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Health Claims for Everyday Spices


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I just saw a commercial which was for McCormick's black pepper. That it a fabulous anti-oxidant.

I didn't know this. And the commercial says to start your day by sprinkling 1/4 teaspoon of their ground black pepper on your scrambled eggs.

A. Wouldn't that make them inedible?

B. Are they kidding me?!

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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They are kidding all of us, and probably themselves.

It is a long way from observing in a lab that a component of a plant has chemicals that do something potentially beneficial to actually proving that eating that plant has any effect at all.

All this talk of superfruits etc is so silly, but so exploitable. Marketers love it. I guarantee that none of them have any data that would pass muster for efficacy at the FDA. I'd be amazed if they have any data at all in people. Even stuff that is intensively and seriously investigated, like resveratrol, has (as far as I know) only failures in big clinical trials.

Dr. Oz knows this quite well. At one time he was a well-trained doc.

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Reading between the lines it sounds like McCormick's are saying that their spices are likely to be old and dead by the time you get them. A quarter tsp of a fresh and lively black pepper could be way too much but the same amount of outdated old pepper could be rather bland.

Are there any real benefits from any spice? I have heard that cinnamon has health benefits, but my inner skeptic wants some far more qualified skeptic to weigh in with facts.

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These commercials make me cringe. I think the ones I saw were extolling the virtues of garlic powder and oregano and the amount also seemed a bit much. Plus I think the wording was something along the lines of sprinkling it over the food so it was not integrated into the cooking. Just silly and weird.

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Tumeric is thought to be useful, I think as an anti-inflammatory, it's the curcumin in it. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/662.html

Ginger supposed to be good for you (forget just why, although I think it's used against nausea), thyme contains thymol which I believe is supposed to have some antibiotic and disinfectant properties http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thymol. Garlic is supposed to have some mildly antibiotic properties (I've read that the Russians/Soviets used a garlic compound for that reason during WWII)as well as other useful properties (both external & internal use) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garlic, such as helping to regulate blood sugar levels. I've seen some health claims for oregano & others in the mint family. Sage is also supposed to have some healthful properties as is rosemary.

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Leaving aside the dose aspect of this...

Don't leave the dose issue aside! We all have tiny amounts of all sorts of "poisons", "toxins" and "carcinogens" in our bodies all the time, but below certain dosage thresholds, they are "harmless." (OK, they have such a small impact, if any, that it is statistically undetectable.) Botulism toxin is the most deadly toxin known by weight. But doctors around the world inject it into millions of people every year - Botox. The dose is so tiny that it "kills" local nerve activity temporarily, but doesn't have any other negative health effect, except in very rare cases. Clearly, dose matters.

The same holds true for things that would be beneficial above a certain dosage level. Something might be great for you, but unless there's enough of it in your system it doesn't have any detectable effect. (Yes, I am saying that so-called "homeopathy" is Woo - aka "gobledygook") Highly dilute solutions and/or tiny does of some chemical or other do no good, or harm, for that matter.

The one potential positive effect from tiny, culinary amounts of herbs and such would be the placebo effect. If you're receiving (real) treatment for cancer, and you take the action of adding such-and-such to your diet because you believe it will help you, it just might. You may be so uncomfortable from chemo that you can't eat much, but you're eating a few blueberries because you hope that the anti-oxidants will help you heal. The actual dose of anti-oxidant chemicals might be "meaningless", but your choice and action to assist your healing can have some influence to stimulate your body's ability to heal itself. It may be "Dumbo's feather", but if you get better faster (or survive at all, for that matter), then great! As long as you don't eat anything that is actually harmful (which some "natural remedies" are, as are some foods with certain health conditions), and you aren't wasting money on some "homeopathic preparation" or "super-vitamin" or similar woo-junk, then if it helps to induce the placebo effect, then all the better!

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Seems that if real doctors want to know if their patients are taking herbal supplements to avoid interference with medication, there may be something to them. Mayo Clinic advice.

And then there is Ayurvedic medicine, which has evolved over thousands of years. Being a western, allopathic-centric person myself, I haven't turned to it, but I have to believe it has some basis of validity. I'd say to discount it as woo-junk is a sign of a very small mind. Food as medicine has a base in many cultures. We've just managed to ignore it for the last century.

On the other hand, minute amounts of herbs and spices used in cooking - probably not doing much for health.

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Cinnamon is supposed to have an effect on blood sugars. I tried taking capsules of it for a while (Type 1 diabetic), but never noticed anything beyond nice cinnamony breath and a craving for Red-Hots (which definitely DO have an effect on blood sugar, though not the one I'm typically looking for!)

