Abigail Klein Leichman

Is it safe and effective to use spices and herbs for weight loss?

Researchers from Ariel University’s department of nutritional sciences give some answers to this question in a review published in the journal Functional Foods in Health and Disease.

“We examined scientific studies on the commonly used herbs cinnamon, capsaicin, black pepper and curcumin and their effect on weight loss and the safety of using them,” wrote the authors, Vered Kaufman Shrikki, Shiri Sharaf Dagan, Hagit Salem, Abigail Nebro and Prof. Mona Boaz.

Dr. Hagit Salem. Photo courtesy of Ariel University

Here’s a summary of their findings.

Cinnamon is antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. It’s commonly used to treat conditions such as gastrointestinal problems, arthritis, bacterial infection and type 2 diabetes.

Cinnamon also has components that affect glucose metabolism and insulin activity, including reduced secretion of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin. Studies show that cinnamon improves glucose homeostasis and insulin sensitivity in both healthy and diabetic people. In some studies, a decrease in body volume and weight loss was observed.

Capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers, has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-cancer properties. Studies suggest that capsaicin may prevent obesity and diabetes because it increases secretion of the hormone GLP-1, which increases satiety and insulin secretion, while reducing ghrelin and appetite.

By activating the sympathetic nervous system, capsaicin causes a decrease in caloric intake and an increase in energy expenditure. It helps oxidize fatty acids and turns ordinary adipose tissue into brown adipose tissue, which consumes calories and creates heat. So eating chili may help balance calories and maintain weight.

Black pepper is an antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory spice that

affects body heat and energy control, accumulation of lipids, insulin sensitivity and glucose entry into the cell in several pathways. In animals, black pepper causes an anti-glycemic effect and prevents obesity.

Double-blind, randomized, and placebo-combined studies on humans showed that a mixture of black pepper, capsaicin, carnitine and fiber increases the feeling of satiety in the short term and lowers insulin resistance and appetite.

Curcumin, a member of the ginger family, is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory spice used to treat asthma, vomiting, diabetes and a variety of chronic diseases.

Animal studies strongly suggest that polyphenols from curcumin have a pronounced effect on obesity as evidenced by lower body weight, fat mass and triglycerides. Human studies, however, have not found any effect on weight loss.

The researchers conclude that active compounds present in plants may be used as an additional tool for proper weight management.

“In some studies, the effect was observed only in the consumption of a large amount of spice. But since no damage or side effects were observed, it is definitely recommended to pepper our meals with a little more flavor, aromas and spiciness.”

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