Traded along spice routes separating ancient cultures by vast distances, spices like cumin were once worth their weight in gold. Has modern science now revealed why, beyond their remarkable aesthetic value, they were so highly prized?
Many spices are perfectly happy living a charmed life as seasonings, peppering things generously with flavour, and without ever arousing the suspicion that they may be capable of profound acts of healing as well.Meet cumin, a member of the parsely familyfrom the central Mediterranean region (southern Italy, Algeria and Tunisia).
Cumin’s traditional use stretches back into prehistory, as evidenced by its presence in Egyptian tombs. The Greeks actually used it much like we use pepper today, keeping cumin on the dining table in its own container, which is still practised by Moroccans to this day.
It has also been used for millennia in India as a traditional ingredient of curry.
An accumulating body of research now indicates that these ancient culinary uses, once considered primarily aesthetic in nature, may have served more fundamental medicinal roles in these cultures. Modern scientific investigation has revealed that cumin has a broad range of potential healing properties that, when properly applied, could profoundly alleviate human suffering by providing natural alternatives to often highly toxic pharmaceutical interventions.
For instance, research published in the journal Food Chemistry and Toxicology demonstrated that cumin has blood sugar lowering properties comparable to the drug glibenclamide (known in the US as glyburide), with the additional benefit (not conferred by pharmaceutical intervention) that it also lowered oxidative stress and inhibited the advanced glycated end products (AGE), which are implicated in the pathogenesis of diabetic microvascular complications.
Remarkably, this is only the tip of cumin’s medicinal potential. There are at least 10 other potential medicinal properties of cumin now confirmed in the experimental literature:
- Bacterial Infections
Cumin oil has been shown to be effective at killing Klebsiellapenumoniae bacteria, including decreasing biofilm formation (a defense mechanism of bacteria against antibiotics), as well as enhancing the antimicrobial activity of conventional antibiotic drugs like ciprofloxacin. Even more impressive perhaps, cumin oil has been shown to have anti-MRSA properties.
- Candida (Yeast) InfectionUnlike conventional antibiotics which contribute to opportunistic fungal overgrowth, cumin has been shown to have considerable inhibitory activity against 3 different Candida albicans strains of yeast. It has also been studied to be effective against a wide range of other fungi and yeasts, including Aspergilli and dermatophytes (fungi that cause skin diseases).
- CataractsCumin has been shown to delay the formation of diabetes-associated cataracts primarily through its anti-glycating properties, i.e. it prevents elevated blood sugar from getting “sticky” (i.e. caramelisation) and subsequently damaging tissues in the body.
- CancersCumin has been shown in pre-clinical research to have inhibitory activity against cervical cancer and colon cancer.
- Dental PlaqueCumin oil has been shown effective as an anti-gingival agent alternative to the chemical chlorhexidine commonly used in mouthwashes.
- DiabetesAs mentioned in our opening, cumin has significant anti-diabetic properties. Another 2002 study found that the treatment of diabetic rats with cumin was more effective than the drug glibenclamide, resulting in reductions in inflammation, fatty changes, tissue cholesterol, triglycerides, free fatty acids, blood glucose and glycated haemoglobin – all positive indicators.
- Food-Borne PathogensCumin oil has been found to work synergistically with other food preservation agents to inhibit the growth of food-borne pathogens.
- Immune FunctionCumin has been found to effectively stimulate immune function in a way that may benefit immune-compromised individuals.
- Fertility (Reversible Contraceptive)Cumin has been found to have potent contraceptive activities in male rats without apparent toxicity.
- Memory DisordersCumin has been found to reduce stress-induced oxidative changes in the brain, as well as improving cognition, as determined by acquisition, retention and recovery in rats, in a dose-dependent manner.
- Morphine Dependence/ToleranceCumin reduces morphine tolerance and dependence.
- OsteoporosisCumin extract has been shown to be effective at reversing bone loss associated with the loss of ovarian function at least as well as oestradiol.
- Thrombosis (Clot)Cumin seed has been demonstrated to inhibit platelet aggregation, indicating it may prevent pathological blood clotting. [Note: of course this means that it could interact adversely with blood thinners].
The evidence-based approach of modern medical science to understanding cumin’s medicinal value is relatively new.
It is only in the past two decades – but especially in the past ten years – that scientific research on spices and culinary herbs has virtually exploded.
However, while enlightening, we must remember that the approach is limited in a number of ways. For one, it relies on animal research, which is both inherently cruel (vivisection) and conveys only approximate data, as these substances often have very different effects in animals than humans.
Also, spices like cumin should not be considered in isolation, as traditional recipes passed down from generation-to-generation contained a vast storehouse of medically relevant information pertaining to the synergies inherent in combinations of ingredients, modes of preparation, seasonal harvesting, etc.
In other words, cumin does not lend itself well to the pharmacological, drug-based model of medicine, which presumes there are mono-chemical ‘magic bullets’ within complex herbs or spices that must be identified and isolated into megadoses, and which are primarily responsible for their beneficial effects.
Nonetheless, it is welcoming that increasingly science confirms traditional herbalism and culinary practice.
Perhaps, as scientific evidence continues to pour in, we will be more willing to give ourselves permission to appreciate once again the wondrous superfluity of nature, its ceaseless benevolence, and the fact that issuing directly from her fecund soil, are powerful healing gifts, that we can enjoy sensually, viscerally and now intellectually with greater abandon.
*For full article and references, please visit the below website. We also strongly suggest you conduct your own further research if you are interested in finding out more about this topic.