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Seems that if real doctors want to know if their patients are taking herbal supplements to avoid interference with medication, there may be something to them. Mayo Clinic advice.

Doctors mainly want to know because some supplements will rev-up metabolism of drugs and inactivate them quicker eg St John's Wort and contraceptives..or slow metabolism and raise drug levels .. eg grapefruit juice and cyclosporin.

Of course there are some drugs from plants like digitalis and warfarin, but we don't deliver them in impure preparations with uncertain dosing.

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Leaving aside the dose aspect of this...

Don't leave the dose issue aside! We all have tiny amounts of all sorts of "poisons", "toxins" and "carcinogens" in our bodies all the time, but below certain dosage thresholds, they are "harmless." (OK, they have such a small impact, if any, that it is statistically undetectable.) Botulism toxin is the most deadly toxin known by weight. But doctors around the world inject it into millions of people every year - Botox. The dose is so tiny that it "kills" local nerve activity temporarily, but doesn't have any other negative health effect, except in very rare cases. Clearly, dose matters.

The same holds true for things that would be beneficial above a certain dosage level. Something might be great for you, but unless there's enough of it in your system it doesn't have any detectable effect. (Yes, I am saying that so-called "homeopathy" is Woo - aka "gobledygook") Highly dilute solutions and/or tiny does of some chemical or other do no good, or harm, for that matter.

The one potential positive effect from tiny, culinary amounts of herbs and such would be the placebo effect. If you're receiving (real) treatment for cancer, and you take the action of adding such-and-such to your diet because you believe it will help you, it just might. You may be so uncomfortable from chemo that you can't eat much, but you're eating a few blueberries because you hope that the anti-oxidants will help you heal. The actual dose of anti-oxidant chemicals might be "meaningless", but your choice and action to assist your healing can have some influence to stimulate your body's ability to heal itself. It may be "Dumbo's feather", but if you get better faster (or survive at all, for that matter), then great! As long as you don't eat anything that is actually harmful (which some "natural remedies" are, as are some foods with certain health conditions), and you aren't wasting money on some "homeopathic preparation" or "super-vitamin" or similar woo-junk, then if it helps to induce the placebo effect, then all the better!

Wasn't saying dose doesn't matter, but that if the active compounds in something have deteriorated/been degraded, the dose would be beside the point (e.g. if you boil the hell out of orange juice, you can drink it by the a gallon, and you'd still get zero vitamin C).

And I'm not clear as to whether you're talking about "poisons", "toxins", "carcinogens", and "homeopathy", or actual poisons, toxins, carcinogens, and homeopathy.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
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mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Leaving aside the dose aspect of this...

Don't leave the dose issue aside! We all have tiny amounts of all sorts of "poisons", "toxins" and "carcinogens" in our bodies all the time, but below certain dosage thresholds, they are "harmless." (OK, they have such a small impact, if any, that it is statistically undetectable.) Botulism toxin is the most deadly toxin known by weight. But doctors around the world inject it into millions of people every year - Botox. The dose is so tiny that it "kills" local nerve activity temporarily, but doesn't have any other negative health effect, except in very rare cases. Clearly, dose matters.

The same holds true for things that would be beneficial above a certain dosage level. Something might be great for you, but unless there's enough of it in your system it doesn't have any detectable effect. (Yes, I am saying that so-called "homeopathy" is Woo - aka "gobledygook") Highly dilute solutions and/or tiny does of some chemical or other do no good, or harm, for that matter.

The one potential positive effect from tiny, culinary amounts of herbs and such would be the placebo effect. If you're receiving (real) treatment for cancer, and you take the action of adding such-and-such to your diet because you believe it will help you, it just might. You may be so uncomfortable from chemo that you can't eat much, but you're eating a few blueberries because you hope that the anti-oxidants will help you heal. The actual dose of anti-oxidant chemicals might be "meaningless", but your choice and action to assist your healing can have some influence to stimulate your body's ability to heal itself. It may be "Dumbo's feather", but if you get better faster (or survive at all, for that matter), then great! As long as you don't eat anything that is actually harmful (which some "natural remedies" are, as are some foods with certain health conditions), and you aren't wasting money on some "homeopathic preparation" or "super-vitamin" or similar woo-junk, then if it helps to induce the placebo effect, then all the better!

Wasn't saying dose doesn't matter, but that if the active compounds in something have deteriorated/been degraded, the dose would be beside the point (e.g. if you boil the hell out of orange juice, you can drink it by the a gallon, and you'd still get zero vitamin C).

And I'm not clear as to whether you're talking about "poisons", "toxins", "carcinogens", and "homeopathy", or actual poisons, toxins, carcinogens, and homeopathy.

