October 9, 2014

Five Spices to Rock Your Digestive World.

Curry Spice

According to a recent survey as reported by Fox News, a whopping 74% of Americans are living with digestive discomfort.

The common symptoms are gas, bloating, indigestion, abdominal pain and diarrhea. (1) While these symptoms can be due to minor imbalances, they may be an indication of more serious health concerns.

Sadly, according to this survey, many folks are embarrassed to discuss digestive symptoms with their doctor, so they often go untreated for years. Early detection, and not sweeping such symptoms under the rug, is critical—not only to a complete recovery, but to long-term health. If you have chronic digestive concerns of any kind, please get checked by your doctor.

Once cleared of any major problems, I recommend resetting your digestive strength and efficiency.

In Ayurveda there are five digestive spices that have been used for thousands of years with incredible success. They are fennel, coriander, cumin, cardamom and ginger.

In this article I want to review some of the compelling research and delve into the traditional significance of these five digestive spices for gas, bloating and rebooting the natural strength of the digestive system. Perhaps the most profound aspect of these spices is how gentle, yet powerful they are. I find that even folks with the most sensitive digestive systems can do well on these five spices.

Chewing a handful of cumin, fennel, cardamom and coriander seeds after a meal is still a common practice in India. This is why you will often find a bowl of fennel seeds awaiting you at the door as you exit your favorite Indian restaurant.

These spices: ginger, cumin, coriander, fennel and cardamom make up our new digestive formula, Gentle Digest. There seems to be a library of research on these five spices for digestion, but for this article I will only touch on the highlights.

Numerous studies suggest that these five spices build digestive self-sufficiency in these ways:

  • Increase bile flow (2) (no need for bile salts)
  • Increase pancreatic enzyme activity (2) (no need for digestive enzymes)
  • Increase small intestine enzyme activity (2) (no need for digestive enzyme supplements)
  • Decrease gas and bloating (5) (no need for HCL supplements)
  • Increase fat and sugar metabolism (2)
  • Are powerful free radial scavengers (3)
  • Support optimal weight (4)
  • Support microbiology health (especially ginger) (5)
  • Improve gut health (5)
  • Support a healthy growth rate of good bacteria (especially ginger) (5)
  • Decrease H. pylori from adhering to stomach (4)
  • Are digestive stimulants (6)
  • Quicken the transit time in the intestines—supporting better elimination (3)

What was fascinating about these studies is that these five spices seemed to support the body’s natural ability to digest, rather than just treat its problematic symptoms.

For example, while the studies show that they improved fat and sugar metabolism, they seemed to do so by boosting more bile acid and pancreatic enzyme flow. (2,6) Digestive enzyme supplements provide the enzymes we need to digest protein and starches, while these spices amp up the body’s production of digestive enzymes and bile. (2,6) This is an example of resetting digestion, rather than brewing dependency on digestive aids.

In one study, ginger was shown to support healthier cells of the intestinal wall as well as boost the proliferation of good microbes in the gut. (5) In another study, these spices blocked the bacterium H. plyori—which is linked to indigestion and stomach ulcers—from proliferating and adhering to the stomach lining. (4) The spices seem to work with the body’s digestive intelligence by supporting better digestive function, a healthier environment for the digestive microbes, healthier villi and improved intestinal function. (2,3,5)

The Five Spices of Digestion Up Close

Coriander Seed (Coriandrum sativum)

Coriander is perhaps the most cooling of the five digestive spices. The seeds are commonly used in herbal medicine for a host of ailments. The leaves, known as cilantro, are slightly less cooling than the seeds. The seeds are best known for their digestive properties by cooling excess pitta in the body and intestinal tract. Therefore, it is used effectively for occasional heartburn. It is a natural carminative, which means it prevents or relieves gas from the intestinal tract, and is beneficial for numerous heat-related pitta conditions.

Rasa (taste): Bitter, pungent

Virya (action): Cooling

Vipaka (post-digestive effect): Pungent

Doshas (body types): Balances vata and kapha, especially pitta.

Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)

As a member of the ginger family, Ayurvedic texts celebrated cardamom’s ability to make foods easier to digest and enhance the taste of most ordinary foods. Its taste is most recognizable in a cup of Indian chai tea, as it neutralizes the stimulating effects of caffeine, allowing the chai to boost the digestive process without taxing the nervous system. Cardamom is known to reduce the extreme acidity of many foods and caffeinated beverages including coffee; it is the signature spice in traditional Turkish coffee. When cooked into your food, it reduces excess mucus, gas and bloating in the stomach and small intestine.

Rasa (taste): Pungent, sweet

Virya (action): Heating

Vipaka (post-digestive effect): Sweet

Doshas (body types): Balances vata, kapha and pitta.

Cumin Seed (Cuminum cyminum)

Cumin is perhaps the most powerful digestive tonic of the five spices of digestion. It has a strong taste and while very effective alone, it blends well in both taste and effectiveness with the other four spices for boosting digestion and reducing gas and bloating. It is much like coriander, in that it cools the digestive system while boosting digestive strength. It supports healthy assimilation, the proliferation of good microbes, as well as the detoxification of the intestinal tract.

Rasa (taste): Pungent, bitter

Virya (action): Cooling

Vipaka (post-digestive effect): Pungent

Doshas (body type): Balances vata, kapha and pitta.

Fennel Seed (Foeniculum vulgare)

Fennel is best known as the tri-doshic digestive spice. Not only does it combat gas and bloating in the digestive tract, it is one of Ayurveda’s favorite lymph movers. As a lymph mover, it supports healthy lactation and radiant skin on both the inside and outside. Fennel seeds are considered the most sattvic (promoting purity and balance) of the spices, because of its very balancing effect on vata, kapha and pitta. It is one of the best herbs for digestion, as it strengthens the digestive fire without aggravating pitta, and is beneficial for intestinal cramping, nausea and dispelling flatulence.

Rasa (taste): Sweet, pungent, bitter

Virya (action): Slightly heating

Vipaka (post-digestive effect): Sweet

Doshas (body type): Balances vata, kapha and pitta.

Ginger Root (Zingiber officinale)

In Ayurveda, ginger is called the universal spice because of its many health benefits. It is heating for the upper digestion with its pungent taste, but cooling and soothing for the lower digestion as a result of its sweet after taste. It is therefore considered to be a tri-doshic herb, meaning it balances vata, pitta and kapha—although in excess it can be too heating to the upper digestion. It is the classic kindling to start the digestive fire in the stomach. Scientific studies have shown that it supports healthy microbes, a healthy intestinal wall, and acts as a digestive stimulant for nutrient assimilation. (5)

Rasa (taste): Pungent, sweet

Virya (action): Heating

Vipaka (post-digestive effect): Sweet

Doshas (constitutions): Balancing for vata and kapha, may increase pitta.



DOI: 10.1002/food.200390091 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=enzyme+coriander+fennel+cumin+ginger+cardamom

Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy. Vol. 4: Issue. 2: Pages. 1-10. 2004 DOI: 10.1080/J157v04n02_01
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23765551 Trop Anim Health Prod. 2013 Nov;45(8):1763-9. doi: 10.1007/s11250-013-0430-3. Epub 2013 Jun 14.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22010973 Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2012 Mar;63 Suppl 1:82-9. doi: 10.3109/09637486.2011.627841. Epub 2011 Oct 19.

Nutrition Research October 2000, Vol.20(10):1493–1503, doi:10.1016/S0271-5317(00)80030-5

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Editor: Travis May

Photo: Nutritional Kitchen

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