This Week's Podcast: A Replay: The Spice of Life (and Occasional Irritation)
Click on the small black arrow on the bar to listen, or the MP3 to download the show:Recent studies have found that among people with allergies, about 2% have reactions to spices, with the most common causes being onions and garlic. And as the holiday season is upon us (which means an increased use of spices in Thanksgiving dishes, holiday drinks/cocktails, etc.), there could be more cases of reactions over the next few weeks.
Rodale On-Line recently featured an article on allergies by editor, Emily Main, and she joins us this week to talk about spices and common reactions.
Some people get herbs and spices confused. Herbs come from the leafy parts of plants. Spices are from roots (ginger), seeds (fennel), fruits (juniper), flower buds (cloves), bark like cinnamon and are often dried.
The chemical compounds, mixes of elements, in spices that have strong taste often evolved for other reasons than to spice up our tables. These are as protective mechanisms to keep plants from being eaten by insects, and sometimes, perhaps to fight off disease. The flavorful compounds that make these things attractive to humans are the same things that repel predators any cause allergic reactions. In some cases, however, animals other than humans are attracted to these things for other evolutionary reasons. Birds usually do not feel the heat of hot peppers, and eat red fruits and disseminate the seeds.
Spices have long been held in high regard. The words special and spice share a common root. There have even been wars fought over taking control of Spice Islands. And some of these very same flavorings might actually hold secret cures to what ails you.
Capsaicin, the ingredient in cayenne pepper that makes your mouth burn, also burns body fat. In small amounts, hopefully tolerable, for example, one gram, it increases energy and feelings of satiety. According to the McCormick Science Institute, people who ate pepper-spiked soup ate less at a meal several hours later.
Scientists have been studying the effects of spices on health for years. Curcumin, the ingredient in turmeric, has an effect on mental wellbeing, mimicking the effects of anti-depressants. Turmeric often found in the spice mix we know as curry, may protect neurons from Parkinson’s according to Psychology Today magazine. Studies show that it reduces cognitive impairment. Curcumin ameliorates neuropathology; it improves abnormalities seen in Huntington’s disease.
Saffron, the stamens of a crocus flower, inhibits the accumulation of beta-amyloids possibly helping to fight Alzheimer’s disease.
Even just the smell of some herbs and spices has beneficial effects. Peppermint and cinnamon can help you get through a test in school. They are wake-up calls to the brain. A good tip for drivers on long trips or stuck in traffic; a stiff sniff of peppermint could help you stay alert.