I have a friend who became very ill from consuming too much nutmeg.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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I've been avoiding this topic...but andiesenji, did your friend chew up a nutmeg, or take it in water, or in oil/alcohol? Anything hallucinogenic is going to be hard on the liver...

Kitchen herbs and spices...with two 'pothecaries for parents, I grew up fascinated with herbs, and all our kitchen spices came in jars with Latin labels. Obviously, if you want to use a spice medicinally, you should keep it whole, then crush or grind immediately before extracting in oil/alcohol or water as appropriate, rather than buying it pre-ground, storing it badly for long periods, and then scattering it over the top of food before baking, so that the aroma is all you get of it.

I managed to give myself an allergy to bayleaf, avocado and cinnamon by diligent consumption of a decoction of cinnamon (that is, boiled to extract, not just tea-bag style). Not only was I taking a lot of cinnamon, but drinking tea on an empty stomach is probably a bit different from a cinnamon roll downed with a latte.

That occurred using a water-extraction, but many of our "treasured" imported spices have fat-soluble active ingredients that are stable enough to remain active when dried and transported. If I'd taken an oil or fat-based extraction of cinnamon daily for several weeks, I would have made myself very sick.

Japan's native herb tradition relies strongly on fresh (green) herbs, and the more I've explored that,the more differences I find between fresh and dried herbs. For example, it's only fresh ginger that will help with nausea...so a slice of fresh ginger held in the mouth is supplying you with different chemicals from ginger wine made with fresh ginger or ginger tea made with dried ginger. Son1 told all his friends that ginger tea made with fresh ginger, or fresh ginger grated into rice gruel, was the best thing for nausea from exam nerves.

I once tried clove oil on a cotton wool ball for a sore tooth, with sad results, but a clove held in the mouth near a swollen area of gum (wisdom tooth etc.) seems to reduce inflammation. But so do frequent saline mouthwashes, for that matter!

The very best thing I know for skin infections, from pimples to wounds, is the Southeast Asian herb houttuynia cordata (fish mint, dokudami in Japan). The youngest leaves are great in salad, but I use it fresh (bruised or crushed) on grazes, burns, and large pimples, and infused in shochu (strong rice wine) as a lotion for teenage acne. It is used dried as a laxative tea, but can be too effective!

For sinus infections following a cold, the last couple of years I've been keen on raw juices, because they make it so easy to get those chlorophyll-rich green vegetables, and it's a solution that uses exactly what I can lay my hands on most easily in the cold and flu seasons. My usual standby is parsley and cabbage or mustard greens juice, cut with citrus or celery and failing that, apple. A little fresh ginger is nice, but only needed in larger quantities for a very stuffy nose.

One thing to consider is how much of a herb or spice is really needed to change something about your body...it's more than you would keep on hand for culinary purposes only. I find a thyme gargle very good for sore throats, but one vigorous bush is not enough to make a decoction every day for a week! Sage makes a larger bush, and so I can indulge my personal sage tea habit summer and winter, but if my family wanted to drink it too, or I used it medicinally, I'd need more.

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My friend was making a drink, sort of like eggnog, with protein powder &etc., because she had been ill.

Her doctor had given her a potent antibiotic but did not tell her that it might affect her taste and smell.

She kept adding nutmeg because she couldn't taste it and probably consumed more than half a teaspoon before giving up and just drinking the stuff.

Less than an hour later she had a seizure and fortunately was rushed to the ER because she was in cardiac distress. Her husband told them what she had consumed and she was warned to avoid more than small amounts of nutmeg. She was told that some people are more sensitive to it than others and she could have died if not treated immediately.

Her husband said that she reeked of nutmeg for a couple of days afterward but she still could neither taste nor smell it.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Sounds like there was a lot going on there...and maybe people think that nutmeg can be used in the same quantities as cinnamon (not that cinnamon should be eaten like cornflakes).

I've often thought that the reason older herbals often specify the origin of a herb or spice is just to avoid this kind of unpredictable reaction...apart from individual reactions, a plant harvested in one place may have noticeably more or less of an ingredient than plants from a different source.

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And I'm not clear as to whether you're talking about "poisons", "toxins", "carcinogens", and "homeopathy", or actual poisons, toxins, carcinogens, and homeopathy.

:biggrin: Good call - With the words "poisons", "toxins", and "carcinogens" I was attempting to use those words in a broad, colloquial way, rather than in a particularly clinical or technical sense. Although in re-reading my original sentence, this intent makes sense to me with the word "poison", but I guess there's not much distinction between the colloquial as opposed to the clinical meanings of "carcinogen." (But I'll stick with the scare quotes around "homeopathy" because it's a word whose construction is clearly is intended to convey the false impression that it has something to do with science or medicine.)

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