Odds are, if you’re living with a chronic condition, you know a thing or two about inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been closely linked to health conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma...you name it. Chronic folks have gotten used to recognizing inflammation in their own bodies–it’s often signaled by a symptom flare: fatigue, weight changes, mood disorders, GI complications, and pain.
While medication can be extremely helpful (and in many cases, necessary) for treating inflammation, it’s also possible to reduce inflammation in your body using lifestyle changes, like altering your diet.
You may have heard of the benefits of certain spices like turmeric, long hailed for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Now, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition has identified a particular blend of spices with anti-inflammatory effects on the human body. The best part? It’s made with ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen cabinet.
The Spice Study
The cause of chronic inflammation is multifactorial and complex. “Chronic inflammation in the body is caused by untreated acute inflammation, like infections, an autoimmune disorder such as type I diabetes or lupus, and exposure to potent chemicals or pollution,” explains Cassandra Vanderwall, clinical nutritionist at University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison, WI. “Poor food choices that are pro-inflammatory can also increase or exacerbate inflammation in the body.”
Connie J. Rogers, PhD, an associate professor at Penn State College of Health and Human Development in State College, PA, and the lead author on the spice blend study, explains that while spices like turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon have been studied in isolation for their anti-inflammatory properties, they’ve rarely been looked at in the context of a real human diet.
Rogers and her team wanted to put together a spice blend that was both edible (actually tasty on food) and easy to get your hands on. They used it on three different foods: coconut chicken curry, a corn muffin, and a cinnamon biscuit. Here’s what they put on each dish.
Coconut chicken curry:
- Red pepper
- Black pepper
- Bay leaf
The amount of each spice used varied depending on the test. Researchers recruited men between the ages of 40 and 65, all of whom were overweight and showed at least one risk factor for metabolic syndrome. “We purposely picked people who we thought might benefit from something like this,” Rogers says. “We think that represents a lot of Americans: people might be carrying a few extra pounds, [or] they might have one of these other risk factors,” including high cholesterol, high triglycerides, or excess weight.
They then split the subject into three groups. One group ate the meal with no spices on it, one group ate the meal with 2 grams of spices, and one group ate the meal with 6 grams of spices. The research team drew blood every hour for four hours after the subjects ate, testing their inflammatory response.
Sure enough, the folks with the lowest inflammation levels were those who ate 6 grams of spices, followed by 2 grams of spices, followed by the control group. This provided significant evidence that the spice blend helped the body fight off inflammation from the food.
How You Could Benefit
Rogers and her team purposely tested their blend on high-fat and refined carbohydrate-heavy foods, which tend to be triggers for inflammation. “If you eat a high-fat, high-carbohydrate meal, you’ll get a rise in inflammatory and oxidative stress markers, and then it goes away after you process the meal,” she explains. These acute bouts of inflammation can contribute to chronic inflammation over time.
“We asked the question, could you get a beneficial effect if you ate the spice blend?” Rogers says. Their results make sense, according to previous research on individual spices. “Foods and spices with anti-inflammatory compounds can help to ‘put out the fire’ and potentially improve joint pain” caused by inflammation, Vanderwall says. That’s why you probably hear about ginger and turmeric, for example, as being good for your gut.
As of now, Rogers and her team aren’t certain which spices in this blend contributed most to the reduction in inflammation. That’s the subject of further research. “I’m really curious, do we get more benefit because of the combination of the spice, or are one or two driving it?” she wonders. Even though that’s still unclear, people don’t need to wait to try this spice blend for themselves. “There are really no side effects to spice consumption,” Rogers says–except that if you don’t like them, you obviously won’t enjoy the taste.
Rogers recommends serving these spices on any high-carbohydrate, high-fat meal: pasta, meat and rice, a burger, whatever floats your boat. “Lots of us eat high-carbohydrate [and] refined carbohydrate meals pretty frequently,” she says. So next time you order takeout from your favorite Italian joint, try busting out this blend from your own spice cabinet to add some extra flavor. Your body will thank you.