Spices may lessen consequences of high blood sugar

NEW YORK Thu Aug 14, 2008 3:16pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People with diabetes may want to start spicing up their diets, if new lab research findings prove true in humans.

In test-tube experiments, researchers at the University of Georgia, Athens, found that extracts of various herbs and spices -- such as cinnamon, cloves, sage and rosemary -- inhibited a damaging process that can result from high blood sugar levels.

When blood sugar is high, as is chronically the case in diabetes, it can lead to the formation of substances known as AGE compounds. These compounds, in turn, cause inflammation and tissue damage, which can contribute to the clogged arteries and heart disease commonly associated with diabetes.

But, at least in the in the lab dish, numerous herbs and spices appear to block the chemical process that creates AGE compounds, according to the new findings, published in the Journal of Medicinal Food.

Whether this holds true in humans is not yet known. And even it does, well-seasoned food will not take the place of good blood sugar control for people with diabetes, according to Dr. James L. Hargrove, an associate professor of foods and nutrition at the University of Georgia and principal investigator.

But, he told Reuters Health, "there are reasons to be excited about work that will be done over the next few years."

In the meantime, it will not harm anyone to add more herbs and spices to their meals, Hargrove noted -- especially if they take the place of salt.

The anti-AGE benefits of herbs and spices seem to come from plant antioxidants called phenols, which were present in high concentrations in many of the products Hargrove and his colleagues studied -- all of which were dried varieties that the researchers bought at a local supermarket.

When they examined each seasoning's phenol content, cinnamon, cloves and ground Jamaican allspice came out on top; those spices also showed the greatest potential for blocking the formation of AGE compounds. The most potent herbs included sage, marjoram, tarragon and rosemary.

Herbs and spices, Hargrove said, are the most concentrated sources of antioxidants in the diet. He noted that cinnamon, for example, has 50 to 100 times more "antioxidant power" per unit weight than fresh berries do.

According to Hargrove, some of the most "intriguing" research into herbs and spices has shown that components of the plants not only serve as antioxidants by themselves, but also act on our body cells to regulate their antioxidant defenses.

SOURCE: Journal of Medicinal Food, June 2008.

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