The more we search deeper are the secrets of the human gut. Each day bestows us with surprises regarding the gut microbiota-the microbial communities that inhabit our gastrointestinal tract, especially the large intestine. The gastrointestinal tract is the splendid home to different parasites such as bacteria, fungi, archaea, etc. which occupy the gut as a baby grows up. The gut microbiome has been an attraction since a couple of decades but the last two decades has witnessed a drastic increase in the number of researches done and the microbiome is said to play greater roles beyond the classic diseases such as diabetes and obesity but also cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Microbes are potential sources of novel therapeutics and they have been used in recent times for developing disease-specific diagnostics.
Ancient Diets: Precursors of Prebiotics
Each of us require nutrients such as carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals for growth and development. The world is more concerned about health and inclined towards eating substances such as prebiotics which has been a trigger point for researchers.
Its not wrong to say that the gut microbiome co-evolved with the human evolution and surprisingly some of the nutrients required by the microflora are not needed for the health of the human body. Diet is a critical factor that decides upon the gut microbiome composition which in turn decides upon our health. While prebiotics might be relatively new there is no doubt that our ancient diets did contain precursors of prebiotics. Prebiotics are basically functional food components and one specific group, prebiotic oligosaccharides are become increasingly popular for their beneficial effects on gut health, higher mineral absorption, lower cholesterol levels, etc.
India is known for its diverse cuisines and is a land known for the consumption of home-made foods cooked from a variety of plants (specifically spices, garlic, etc.). Research shows that ancient Indians were consuming prebiotic-rich foods. A distinguished feature of the Indian cuisine that makes it way ahead of the Western cuisine is the concrete use of natural ingredients such as grains, fruits and vegetables that equip our body with prebiotics for a healthy gut functionality. Research studies do support the fact that polyphenol-rich sources such as tea, wine, cocoa and fruits influence the number of bacterial groups within the gut by reducing the number of pathogens. A classic example is that consuming foods such as fruits and veggies reduce the pathogenic Clostridia and enriches the presence of beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus in human beings.
Dietary Factors Affecting Gut Microbiome Composition
Any change in dietary pattern affects the gut microbiome. For instance, a change from animal-based to plant-based diet alters gut microbiome composition within 24h of consumption and reverts it back to the original composition within 48h of getting back to the same diet.
India has a rich mix of spices that add flavor and taste to our native dishes. Spices have a use beyond their seasoning effects playing a crucial role in the field of medicine. Spices play a strong role as an antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antimutagenic agent also reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Spices are most distinguished for their antioxidant property that’s way higher than what’s present in other foods. In a US sample of 1113 food products, 13 of the top 50 products were spices. Oregano, ginger, cinnamon and turmeric secured second, third, fourth and fifth spot respectively. Despite all this, there is not much information existing regarding the effect of culinary spice extracts on intestinal bacteria.
7 Spice Extracts & their Effect on the Gut
Seven culinary spice samples of black pepper (BLP), cayenne pepper (CAP), cinnamon (CIN), ginger (GIN), Mediterranean oregano (ORE), rosemary (ROS) and turmeric (TUR) were extracted by refluxing 7 g of spice powder in 70 ml of water for half an hour. Aqueous extracts are better advantageous than organic extracts and 88 strains of bacteria were included in the study. Every spice is distinguished by the proportion of various chemicals such as phenolic compounds, alkaloids and terpenoids that’s characteristic of the spice. Almost all the spices contained a smaller quantity of phenolic compounds such as ferulic acid, vanillin and rosmarinic acid. Results showed that:
Mixed Spices at Culinary Doses & their Effect on Adults
66 men and women aged 18-65 years were screened for the study and finally 31 of them were enrolled into the study having met the study criteria. This was a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind pilot study which was divided into two phases: an initial run-in period of 1 week and an intervention period of 2 weeks. All the 31 participants were assigned to one of the two- 5 g capsules of spice mixture containing 1 g (20%) cinnamon, 1.5 g (30%) oregano, 1.5 g (30%) ginger, 0.85 g (17%) black pepper and 0.15 g (3%) cayenne pepper OR 5 g capsules containing maltodextrin daily for 2 weeks after the run-in period. All the participants were instructed on their diet routines and were also allocated a dietitian to monitor it. During both the phases the participants were given a beige diet (low fiber < 10 g and low polyphenols <3 servings of polyphenol rich fruit/vegetables per day). The beige diet typically asked its volunteers to eat foods beige in color, ones that comprise of simple carbs such as white breads/bagels, crackers, granola bars, rice, pasta, yogurt, cereal, dairy, poultry and bananas while avoiding foods rich in polyphenols and fiber. Fruits and veggies were limited to three servings daily and a tracker helped participants follow-up on the produce consumption through the week. After the stipulated 2-week period participants were measured of their height, body weight, body mass index (BMI) and body composition. Fasting blood, stool samples and urine samples were collected from each of the participants.
Placebo group included 4 men and 11 women who had BMI around 26.9±4.5, body fat of 30.0 ±7.9% and aged 36.7±13.3 years. Spice intervention group included 4 men and 10 women who had BMI of 28.2±7.0, body fat of 32.0±12.5% and were aged 34.4±12.5 years. In either of the groups, males had a lower body fat compared to females. At the end of the 2-week intervention period participants in both groups did not witness any change in body weight and body fat percentage. There was even reports of 2 participants complaining of bloating, nausea and stomach discomfort at the beginning of the supplementation. Results showed that:
This study is a clear example that a mixture of spices as culinary doses has an effect on the gut microbiota. So, our ancestors are proven right once again with the positive effects of spices on human health. Include these spices generously in your diet and reap benefits.
Prebiotic Potential and Chemical Composition of Seven Culinary Spice Extracts: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1750-3841.13792
Mixed Spices at Culinary Doses Have Prebiotic Effects in Healthy Adults: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/11/6/1425/htm
Human Gut Microbiome: https://gut.bmj.com/content/67/9/1716
Prebiotics in Ancient Indian Diets: http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/files/food_4.pdf
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