While you may have enjoyed many dishes flavored with the well-known spice called cumin—Cuminum cyminum. You may not have realized that this common ingredient that spans many cultures and many culinary favorites—from hearty Italian chili to warming Indian curry—has a wide array of health benefits.
What Is Cumin?
Cumin is an age-old seed and spice, referred to both in the Bible and in the ancient language of Sanskrit. Originating in India but eventually spanning many cultures far and wide, cumin has been used for its tasty and medicinal properties for centuries. For example, in Europe during the Middle Ages, cumin became known as a symbol of love. People would often carry cumin in their pockets to give at wedding ceremonies.
Traditionally, cumin is used in a variety of ways and is most known for its potent seed. Most often, cumin seed is ground and sprinkled into food as a seasoning and aromatic spice, or for a more intense flavor, roasted whole before being used. Cumin is also known for its potent essential oil, which delivers an even stronger dose of the many health benefits of cumin.
Today, cumin has made its mark in the world of health and wellness with a wide array of benefits. Below, you will find some of the most revered health benefits of cumin.
1. Weight Loss
There are many weight loss strategies. Many focus on cutting calories or restricting, while others target clean eating, macronutrient ratios, blood sugar, or consistent exercise.
There are many ways to lose weight. Some of these methods are sustainable and others, not so much. Most weight loss regimens require high levels of willpower to keep up—and often result in a lower success rate. For most people, getting healthy to lose weight, rather than losing weight to get healthy, may be easier than restriction. This includes adding healthy ingredients that support sustainable weight loss.
Cumin may be just the ingredient to consider using to support a sustainable approach to weight loss. One study observed a group of 88 overweight/obese women, randomly assigned into two groups. For three months, one group was given a mixture of yogurt with 3 grams per day of ground cumin (a little less than a teaspoon), and the other group was simply given plain yogurt (without the cumin). The study concluded with many positive results, including weight loss, body mass index (BMI) reduction, waist circumference reduction, and a decreased percentage of body fat mass in the group that was given the ground cumin.
2. Digestive Health
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder, affecting 11 percent of individuals worldwide. Some of the most prevalent symptoms of IBS include bloating, abdominal pain, varying bowel habits, and, for many, a significant challenge with one’s quality of life.
While the many potential causes of IBS (including gender, stress, and small intestine bacterial overgrowth) are somewhat of a mystery, there has been some progress with treating IBS (and many other digestive issues) with cumin.
- One study enrolled 57 patients with IBS. Each day, the participants were administered 20 drops of cumin essential oil and monitored for symptoms such as pain, bloating, nausea, and painful bowel movements. The results showed a significant decrease in all of the symptoms listed above with a regular use of cumin essential oil at the two- and four-week study measurements.
- A review of research of the spice found that cumin is an efficacious remedy for other digestive issues, including indigestion and flatulence.
While cumin enhances the flavor of many favorite dishes and meals, it also may enhance your body’s digestion ability and overall digestion process.
3. Diabetes/Blood Sugar
Blood sugar management is becoming more and more popular in the health and wellness industry as blood sugar imbalance—spikes and crashes in your blood sugar—has been linked to many common health issues such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cognitive decline.
Finding different ways of ensuring your blood sugar is stable is imperative to feeling your best. The way that you balance your macronutrients within each meal (protein, fat, and carbohydrates), the quality of your food, and the glycemic index of your meals—the speed at which your food turns to sugar in your blood—are all important considerations, along with some supportive superfoods to lend a hand.
Cumin is a superfood spice that supports healthy blood sugar, and both treats and can help to prevent type 2 diabetes. One study looked at a group of 95 diabetic participants, divided into three groups. The first group was administered cumin essential oil in capsule form, the second group was administered vitamin E, and the third group was administered a placebo each day. By the end of three months, the participants who took cumin essential oil daily showed a decrease in blood glucose levels (blood sugar levels), as well as a reduction in diabetic complications.
These results show that cumin is a potent ingredient to include in your diet if you are looking for ingredients to support the balance and stability of your blood sugar, as well as manage diabetic symptoms and complications.
Cumin seeds are a great way to stay healthy and strong during the common cold and flu season. Next time you reach for a box of tissues and a hearty dose of vitamin C, consider including a nourishing recipe infused with some cumin to your cold and flu protocol.
Cumin seeds have been tested against some common strains of bacteria and viruses.
- One study looked at the common bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, analyzing how these particular bacteria behaved in a concentrated broth of ground cumin. The results showed an “undeniable antibacterial effect.”
