Fruits, Herbs and Spices: Anti-inflammatory Effects

Fruits, herbs and spices have been shown to have specific anti-inflammatory effects, which may explain their health benefits. Evidence suggests that certain components of fruits, herbs and spices are able to cause a reduction in the levels of the proinflammatory cytokines interleukin (IL)-6 and tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha, reduce levels of cyclooxygenase-2 and nitric oxide synthase, and at the same time may increase production of the anti-inflammatory IL-10. In studies, significant anti-inflammatory effects have been observed in chili peppers, allspice, basil, bay leaves, black pepper, licorice, nutmeg, oregano, sage and thyme. Individual components of these foods including  apigenin, capsaicin, rosmarinic acid, chrysin, diosmetin, kämpferol, luteolin, naringenin, quercetin and resveratrol also displayed significant anti-inflammatory effects. A diet high in fruits and vegetables may therefore significantly improve health due to a general anti-inflammatory effect the reduces the development of disease. 

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Mueller, M., Hobiger, S. and Jungbauer, A. 2010. Anti-inflammatory activity of extracts from fruits, herbs and spices. Food Chemistry. 122(4): 987-996
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Calorie Counting: More Evidence It Does Not Cause Weight Loss

Calorie counting is the belief that the amount of calories (energy) consumed is the main driver of weight change. People who succumb to the calorie counting myth suggest that weight gain is simply a result of a positive energy balance, and that weight loss is achieved by eating fewer calories, or burning the calories in the form of exercise. However, hundreds of scientific papers disagree with this notion, as factors such as the quality and type of the food are far more important determinants of weight change when compared to total energy expenditure. For example, in one study researchers investigated how the ratio of fat to carbohydrates in the diet affect weight gain in humans. The results showed that as the intake of carbohydrate increased relative to fat, there was an increased risk of gaining body fat. This weight gain was independent of the amount of total energy consumed. Therefore the macronutrient ratios may be a more important determinant of weight gain when compared to total energy intake. 

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Zurlo, F., Lillioja, S., Esposito-Del Puente, A., Nyomba, B. L., Raz, I., Saad, M. F., Swinburn, B. A., Knowler, W. C., Bogardus, C. and Ravussin, E. 1990. Low ratio of fat to carbohydrate oxidation as predictor of weight gain: study of 24-h RQ. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism. 259(5): E650-E657
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Herbs: How Do They Modulate Cortisol?

Cortisol is one of the hormones released by humans following exposure to environmental conditions that are perceived as a threat to survival. Cortisol is therefore a stress hormone, and it plays an important role in adaptation to external threats. Chronic stress is damaging to humans and modulation of cortisol levels can improve health in cases of prolonged release. In particular, cortisol is damaging to mental health, and may be a primary cause of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Evidence suggests that certain plant chemicals can modulate cortisol levels because they interact with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. This axis directly controls the release of cortisol and other stress hormones and by modulation of its function, certain plant compounds may have significant anti-stress effects. Many plants are understood to have mood elevating properties and their ability to interact with the primary stress hormone in humans may be directly related to these mood elevating properties. 

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Solati, K., Heidari-Soureshjani, S. and Pocock, L. 2017. Effects and mechanisms of medicinal plants on stress hormone (cortisol): A systematic review. World Family Medicine Journal: Incorporating the Middle East Journal of Family Medicine. 99(5548): 1-7
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The Exercise, Lactate, Testosterone Connection

Lactic acid is considered a waste product of cellular respiration. Lactic acid is produced in cells through the incomplete combustion of glucose following anaerobic glycolysis. Lactic acid accumulates in cells during metabolism and exercise greatly increases production, especially if it is intense. Lactic acid can diffuse out of cells where it dissociates into lactate and hydrogen ions, and it is these hydrogen ions that cause the burning sensation from intense exercise, due to their ability to lower the pH of tissues. Lactate has been shown to have a number of physiological effects, including the ability to stimulate the synthesis of testosterone from leydig cells in the testes. Evidence from rat studies show that physiological relevant levels of lactate in blood can cause the stimulation of testosterone from leydig cells of the testes through a process that involves activation of the second messenger adenylate cyclase. This may be one way that intense exercise is able to increase levels of testosterone post exercise. 

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Lin, H., Wang, S. W., Wang, R. Y. and Wang, P. S. 2001. Stimulatory effect of lactate on testosterone production by rat Leydig cells. Journal of Cellular Biochemistry. 83(1): 147-154
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Ginkgo Biloba: Reduces Cortisol Levels?

Ginkgo biloba is a herbal supplement that has a long history as a medicinal herb. Ginkgo biloba has a number of properties that include significant effects on the brain which include memory enhancing and mood elevating effects. Ginkgo biloba may also be considered an anti-stress compound as evidence shows it may be able to modulate the release of stress hormones. For example, in one study researchers administered a standardised extract of Ginkgo biloba (120 mg) to healthy volunteers and then exposed the participants to mental and physical stress. The Gingko biloba was effective at attenuating the stress induced rise in blood pressure from physical exertion. In addition, the Gingko biloba was also effective at reducing salivary cortisol rises seen in male subjects. Therefore Ginkgo biloba may confer beneficial anti-stress effects in healthy humans when given as a single dose. It is unclear how Gingko is able to achieve these effects but may relate to the phytochemicals including flavone glycosides and terpenes that it contains. 

