The benefits of spices

Les bienfaits des épices

A clinical study reported that the addition of spices reduces the inflammation associated with a meal rich in calories.

The pandemic of COVID-19 has made us aware of the dangers of inflammation.

Several studies have shown that severe forms of the disease were caused by the presence of an excess of inflammatory molecules (cytokines) that creates a great deal of oxidative stress, which damages the blood vessels and several organs essential to life (heart, lung, kidney, brain).

Chronic Inflammation

Another form of inflammation less spectacular and about which little is chronic inflammation of low intensity.

More insidious than the acute inflammation, because it causes no pain or obvious symptoms, this type of inflammation can, however, cause damage in the longer term, creating an imbalance that accelerates the development of many chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and several types of cancers.

In addition to some abusers toxic well documented (cigarette smoke, for example), several aspects of the mode of life may also generate conditions of chronic inflammation that will increase the risk of chronic diseases.

One of the most damaging is the obesity : when fat cells accumulate an excessive amount of fat, the stress imposed on these cells results in the creation of a climate of chronic inflammation of low intensity, invisible and undetectable, but which acts as a magnet for inflammatory cells of the immune system, especially macrophages.

Obese people eat too much and the overload calories in a meal may also influence the degree of chronic inflammation .

Following a meal too rich, the quantity of sugar and fat absorbed exceeds the capacity of our metabolism to turn calories into chemical energy (ATP) so that excess electrons generated by the oxidation of nutrients cause an oxidative stress that activates the inflammatory processes (1).

Neutralization by the spices

The results of a randomized clinical study recently suggested that the addition of spices may attenuate this inflammatory effect associated with a meal rich in calories (2).

The researchers invited volunteers who are overweight (BMI between 25 and 35), a high waist circumference (≥ 94 cm) and at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease to eat one or the other of the three following meals : 1) meals rich in saturated fat and carbohydrate diets (1000 kCal), including a chicken curry in coconut milk, muffin and a biscuit ; and (2) the same meal but containing 2 g of a mixture of spices and 3) the same meal, but containing 6 g of the spice mixture. The spices used were a mixture of turmeric, black pepper, ginger, cumin, coriander, chilli, chili, cinnamon, and thyme (for chicken curry), basil, bay leaf, oregano, persil and rosemary (for the muffin) and cinnamon, ginger (for the biscuit).

Blood Tests

After the meal, blood samples were collected every hour during a 4-hour period and the researchers measured the amount of certain white blood cells known to be activated by inflammation (monocytes, CD14 +/ HLA-DR +), as well as blood levels of inflammatory cytokines ( ).

Not surprisingly, they first of all observed that a meal rich in calories caused an inflammatory response : the proportion of circulating monocytes was increased a few hours after the end of the meal, as the rate of the cytokines used as markers. However, these increases are significantly down-regulated following ingestion of the meal containing 6 g of spices, in particular the increase of IL-1, which is completely abolished by the mixture.

This effect is interesting because this cytokine is known to play a crucial role in the inflammation underlying the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

For example, studies show that an antibody developed against IL-1 (canakinumab) reduces the risk of recurrence in patients who have suffered a myocardial infarction and reduces the risk of lung cancer (3).

Eat less or more spicy

Of course, it is best to eat fewer calories to avoid inducing an inflammatory response in post-prandial glucose. But the ability of spices to counteract the increase of some inflammatory cytokines, even in the presence of an excess of calories, shows that these ingredients are not just to enhance the taste of our food.

Like all plants, vegetables, spices contain hundreds of phytochemicals that exert multiple, positive effects on the body and can therefore help to prevent the development of chronic diseases.

In this sense, it is interesting to note that an Italian study recently reported that people who regularly eat spicy foods have a risk half that of dying prematurely suites of coronary heart disease or STROKE (4).

(1) Munoz A and M Costa. Nutritionally mediated oxidative stress and inflammation. Oxid. Med. Cell Longev. 2013: 610950.

(2) Oh ES et al. The Spices in a high-saturated-fat, high-carbohydrate meal reduce postprandial proinflammatory cytokine secretion in men with overweight gold obesity: a 3-period, crossover, randomized controlled trial. J. Nutr. 2020; 150: 1600-1609.

(3) Ridker PM et al. Effect of the interleukin-1 inhibition with canakinumab on incident lung cancer in patients with atherosclerosis: exploratory results from a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet, 2017; 390:1833-1842.

(4) Bonaccio M et al. Chili pepper consumption and mortality in Italian adults. J. Am. Al. Cardiol. 2019; 74: 3139-3149.

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