Transcript: Which Spices Fight Inflammation?
Once in a while I come across a study that's so juicy, I do an entire video about it. It's like my "which fruit fights cancer better?" video, or the best cooking method one, or that one comparing thousands of foods. Well, this is one such study.
A group of researchers at U-of-F Gainesville and Penn State set up just a brilliant experiment. We've known ounce per ounce, herbs and spices have some of the greatest antioxidant activities known, but that's in a test tube. Before we can ask if an herb or spice has health benefits, it is first necessary to determine whether it is bioavailable. This is never been done, until now.
They could have went the easy route and just measured the change in antioxidant level in one's bloodstream before and after consumption, but the assumption that the appearance of antioxidant activity in the blood is an indication of bioavailability has a weakness. Maybe more gets absorbed than we think, but doesn't show up on antioxidant tests because it gets bound to proteins or cells. So they attempted to measure physiological changes in the blood. They were interested in whether absorbed compounds would be able to protect white blood cells from an oxidative or inflammatory injury, whether it would protect the strands of our DNA from breaking when confronted by free radicals. They also wondered if the consumption of herbs and spices might alter cellular inflammatory responses in the presence of a physiologically relevant inflammatory insult. What does that all mean?
What they did was take a bunch of people and had each of them eat different types of spices for a week. There are so many really unique things about this study but one was that the quantity that study subjects consumed was based on the usual levels of consumption in actual food. Like the oregano group was given a half teaspoon a day—the kinds of practical quantities people might actually eat once and awhile. Then at the end of the week they drew blood from the dozen or so people they had adding black pepper to their diets that week, and compared the effects of their blood to the effects of the blood of the dozen on cayenne, or cinnamon, or cloves, or cumin. They had about 10 different groups of people eating about 10 different spices. Then they dripped their plasma (the liquid fraction of their blood) onto human white blood cells in a petri dish that had been exposed to an inflammatory insult. They wanted to pick something really inflammatory so they chose oxidized cholesterol, which is like what you'd get in your bloodstream after eating something like fried chicken. So the jabbed the white blood cells with oxidized cholesterol and measured how much TNF they produced in response.
Tumor necrosis factor is a powerful inflammatory cytokine, infamous for the role it plays in autoimmune attacks like inflammatory bowel disease. Compared to the blood of those who ate no spices for a week, was the blood of those eating black pepper able to significantly dampen the inflammatory response? No. What about any of these other spices? Cloves, ginger, rosemary, and turmeric were able to significantly stifle the inflammatory response. And remember, they weren't dripping the spices themselves on these human white blood cells, but the blood of those who ate the spices and so represents what might happen when cells in our body are exposed to the levels of spices that circulate in our bloodstream after normal daily consumption. Not megadoses in some pill, just the amount that makes your spaghetti sauce taste good, or your pumpkin pie, or curry sauce.
There are drugs that can do the same thing. Tumor necrosis factors are such major mediators of inflammation and inflammation-related diseases that there are TNF blocking drugs on the market for the treatment of inflammatory diseases such as osteoarthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis and ankylosing spondylitis, which rake in more than $20 billion a year, because drug companies charge people $15,000–20,000 a year for the drug. At that price, the side effects better be hugs and rainbows, but no, they carry a black label warning because they can cause things like, oh, cancer and heart failure. If only there was a cheaper, safer solution.
Curcumin, the yellow pigment in turmeric is a tad cheaper and safer, but does it work outside of a test tube? There's evidence that it may help in all of the diseases for which TNF blockers are currently being used, and so with health-care costs and safety being such major issues, this golden spice turmeric may help provide the solution.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.
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