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Jezova, D., Duncko, R., Lassanova, M., Kriska, M. and Moncek, F. 2002. Reduction of rise in blood pressure and cortisol release during stress by Ginkgo biloba extract (EGb 761) in healthy volunteers. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology. 53(3): 337-348
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Ashwagandha as an Anti-Stress Herb

Evidence suggests that ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an adaptogenic herb. It therefore has properties that prevent deviations from homeostasis in animals and humans. One area that it may help maintain homeostatic control is with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. This axis is involved in the body’s reaction to stress and by helping stabilise stress hormone secretions ashwagandha may confer anti-stress effects. For example, in one study researchers administered ashwagandha (240 mg of standardised extract containing 35% withanolide glycosides) to stressed healthy humans. The results of the study showed that the ashwagandha caused a significant reduction in the perceived anxiety in the subjects and also significantly lowered morning cortisol levels. The authors concluded that ashwagandha appears to be a safe and effective anti-stress herb that may work through its ability to lower cortisol levels by affecting the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. 

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Lopresti, A. L., Smith, S. J., Malvi, H. and Kodgule, R. 2019. An investigation into the stress-relieving and pharmacological actions of an ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Medicine. 98(37)
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Lavender: More Evidence of Anxiolytic Activity

Lavender (Lavandula augustifolia) has been shown to have significant anxiolytic effects. One way that lavender can be used as an anxiolytic is through aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is the annihilation of the volatile essential oils of plants. Many essential oils contain phytochemicals that pass through the mucous membranes of the nose and into the bloodstream to have real physiological effects. The phytochemicals in lavender appear to be beneficial at causing central nervous system effects that cause relaxation and reduce stress levels. For example in one study researchers administered two drops of lavender to patients who had undergone open heart surgery. The results of the study showed that the lavender caused a significant reduction in the anxiety scores of the patients suggesting that they had experienced a significant reduction in anxiety. In addition there was a 70 % reduction in the cortisol levels of the patients who were administered two drops of lavender, suggesting a significant anti-stress effect.  

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Hosseini, S., Heydari, A., Vakili, M., Moghadam, S. and Tazyky, S. 2016. Effect of lavender essence inhalation on the level of anxiety and blood cortisol in candidates for open-heart surgery. Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research. 21(4): 397-401
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Lavender Oil: an Anti-Stress Agent

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is a herb that is traditionally used as a calmative. The plant contains a distinctive essential oil that gives the plant its characteristic smell and this oil may have properties that allow it to affect the central nervous system. In particular the essential oil from lavender may reduce excitability in the central nervous system and this has a calming effect. For example, in one study researchers gave young infants a bath with or without lavender scented bath oil. The researchers observed that the mothers in the lavender scented bath water were more relaxed and smiled and touched their infants more during the bath. In addition, the infants in the lavender scented bath water also looked at their mothers more during the bath, cried less and slept more following the bath. The researchers also observed that the cortisol levels of the infants and mothers in the lavender scented baths were significantly lower compared to the control infants suggesting that the lavender had conferred a significant anti-stress effect. 

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Field, T., Field, T., Cullen, C., Largie, S., Diego, M., Schanberg, S. and Kuhn, C. 2008. Lavender bath oil reduces stress and crying and enhances sleep in very young infants. Early human development. 84(6): 399-401
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Sage Oil: Hormonal Effects

Sage (Salvia species) is a plant with medicinal effects. A number of different sage plants have been investigated and the medicinal effects of these plants seems to extend across different species. Clary sage (Salvia sclarea) is a form of sage that is native to the Mediterranean region. Like all sage plants, clary sage produces an essential oil, and this can be used for its therapeutic benefits. Evidence suggests that clary sage may have mood elevating effects in humans and this may result from changes to the hormonal system of the individuals. For example, in one study researchers investigated the effects of the inhalation of clary sage oil on post menopausal women with depression. Inhalation of clary sage caused significant reductions in plasma cortisol levels and significant increases in serotonin levels. The reduction in cortisol levels was significantly greater in subjects who had greater levels of depression at baseline. Inhalation of clary sage oil therefore may have significant antidepressant effects and may reduce stress hormone release.

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Lee, K. B., Cho, E. and Kang, Y. S. 2014. Changes in 5‐hydroxytryptamine and Cortisol Plasma Levels in Menopausal Women After Inhalation of Clary Sage Oil. Phytotherapy Research. 28(11): 1599-1605
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Chamomile and Cortisol

Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) belongs to the Asteraceae or daily family of plants. Chamomile is a plant that is used in traditional medicine as a calmative agent. Chamomile is able to affect the central nervous system and may improve mood and improve sleep quality. This may relate to the presence of flavonoids in the plant which can affect the GABA system in the brain. However, evidence also suggests that chamomile can also reduce cortisol levels. For example, in one study researchers administered chamomile to a group of subjects diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). There was a significant improvement in mood for subjects who consumed chamomile and this correlated with changes to cortisol levels. While morning cortisol levels increased, the cortisol level experienced throughout the day was lower, suggesting that chamomile had affected the stress response of the subjects. Chamomile may therefore function through a mechanism that involves modulation to the cortisol stress hormone system. 

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Keefe, J. R., Guo, W., Li, Q. S., Amsterdam, J. D. and Mao, J. J. 2018. An exploratory study of salivary cortisol changes during chamomile extract therapy of moderate to severe generalized anxiety disorder. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 96: 189-195
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