Cardamom is a spice with an intense, slightly sweet flavor that some people compare to mint.
It originated in India but is available worldwide today and used in both sweet and savory recipes.
The seeds, oils and extracts of cardamom are thought to have impressive medicinal properties and have been used in traditional medicine for centuries. Here are 10 health benefits of cardamom, backed by science.
Cardamom may be helpful for people with high blood pressure. In one study, researchers gave three grams of cardamom powder a day to 20 adults who were newly diagnosed with high blood pressure. After 12 weeks, blood pressure levels had significantly decreased to the normal range.
The promising results of this study may be related to the high levels of antioxidants in cardamom. In fact, the participants’ antioxidant status had increased by 90% by the end of the study. Antioxidants have been linked to lower blood pressure.
Researchers also suspect that the spice may lower blood pressure due to its diuretic effect, meaning it can promote urination to remove water that builds up in your body, for example around your heart.
Cardamom extract has been shown to increase urination and decrease blood pressure in rats.
Cardamom may help lower blood pressure, most likely due to its antioxidant and diuretic properties.
2. May Contain Cancer-Fighting Compounds
The compounds in cardamom may help fight cancer cells. Studies in mice have shown that cardamom powder can increase the activity of certain enzymes that help fight cancer.
The spice may also enhance the ability of natural killer cells to attack tumors. In one study, researchers exposed two groups of mice to a compound that causes skin cancer and fed one group 500 mg of ground cardamom per kg (227 mg per pound) of weight per day. After 12 weeks, only 29% of the group who ate the cardamom developed cancer, compared to over 90% of the control group.
Research on human cancer cells and cardamom indicate similar results. One study showed that a certain compound in the spice stopped oral cancer cells in test tubes from multiplying. Even though the results are promising, these studies have only been conducted on mice or in test tubes. Human research is needed before stronger claims can be made.
Certain compounds in cardamom may fight cancer and stop the growth of tumors in mice and test tubes. Human research is needed to validate if these results apply to humans as well.
3. May Protect from Chronic Diseases Thanks to Anti-Inflammatory Effects
Cardamom is rich in compounds that may fight inflammation. Inflammation occurs when your body is exposed to foreign substances. Acute inflammation is necessary and beneficial, but long-term inflammation can lead to chronic diseases.
Antioxidants, found in abundance in cardamom, protect cells from damage and stop inflammation from occurring.
One study found that cardamom extract in doses of 50–100 mg per kg (23–46 mg per pound) of body weight was effective in inhibiting at least four different inflammatory compounds in rats.
Another study in rats showed that eating cardamom powder decreased liver inflammation induced by eating a diet high in carbs and fat.
Though there are not as many studies on the anti-inflammatory effects of cardamom in humans, research shows that supplements may increase antioxidant status by up to 90%.
The antioxidant compounds in cardamom may help protect cells from damage and slow down and prevent inflammation in your body.
4. May Help with Digestive Problems, Including Ulcers
Cardamom has been used for thousands of years to help with digestion.
It’s often mixed with other medicinal spices to relieve discomfort, nausea and vomiting.
The most researched property of cardamom, as it pertains to relieving stomach issues, is its possible ability to heal ulcers.
In one study, rats were fed extracts of cardamom, turmeric and sembung leaf in hot water before being exposed to high doses of aspirin to induce stomach ulcers. These rats developed fewer ulcers compared to rats that only received aspirin.
A similar study in rats found that cardamom extract alone could completely prevent or reduce the size of gastric ulcers by at least 50%. In fact, at doses of 12.5 mg per kg (5.7 mg per pound) of body weight, cardamom extract was more effective than a common anti-ulcer medication.
Test-tube research also suggests that cardamom may protect against Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria linked to the development of most stomach ulcer issues. More research is needed to know if the spice would have the same effect against ulcers in humans.
Cardamom may protect against digestive issues and has been shown to reduce the number and size of stomach ulcers in rats.
5. May Treat Bad Breath and Prevent Cavities
The use of cardamom to treat bad breath and improve oral health is an ancient remedy. In some cultures, it’s common to freshen your breath by eating entire cardamom pods after a meal.
Even the chewing gum manufacturer Wrigley uses the spice in one of its products.
The reason why cardamom can lead to minty fresh breath may have to do with its ability to fight common mouth bacteria. One study found that cardamom extracts were effective in fighting five bacteria that can cause dental cavities. In some test-tube cases, the extracts prevented the growth of the bacteria by up to 0.82 inches (2.08 cm) (20).
Additional research shows that cardamom extract can reduce the number of bacteria in saliva samples by 54% (21). However, all of these studies have been conducted in test tubes, making it unclear how the results may apply to humans.
Cardamom is often used to treat bad breath and is a component of some chewing gums. This is because cardamom might be able to kill common mouth bacteria and prevent cavities.
6. May Have Antibacterial Effects and Treat Infections
Cardamom also has antibacterial effects outside of the mouth and may treat infections. Research shows that cardamom extracts and essential oils have compounds that fight several common strains of bacteria.
One test-tube study examined the impact of these extracts on drug-resistant strains of Candida, a yeastthat can cause fungal infections. The extracts were able to inhibit the growth of some strains by 0.39–0.59 inches (0.99–1.49 cm) (26Trusted Source).
