By Dr. Kira SchmidJust like us, plants have to fight off microorganisms. Most of the vegetables we enjoy, in particular herbs and spices, have natural infection-fighting properties.
Cooking with herbs and spices not only helps with flavor, but also imparts immune-boosting effects. Let’s take a look at a few spices that are probably in your spice rack right now.
Ginger Kills Bacteria & Reduces FeverThis versatile spice is derived from the root of the plant, and a variety of amazing phytochemicals have been isolated from ginger and found to possess antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, fever-reducing, and pain-relieving properties.
Traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine utilizes ginger root as a digestive aid for young infants with colic and for adults with indigestion. Ginger is a natural remedy for nausea and vomiting due to seasickness and morning sickness of pregnancy.
For example, a study involving morning sickness of pregnancy found that one gram of ginger taken by mouth significantly reduced the frequency and severity of nausea episodes1. Be aware that if you take the drug warfarin, a well-known blood thinner, there is the potential for interaction with ginger, so avoid ingesting large amounts of ginger while taking warfarin.
Fungi Hate RosemaryThe leaves of the herb rosemary are used fresh as well as dried in traditional Mediterranean dishes to impart fragrant aromas of evergreen. Rosemary has strong antioxidant properties, and research shows that rosemary extract has both antibacterial2,3 and antifungal properties4.
Furthermore, exciting preliminary research suggests that rosemary’s relatively high level of carnosic acid may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. Four to six grams of ground, fresh rosemary leaves is a typical therapeutic dose for boosting immunity during winter months.
Garlic Prevents Cold & Flu SymptomsThis remarkable culinary herb has a wide array of health benefits ranging from cardiovascular protection to immune stimulation. The chemistry of garlic is complex, with over 100 different substances that contribute to its effects.
The most significant feature is garlic’s high concentration of sulfur compounds, which are responsible for both the aroma of garlic and its effectiveness against bacteria, viruses and fungi. During the cold and flu season it is advantageous to take either a clove of fresh garlic or a supplement daily since it has been demonstrated to significantly reduce both the number and duration of colds5.
Numerous studies have established garlic’s antibacterial properties as well.6,7,8,9 For example, garlic is effective at killing the Helicobacter pylori bacteria, a virulent organism that grows in the stomach and is associated with stomach ulcers and stomach cancer10. In laboratory studies, compounds found in garlic were effective at killing even drug resistant H. pylori.10
Since most people infected with H. pylori show resistance to antibiotic treatment, and because garlic is known to act synergistically with antibiotics, treatment with garlic may be an effective approach.
Oregano Preserves Immune FunctionThe leaves of this nutrient-dense herb contain calcium, vitamin C, beta carotene and omega-3 fatty acids. The oil of this herb has antimicrobial and antiviral activity and may be most promising in fighting yeast infections11.
Oregano oil in combination with clove oil has been tested against the yeast Candida. In a study on immunosuppressed animals, oregano and clove oil reduced candida growth in samples of oral tissue.
In another study12, the active components in oregano and clove oil were shown to reduce fungal load and decrease candida infection in animal models of vaginal candida infection12. The authors concluded that these oils could be a promising product for the treatment of vaginal yeast infections.
Cloves Reduce Pain & Fight BacteriaThe oil from this warm, aromatic spice is approved in Germany as a topical analgesic and antiseptic. Not only do compounds in this spice confer antibacterial and antifungal benefits they also help fight the aging process.
The high amounts of phenols found in cloves are associated with the ability to block the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs)13. AGEs are non-functioning compounds that are associated with many age-related conditions like wrinkling of our skin or cataracts.
Basil is a Natural Cancer Fighter
Current research trials indicate that apigenin may reduce DNA oxidative damage, inhibit the growth of human leukemia cells, induce cancer cell death, act as an anti-inflammatory, and as a muscle relaxer14.
Thyme is a Natural Cough RemedyThis popular Mediterranean herb is a common ingredient in cuisine and has a strong, savory flavor. Thyme is a traditional cough remedy and continues to be used widely in Europe for this purpose.
Thyme in the form of a tea, a syrup or a steam inhalation may be beneficial for bronchitis15. The active component of thyme, thymol, is also found in a variety of mouthwashes to reduce oral bacteria and plaque buildup16.
Turmeric is an Immune Magic Bullet
Since curcumin inhibits the inflammatory pathways in the body, it can be effective against the aches associated with arthritis or even relieving a head cold. Curcumin is known as an immune modulator and can improve the ability of specialized immune cells to engulf and destroy germs17.
Mushrooms are Immune Support PowerhousesSeveral species of edible mushroom have been found to provide powerful immune support, including the popular maitake and shiitake.18,19,20 There is ample evidence to suggest that the specific phytonutrients in these mushrooms optimize the immune response to cancer and pathogenic microorganisms.
Chief among these are beta glucan and other polysaccharides. These natural compounds stimulate a system-wide immune response — activating macrophages, interferon, T cells, and natural killer cells — to prevent the proliferation and spread of cancer cells21.
Beta glucan also reinforces the body’s resistance to infectious disease by increasing the activity of phagocytes (specialized immune cells that engulf and destroy germs).22 In animal models, it has also been shown to boost resistance to viral infections23.
The Spice of LifeIf health and wellness are your top priorities, don’t neglect the immune system. It fights bacteria, viruses, fungi, molds and even cancer cells. Simply put, if you want to expand your healthy life span, boost your immune system with herbs and spices.
How many of these herbs and spices do you have in your cabinet?
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