is a small body of evidence supporting the use of ginseng in diabetic patients as it may assist with increasing the effect of insulin and decreasing insulin resistance. Some animal studies show an improvement in immune system after the use of ginseng, but human studies are lacking. There is one clinical trial that proposes beneficial effects of ginseng in treating male sexual dysfunction. There is no evidence to support the use of ginseng to improve athletic performance, stamina or strength. There is no evidence to back the claim that ginseng prevents or treats cancer.
Blow the whistle on Milk Thistle!
Claim: Milk Thistle is commonly used to remove toxic substances from the body. It reverses liver damage caused by pollution, heavy metals and prescription medications. It is also used to reduce cholesterol, reduce aging, prevent cancer and control diabetes.
Truth behind the claim: Results regarding the use of milk thistle for the treatment of liver diseases is mixed. Two large clinical trials showed no benefits for the liver. Milk thistle is safe to use in small doses but those with diabetes should be cautious as it may lower their blood sugar levels.
Ain’t no Oregano!
Claim: Oregano is used as an anti-inflammatory and antibiotic that has the power to fight bacterial, fungal, viral and parasitic infections. It additionally helps to reduce allergies and shrink tumours.
Truth behind the claim: Oregano oil has been shown to kill certain parasites that do not require medical treatment. It also helps to reduce infections and improving scar healing after minor skin surgeries. Pregnant women should avoid using oregano oil as it could result in a miscarriage if taken in large amounts. Those undergoing surgery should stop using oregano oil for 2 weeks before surgery as it could increase the risk of bleeding.
The slippery slope of Slippery Elm...
Claim: Slippery Elm is proposed to regulate digestion and decrease IBS, bloating, stress and anxiety. It is used to assist in weight loss and helps to treat skin conditions. It also proposes to prevent breast cancer.
Truth behind the claim: Slippery Elm has been shown to soothe sore throats and are often in commercial throat lozenges to prolong the pain-killing effect. It is safe to use by most adults, but can cause an allergic reaction in some when applied to the skin.
Cayenne pepper and Paprika - the spicy truth!
Claim: Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin that helps to provide pain relief by reducing the number of pain signals sent to the brain. Paprika contains capsaicin that boosts your immune system and helps to treat autoimmune conditions. It is high in antioxidants that help to reduce free radical damage that may cause many diseases. Paprika is used to improve heart and eye health.
Truth behind the claim: Capsaicin creams may help to reduce back pain, jaw pain and pain caused by nerve damage in diabetes and arthritis. It may be effective in treating cluster headaches and pain after surgery. There is not enough evidence to support the use of capsaicin for the treatment of hay fever, heartburn, exercise performance, fibromyalgia, IBS, joint pain, migraines, muscle pain, stomach ulcers or weight loss.
So what can you take away from all this information?
There is a small body of evidence that proposes some benefits of herb and spice supplements. Though to achieve these benefits you would have to consume a large quantity of these herbs and spices.
What do we then recommend? All herbs and spices can be used to flavour your food and are great salt alternatives. However, due to the lack of evidence showing any substantial need or benefit of herb and spice supplements, there is no need to take these as supplements. Unless recommended otherwise by your medical doctor, it is best to keep it simple and use herbs and spices in moderation and in their natural form.
Your body knows best. Improve your health with a genetically-personalised nutrition plan. Get Diet Fit to learn how your body responds to various nutrients and whether you have any raised micronutrient needs, sensitivities or intolerances.