Cardamom is not just a versatile spice that goes well with foods as varied as tea and stew, savory meat and fish, and sweets and cakes, but it also has myriad health benefits to offer. Found in two types, a small green variety (Elettaria cardamomum) and a large black variety (Amomum subulatum), cardamom has been long recommended by ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine for a number of ailments ranging from the common cold to erectile dysfunction. Ayurveda considers cardamom a tridoshic remedy, which means it can balance the three doshas, namely kapha, pitta, and vata. As per ayurvedic philosophy, all diseases arise from imbalances in these three doshas. From the nutritional viewpoint, cardamom has a good amount of dietary fiber, with just 2 grams of the ground spice meeting 2% of our daily fiber requirement. That apart, it can provide some amount of potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, and vitamin C. However, we get these nutrients only in minute quantities since we usually do not have more than 2 tablespoons of cardamom powder in a day. In addition to this, it has several antioxidants in the form of terpenes and flavonoids that give it a moderate ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) value of 2764 – the ORAC value indicates how effective a substance is in fighting free radicals. Cardamom’s antioxidant power is enhanced when it is combined with other antioxidative herbs like turmeric and cloves. Here’s a look at the benefits of cardamom.
Green cardamom has been traditionally used to relieve cold and cough. Research finds that this is largely due to the presence of a compound called 1,8-cineole, which works as an expectorant and helps clear out mucus. Also known as eucalyptol, 1,8-cineole is what makes eucalyptus oil a standard remedy for a cough and cold and respiratory diseases. Commercial cough lozenges also contain this aromatic compound.
Folk medicine has also used cardamom to ease asthma attacks and bronchitis, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. Asthma attacks occur when the airways become narrow due to inflammation and then get further clogged up with excess mucus, leading to a shortage of oxygen. In a study on rats and rabbits, it was found that cardamom helps in several ways. While 1,8-cineole clears the mucus, the flavonoids in cardamom dilate the bronchi (the tubes that carry air to the lungs) and thus ease the process of respiration. Researchers feel that this bronchodilatory effect of cardamom might prove helpful in the mainstream treatment of asthma as well. If you suffer from asthma, keep adding cardamom to your dishes. You may also want to drink cardamom tea during winter and in seasons when you are likely to get an attack. An ayurvedic formula called eladi churna, which contains cardamom, among other herbs, is often taken for relief from asthma.
The beneficial effect of black cardamom in digestion is well documented in Unani and ayurveda. It improves digestion and decreases instances of constipation, indigestion, belching, bloating, heartburn, and gastric inflammation. In fact, studies show that by consuming large cardamom, you could inhibit gastric lesions induced by medications like aspirin as well. By eliminating bad bacteria, the fiber-rich pods of black cardamom can also help restore the bacterial balance in your gut and aid in digestion. Extract from the fruit and the rind has been found to have an antibacterial effect against Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause severe gastric infections. Since it has antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties, cardamom can also reduce the severity of stomach cramps.
The aroma of cardamom can help reduce nausea and vomiting. A simple remedy that ayurveda recommends, irrespective of your dosha type, is having an infusion of 1/2 teaspoon each of green cardamom and fennel powder along with a little honey in a cup of lukewarm water. However, if your nausea is due to a vata imbalance, where the vomiting is often triggered by hypersensitivity of the mind, you may also mix 1/2 teaspoon each of cardamom and fennel powder in honey or warm milk. This will have a relaxing effect.
Cardamom is known to not just help with digestion but also stimulate the appetite by enhancing the production of saliva and gastric juices. Green cardamom, along with fennel and ginger, has been used by ayurvedic practitioners to stimulate appetite in anorexic patients. It also helps manage the symptoms of anorexia such as nausea or vomiting. Having teas prepared from these herbs after a meal can help in digestion as well as exert a calming effect on the patient.
Cardamom’s antioxidative properties also help protect the liver. The liver needs a constant supply of antioxidants to carry on the detoxification process. A study on rats with liver damage caused by a medicine found that an aqueous extract of cardamom reduced all markers of liver damage significantly, including the levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. It also increased the good cholesterol levels significantly. Another study found that cardamom could reverse the kidney damage caused by chewing tobacco. Though the study was carried out on rats, researchers suggested that green cardamom could play a protective role against renal failure due to tobacco use in humans as well.
