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Can spicy food boost gut health? That’s what the science says

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div data-adroot=””>when is he coming To ask questions about health and longevity, many researchers have turned to the gut microbiome—the community of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in the human gut—for answers. Scientists are just beginning to understand the many ways the microbiome affects our health, but early evidence suggests that it could play a role in the outcome of diseases such as some cancers, long Covid and Parkinson’s disease.

Identification of foods beneficial to the microbiome and, ultimately, various aspects of one’s health is an area of ​​particular interest; It can provide a large number of preventive and treatment options that do not currently exist.

One area of ​​particular interest is determining how spices affect gut health. Herbs and spices have been used therapeutically for centuries, and the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits of some common spices like garlic, ginger, and cayenne pepper are well documented. But these benefits are not necessarily mediated through the microbiome. so what an act Know about spicy food and the microbiome?

Are spices good for the gut microbiome?

A study published at the end of last year in Nutrition Journal He sought to understand the effect of daily consumption of the spice on the microbiome of people at risk of cardiovascular disease. These spices included cinnamon, ginger, cumin, and turmeric. All 48 study participants had obesity and at least one other risk factor for cardiovascular disease, such as high glucose.

All participants were given the same diet for four weeks but given three different doses of herbs and spices: one group received 0.5 grams per day, one group got 3.3 grams per day, and the last group got 6.6 grams per day.

Christina Peterson, assistant professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Texas Tech University and one of the study’s authors, says: inverse She and her colleagues wanted to build on previous research looking at spices and the microbiome. A study published in 2019 in the journal Nutrients A 5-gram capsule containing spices, including ginger, black pepper, and cayenne pepper, was found to alter the composition of gut bacteria after two weeks.

“We have to be careful not to put the cart before the horse here. It’s very easy to say, ‘We have to feed our microbiome and make sure that the good bacteria multiply at the expense of the bad bacteria. But no one is really sure what those good bacteria are.”Getty / Grace Carey
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In contrast to previous studies, such as the 2019 study in NutrientsOur study is the first to look at spices consumed as part of meals and snacks [as opposed to a supplement]Peterson says.

In particular, the researchers wanted to know how the composition of the Ruminococcaceae family of bacteria might change after spices were added to meals and snacks. The researchers focused on this family of bacteria because previous research indicated that people with more microcosms had less weight gain over the long term.

A different study found that changes in the composition of gut bacteria in mice, including enrichment of Clostridium from the Mogibacteriaceae and Ruminococcaceae families, contributed to the suppression of diet-induced obesity with exposure to cold temperatures. “This suggests that gut bacteria contribute to metabolic pathways that increase energy expenditure to protect against diet-induced obesity,” she says.

Ultimately, the researchers found that all groups experienced an enrichment of Ruminococcaceae bacteria. The results were dose-dependent: The group that had the largest increase in spice intake experienced the greatest changes from baseline after the four weeks.

While we hear a lot about “good” bacteria compared to “bad” bacteria — Peterson cautions against assuming we know exactly how a particular type of bacteria will affect the microbiome, let alone clinical health outcomes.

“I will hesitate [to] Calling bacteria “good” or “bad,” we don’t know enough yet. Also, we need to consider the entire structure of the microbiome. Whether the bacteria repress or enhance the enrichment of other bacteria and what are the functions of these, she says.

Joe Schwartz, director of the Office of Science and Society at McGill University, agrees. His work focuses on helping the public accurately interpret scientific and health information. says Schwartz inverse“We have to be careful not to put the cart before the horse here. It’s very easy to say, ‘We have to feed our microbiome and make sure that the good bacteria multiply at the expense of the bad bacteria,’” he says. “But no one is really sure what those bacteria are. good; More than 500 types of bacteria have been isolated from the gut. So the real question is, which ones are beneficial in a way that has clinical significance? ”

Peterson is well aware of this distinction and wants to be clear about what the study she and her colleagues just published says.

“In this study, we only looked at the composition of the gut microbiome. Basically, we took a list of who was present. We need more research on what these organisms are doing, their functions, and how that contributes to health or disease.”

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“In this study, we only looked at the composition of the gut microbiome. Basically, we took a list of who was present. We need more research on what these organisms are doing, their functions, and how that contributes to health or disease.”Getty/Brian Hagiwara

In fact, other studies evaluating how spices affect the microbiome have been mixed. For example, a 2016 study published in Journal of endocrinology and metabolism It found that capsaicin — the compound that makes chili peppers hot — may be more beneficial for people with certain microbiome profiles. On the other hand, a 2022 study published in the journal foods It was found that when the researchers gave the mice 40 mg of capsaicin, the mice did not experience any harmful effects, but at higher doses, the mice experienced gastrointestinal inflammation and injury to the gastrointestinal tract.

Further investigation led the researchers to conclude that “the underlying mechanisms may be related to the regulation of the gut microbiota.” While humans are not mice, these studies illustrate some challenges with definitively determining which spices are beneficial to the microbiome, if those benefits translate into clinical health outcomes, and if the same spice is necessarily beneficial for everyone.

“Now that we have established that eating herbs and spices as part of a diet that mirrors what Americans eat influences the composition of the gut microbiota, we can do more work to understand this further,” says Peterson. “At this point, it’s too early to suggest eating herbs and spices for gut health.”

However, Peterson says other benefits of consuming herbs and spices have nothing to do with the gut microbiome.

“Most importantly, adding herbs and spices is a great way to flavor healthy foods like vegetables to increase the taste and enjoyment of food. We know that vegetables are good for health. So this is another way that herbs and spices can indirectly help improve the diet, thus improving the health “.

Schwartz puts it this way: “There’s no reason not to add spice to your food. It might add some spice to your life. Just don’t expect it to make you live longer.”

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