Additional test-tube research found that essential oils and extracts of cardamom were just as, and sometimes more effective than standard drugs against E. coli and Staphylococcus, bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
Test-tube studies have also shown that cardamom essential oils fight the bacteria Salmonella that leads to food poisoning and Campylobacter that contributes to stomach inflammation.
Existing studies on the antibacterial effects of cardamom have only looked at isolated strains of bacteria in labs. Therefore, the evidence is currently not strong enough to make claims that the spice would have the same effect in humans.
The essential oils and extracts of cardamom may be effective against a variety of bacterial strains that contribute to fungal infections, food poisoning and stomach issues. However, research has only been conducted in test tubes and not in humans.
7. May Improve Breathing and Oxygen Use
Compounds in cardamom may help increase airflow to your lungs and improve breathing.
When used in aromatherapy, cardamom can provide an invigorating odor that enhances your body’s ability to use oxygen during exercise.
One study asked a group of participants to inhale cardamom essential oil for one minute before walking on a treadmill for 15-minute intervals. This group had a significantly higher oxygen uptake compared to the control group.
Another way that cardamom may improve breathing and oxygen use is by relaxing your airway. This may be particularly helpful for treating asthma.
A study in rats and rabbits found that injections of cardamom extract could relax the throat air passage. If the extract has a similar effect in people with asthma, it may prevent their inflamed airways from restricting and improve their breathing (28).
Cardamom may improve breathing by stimulating better oxygen uptake and relaxing air passage to the lungs in humans and animals.
8. May Lower Blood Sugar Levels
When taken in powder form, cardamom may lower blood sugar. One study found that feeding rats a high-fat, high-carb (HFHC) diet caused their blood sugar levels to remain elevated longer than if they were fed a normal diet (15Trusted Source).
When rats on the HFHC diet were given cardamom powder, their blood sugar did not stay elevated for longer than the blood sugar of rats on a normal diet.
However, the powder may not have the same effect in humans with type 2 diabetes. In a study in over 200 adults with this condition, participants were divided into groups that took only black tea or black tea with three grams of either cinnamon, cardamom or ginger every day for eight weeks.
The results showed that cinnamon, but not cardamom or ginger, improved blood sugar control.
In order to better understand the effect of cardamom on blood sugar in humans, more studies are needed.
A study on rats suggests that cardamom may help decrease high blood sugar levels, but more high-quality human studies are needed.
9. Other Potential Health Benefits of Cardamom
In addition to the aforementioned health benefits, cardamom may be good for your health in other ways as well.
Studies in rats have found that the high antioxidant levels in the spice may prevent both liver enlargement, anxiety and even aid weight loss:
Liver protection: Cardamom extract may decrease elevated liver enzymes, triglyceride and cholesterol levels. They may also prevent liver enlargement and liver weight, which reduces the risk of fatty liver disease.
Anxiety: One rat study suggests that cardamom extract may prevent anxious behaviors. This may be because low blood levels of antioxidants have been linked to the development of anxiety and other mood disorders.
Weight loss: A study in 80 overweight and obese prediabetic women found a link between cardamom and slightly reduced waist circumference. However, rat studies on weight loss and the spice have not found significant results.
The number of studies on the link between cardamom and these potential benefits is limited and mostly done on animals.
Furthermore, the reasons why the spice may help improve liver health, anxiety and weight are unclear.
A limited number of studies suggests that cardamom supplements may decrease waist circumference and prevent anxious behaviors and fatty liver. The reasons behind these effects are unclear but may have to do with the spice’s high antioxidant content.
10. Safe for Most People and Widely Available
Cardamom is generally safe for most people. The most common way to use cardamom is in cooking or baking. It’s very versatile and often added to Indian curries and stews, as well as gingerbread cookies, bread and other baked goods.
The use of cardamom supplements, extracts and essential oils is likely to become more common in light of the promising results of research on its medicinal uses.
However, there is currently no recommended dose for the spice since most studies have been on animals. The use of supplements should be monitored by a health professional.
Furthermore, cardamom supplements may not be suitable for children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Most supplements recommend 500 mg of cardamom powder or extract once or twice a day.
The FDA does not regulate supplements, so be sure to choose brands that have been tested by a third party if you’re encouraged to try cardamom supplements by a healthcare provider.
If you’re interested in trying cardamom, remember that adding the spice to your foods may be the safest way.
Using cardamom in cooking is safe for most people. Cardamom supplements and extracts have not been thoroughly researched and should only be taken under the guidance of a healthcare provider.
The Bottom Line
Cardamom is an ancient remedy that may have many medicinal properties. It may lower blood pressure, improve breathing and aid weight loss.
What’s more, animal and test-tube studies show that cardamom may help fight tumors, improve anxiety, fight bacteria and protect your liver, though the evidence in these cases is less strong.
However, little or no human research exists for a number of the health claims associated with the spice. More studies are needed to show if or how the results of preliminary research apply to humans.
Nevertheless, adding cardamom to your cooking may be a safe and effective way to improve your health.
Cardamom extracts and supplements may also provide benefits but should be taken with caution and under the supervision of a doctor.
This story originally appeared at Healthline.com