A clinical study reports that adding spices reduces the inflammation associated with a high-calorie meal.
The COVID-19 pandemic made us aware of the dangers of inflammation.
Several studies have in fact shown that severe forms of the disease are caused by the presence of an excess of inflammatory molecules (cytokines) which creates intense oxidative stress which damages blood vessels and several organs essential to life (heart, lung , kidney, brain).
Another less spectacular and little-talked-about form of inflammation is low-intensity chronic inflammation.
More insidious than acute inflammation, because it does not cause pain or apparent symptoms, this type of inflammation can nevertheless cause longer-term damage by creating an imbalance that accelerates the development of several chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases , type 2 diabetes and several types of cancer.
In addition to some well-documented toxic aggressors (cigarette smoke, for example), several aspects of lifestyle can also generate conditions of chronic inflammation that will increase the risk of chronic diseases.
One of the most damaging is obesity: when the adipocytes accumulate an excessive quantity of fat, the stress which is imposed on these cells leads to the creation of a climate of chronic inflammation of low intensity, invisible and undetectable, but which acts as a real magnet for inflammatory cells of the immune system, especially macrophages.
Obese people also eat a lot and being overweight with a meal can also influence the degree of chronic inflammation.
Following an overly rich meal, the amount of sugar and fat absorbed exceeds the capacity of our metabolism to transform calories into chemical energy (ATP) so that the excess of electrons generated by the oxidation of nutrients causes stress. oxidative that activates inflammatory processes (1).
Neutralization with spices
The results of a recent randomized clinical study suggest that the addition of spices could reduce this inflammatory effect associated with a high-calorie meal (2).
The researchers invited volunteers who were overweight (BMI between 25 and 35), a large waist (≥ 94 cm) and at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease to eat one or the other of the following three meals : 1) a meal rich in saturated fat and carbohydrates (1000 kCal), including a chicken curry in coconut milk, a corn muffin and a cookie; 2) the same meal but containing 2 g of a mixture of spices and 3) the same meal, but containing 6 g of the mixture of spices. The spices used were a mixture of turmeric, black pepper, ginger, cumin, coriander, chili pepper, cinnamon and thyme (for chicken curry), basil, bay leaf, oregano, parsley and rosemary (for muffin) and cinnamon , ginger (for the cookie).
After the meal, blood samples were taken every hour for a period of 4 hours and the researchers measured the quantity of certain white blood cells known to be activated by inflammation (CD14 + / HLA-DR + monocytes), same as blood levels of inflammatory cytokines ().
Not surprisingly, they first observed that a meal as high in calories caused an inflammatory response: the proportion of circulating monocytes was increased a few hours after the end of the meal, as were the levels of cytokines used as markers. On the other hand, these increases are significantly reduced following the ingestion of the meal containing 6 g of spices, in particular the increase in IL-1 which is completely abolished by the mixture.
This effect is interesting because this cytokine is known to play a crucial role in the inflammation underlying the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
For example, studies show that an antibody developed against IL-1 (canakinumab) reduces the risk of recurrence in patients who have had a myocardial infarction and decreases the risk of lung cancer (3).
Eat less or more spicy
It is obviously better to eat fewer calories to avoid inducing a postprandial inflammatory response. But the ability of spices to neutralize the rise of certain inflammatory cytokines, even in the presence of excess calories, shows that these ingredients are not only used to enhance the taste of our food.
Like all plants, spices contain hundreds of phytochemicals that exert multiple positive effects on the body and can therefore help prevent the development of chronic diseases.
In this sense, it is interesting to note that an Italian study recently reported that people who eat spicy food regularly have a half risk of dying prematurely from coronary heart disease or stroke (4).
(1) Munoz A and M Costa. Nutritionally mediated oxidative stress and inflammation. Oxid. Med. Cell Longev. 2013: 610950.
(2) Oh ES et al. Spices in a high-saturated-fat, high-carbohydrate meal reduce postprandial proinflammatory cytokine secretion in men with overweight or obesity: a 3-period, crossover, randomized controlled trial. J. Nutr. 2020; 150: 1600-1609.
(3) Ridker PM et al. Effect of interleukin-1 inhibition with canakinumab on incident lung cancer in patients with atherosclerosis: exploratory results from a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet, 2017; 390: 1833-1842.
(4) Bonaccio M et al. Chili pepper consumption and mortality in Italian adults. J. Am. Coll. Cardiol. 2019; 74: 3139-3149.