- Another study looked closely at the antiviral effect of cumin with three common viruses: HAV, Cox B4, and HSV-1. The study concluded that the extract from cumin, known as EHP ([1-(2-Ethyl, 6-Heptyl) Phenol]), demonstrated antiviral activity.
This research shows there is scientific support for using cumin as an antibacterial and antiviral manager.
5. Lowers Risk of Iron-Deficiency Anemia
While you have probably heard the term anemia, you may not have delved into the details of this very common deficiency. Iron-deficiency anemia occurs if you do not have enough iron in your body (primarily in your blood). Furthermore, iron-deficiency anemia can eventually lead to fatigue, weakness, and/or shortness of breath. Many people with iron-deficient anemia show clear signs and symptoms of anemia early on, while many others may not show any symptoms at all.
There are many known causes of anemia, while other causes are still being uncovered. The most common causes of anemia include:
- A diet low in iron
- Issues absorbing iron
- Blood loss
- Low hemoglobin count in the blood
While there are many considerations in treating iron-deficiency anemia, one sure approach to include is adding iron-rich foods into your diet.
Cumin is a naturally iron-rich ingredient that will increase the iron potency of your diet. One teaspoon of ground cumin contains 1.4 milligrams of iron. Hence, cumin is a great supplementary source of iron, even when used in small amounts as a seasoning.
High blood cholesterol is known as a major risk factor for heart disease and even heart attack. Consequently, managing your cholesterol levels (lower LDL [low-density lipoprotein] levels and higher HDL [high-density lipoprotein] levels) is an important aspect of your health to tend to. Adding cumin into your diet regularly might help.
- One study showed that with a regular dose of cumin powder (three grams per day—about 2/3 of a teaspoon), participants experienced a reduction in LDL cholesterol and an increase in HDL cholesterol.
- Another study specifically focused on tracking participant LDL levels before and after administering cumin extract to the participants. After 45 days of consistent doses of cumin (three to five drops of cumin extract, three times per day), the participants showed a significant decrease in LDL levels.
Cumin is a helpful and supportive ingredient for managing your cholesterol levels.
7. Respiratory Support
Asthma, croup, chronic coughing, and shortness of breath are all lung issues that are becoming rampant in the world today. While there are many factors and causes to consider with respiratory issues—including airborne toxicity, stress, inflammation, allergens, and smoking—there are also some notable and natural ways of treating respiratory distress.
Try including cumin as an effective natural remedy to support healthy respiration. Here are a few important reasons why cumin works (within a few different systems) as a respiratory support.
- Cumin seeds have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Respiratory challenges are most often wrought with inflammation within the lung system—including the lungs, the trachea, and the bronchi.
- Cumin seeds are also, as previously mentioned, antibacterial and antiviral, which ensures that if you have a cough (bacterial or viral), you will be in good hands with cumin.
- One animal study showed a relaxant effect (bronchodilatory) on the trachea after the administration of cumin extract. This study suggests that cumin extract creates an antihistamine effect in the lungs which helps to relax the trachea.
These facts also suggest that using cumin extract as natural remedy may be useful in treating and managing respiratory type symptoms.
8. Cancer Prevention
Many spices, such as cumin, have been revered throughout the ages as valued commodities. Many of these treasured spices offer unique and valuable remedies for some of today’s most daunting health issues. From the high levels of antioxidants to the ability to create a significant impact on various cellular systems, cumin packs a serious health punch!
Cancer is one of the most daunting threats in the world today and cumin is a spice that shows promise in protecting against various forms of cancer.
- Research shows that cumin exhibits chemoprotective qualities that have been shown to “suppress tumor cell proliferation, including colorectal carcinoma, breast adenocarcinoma, osteosarcoma, ovarian carcinoma, myeloblastic leukemia, and pancreatic carcinoma.”
- One study looked at the active ingredients in cumin—the seeds containing essential oils, proteins, alkaloids, and saponins rich in the antioxidant thymoquine—concluding that it has strong anti-carcinogenic and anti-mutagenic properties.
When it comes to cancer prevention or treatment and recovery, cumin is an important spice to include regularly.
Cumin may be just the super spice you are looking for to not only enhance the flavor of your favorite dish, but also to boost your health and vitality within a variety of mechanisms in your body. From inflammation to body composition and diabetes prevention to respiratory support, cumin is a versatile, nutrient dense and important ingredient to know about.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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