Ayurveda holds that certain illnesses or ailments of the body are caused by the buildup of excess “ama” or toxin in the body. It is described as similar to a sticky substance that can block normal circulation and lower energy levels. Ayurveda suggests eating ama-reducing foods to purge the toxins, and cardamom is one of those foods. To put it in layman terms, cardamom helps detox the body.
Cardamom can help with obesity by improving your digestion and metabolism. It can also lower your total cholesterol level without significantly affecting your HDL (good cholesterol) levels. High total cholesterol is often an indicator of inflammation in the body, and inflammation increases the risk of obesity. Obese people also often have visceral fat deposition around their abdominal organs caused, more often than not, by a diet rich in refined carbs and trans fats.
In an animal study, rats that were fed a high-carb, high-fat diet turned obese. They were then given cardamom powder as a supplement. As a result, there was a reduction in total cholesterol level and fat deposition. By increasing the natural antioxidant levels in the body, cardamom could also lower the oxidation triggered by the high-carb, high-fat diet. Black cardamom is more potent in improving metabolism and reducing obesity than the green variety.
In ayurveda, cardamom is also used as a diuretic, which helps lower blood pressure and prevents heart failure. Modern science finds that cardamom can indeed help your heart and not just with its diuretic effect. In a study, rats fed on black cardamom suffered less heart damage after a heart attack. This was found to be due to the antioxidants in cardamom.
The strength of your immunity depends on natural antioxidants in your body. Antioxidants fight free radicals generated by external toxins as well as by internal processes and protect your cells from oxidative damage. Cardamom antioxidants can add to your immune power. Have it alongside other anti-inflammatory antioxidants like berries, leafy greens, nuts, and herbs. Cardamom has antiseptic properties, which prevent infections. Both green and black cardamom have also been found to slow down the growth of fungus and their essential oil was found to inhibit a number of disease-causing bacteria. Having cardamom regularly in your meals or as tea can both prevent and fight infections.
Cardamom has calming and sedative properties as well. An animal study found that green cardamom could induce sleep as effectively as diazepam, an anti-anxiety medicine. The researchers also suggested that cardamom has potential to treat epilepsy. Some experts also claim that drinking a glass of warm milk mixed with cardamom oil can help reduce insomnia and ensure a good night’s sleep.
Studies state that cardamom has antispasmodic properties and might hence be used to fight hiccups as well as stomach and intestinal cramps. Other studies state that incorporating cardamom into the diets of epileptic patients might prevent involuntary muscle spasms. However, further research is required to fully understand this benefit.
Thanks to its antioxidants, green cardamom might have the potential to protect your skin from non-melanoma cancer. In an animal study, mice suffering from a form of tumor similar to non-melanoma cancer in human beings were fed cardamom. Cardamom helped reduce both the size and the number of tumors on the mice’s skin by elevating the levels of natural antioxidants in the body that help in detoxification and decreasing the levels of inflammation-causing chemicals. While cardamom has still not been used in human studies, researchers suggest that it has potential in preventing tumor formation and skin cancer.
Preliminary research indicates that cardamom can also help prevent colon cancer. In one study, it reduced the number of pre-tumor lesions in the colon of mice injected with a carcinogen and prevented the lesions from becoming cancerous. Cardamom suppressed cell proliferation, induced cell death, and reduced the levels of chemicals responsible for inflammation and pain. Cardamom can also raise the levels of GST, an antioxidant required for detoxification.
Cardamom seeds contains about 62% oleic acid, a fatty acid that gives olive oil its beauty benefits. The oil extracted from the seeds can moisturize your skin and scalp well, reducing dryness and wrinkling as well as dandruff. Moreover, owing to its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, cardamom can effectively treat pimples, acne, and skin warts.
While cardamom is often used as a mouth freshener, its role in dental hygiene is not as well known. Cardamom possesses antimicrobial agents that eliminate pathogenic oral bacteria and prevent the formation and growth of cavities. It can also kill the odor-causing bacteria in the mouth and improve bad breath. Chew a pod or a few seeds after a meal to get the benefits.
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