Is Star Anise Good for You? 6 Benefits of This Sweet Spice By Rachael Link, MS, RD From its unmistakable aroma to its unique star-shaped appearance, star anise is truly a one-of-a-kind spice. Plus, not only is it super versatile and chock-full of flavor, but […]
Month: January 2018
Is Hydroponics the Most Sustainable Type of Farming? By Emily Monaco Hydroponics seem a bit like farming technology from the future. These soilless growing systems use liquid nutrient solutions to feed plants grown on stacked towers in enclosed greenhouses, where, often, everything impacting plant growth […]
Dysthymia: Coping with Chronic Depression (+ 7 Mood Boosters)
by Katherine Brind’Amour, PhD
Dysthymia — also known as persistent depressive disorder, chronic depression, or dysthymic disorder — is a long-lasting form of clinical depression. It often lasts for several years at a time, with symptoms coming and going, changing from day to day and week to week. (1)
Many people with dysthymia or “dysthymic mood” can benefit from both talk therapy and medical treatment. With changes to lifestyle and a strong understanding of what helps you personally cope with dysthymia, you can also use natural approaches to boost your mood and manage your symptoms.
What Is Dysthymia?
Dysthymia — also known as dysthymic disorder or persistent depressive disorder — is a type of depression that is continuous and long lasting (chronic). It used to be considered a milder diagnosis than major depression, but it is now known to have serious impacts on people’s lives and their ability to function normally. (2) The condition affects 3 to 6 percent of people in the U.S. (3)
Dysthymia often starts in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood and can last for years at a time. It puts people at risk for other personality disorders and substance abuse and can cause problems with relationships, school or work, and day-to-day activities. (4)
In adults, dysthymia lasts for two or more years at a time; in children, it lasts at least one year. People with dysthymia have fluctuations in how they feel. They may not always be so depressed they can’t function, but they do often have symptoms of depression that can make it hard for them to enjoy activities or feel good about themselves or their lives. At any given time, the symptoms may be mild, moderate or severe. People with dysthymia may have breaks in the depressed mood, but these breaks don’t last longer than two months at a time. (5)
Dysthymia versus depression of other types
- Unlike seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which comes and goes with the seasons and also has variations in intensity, dysthymia does not depend on light exposure and time of year.
- Major depressive episodes can happen in people with dysthymia. However, these episodes are shorter than dysthymia, often severe, and typically require separate or additional treatment. When someone with dysthymia has an episode of major depression, it is called “double depression.” (7)
- Post-partum depression is a type of depression that sometimes occurs after a woman gives birth. It may share symptoms with dysthymia but usually does not last as long. However, dysthymia can begin around the time of childbirth (called peripartum onset dysthymia). (8)
- Dysthymia can have different features in different people, including symptoms of anxiety, melancholy, psychosis and more.
Signs & Symptoms
- Depressed mood (feeling down and uninterested in regular activities) for most of the day on most days
- lasting two years in adults and one year in children and adolescents
- irritability may be more prominent than depressed mood for children and adolescents
In addition, you must have two or more of these symptoms: (10)
- Poor appetite or overeating
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Feeling very tired or physically exhausted
- Low self-esteem
- Not being able to concentrate
- Trouble making decisions
- Feeling hopeless
As with other types of depression, you may also have excessive anger or irritability, feelings of guilt or anxiety, a desire to avoid social activities, and a decrease in productivity. (11)
Dysthymia Causes & Risk Factors
There is no single cause known for dysthymia. It appears to be more common in families that have others affected by depression. (12) This suggests there is some genetic component. However, there is no known gene or biological abnormality that causes dysthymia.
Some people have levels of interleukin-1 and serotonin that are not normal. (13) Interleukin-1 has a role in inflammation and immune function. Serotonin is involved in communication between cells in the nervous system that is connected to mood and social functioning.
- Family members with any type of depressive disorder
- Stress in childhood or adulthood
- Isolation and lack of support
- Long-term medical problems
- Poor coping strategies
- Loss of a loved one or other traumatic event
- Poor self-esteem, negativity
- Diagnosis with another personality disorder, such as antisocial behavior, dependency or schizophrenia
As with most mental health disorders, treatment for dysthymia varies from person to person. The type of treatment that works for you will depend on how severe your symptoms are, how willing you are to work on your emotional symptoms, and whether you are interested in dealing with situations in your life that impact your health. Medical treatment will also depend on whether you have other health problems, what medication(s) you have tried in the past, and how your body reacts to each drug. (17)
As for other types of depression, dysthymia treatment usually combines talk therapy (psychotherapy) and medication. The types of medication used to treat dysthymia usually include the following antidepressants: (18, 19)
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
- Noradrenergic drugs, such as mirtazapine, nefazodone, venlafaxine, duloxetine, and bupropion
Dysthymia: 7 Natural Ways to Improve Your Mood
Dysthymia is a serious mental health condition that should not be treated with alternative medicine alone. (20) However, there are many natural ways to relieve depression that may boost your mood, reduce your stress and help you cope with your symptoms.
Natural ways to improve your mood and manage dysthymia symptoms include:
- Proactively manage your stress
- Get therapy
- Stay socially engaged
- Eat to support your mental health
- Consider aromatherapy
- Ask about supplements and herbs
There is substantial evidence that exercise improves mood. (21) This is probably because exercise boosts the amount of tryptophan and serotonin in your brain. These natural compounds both support improved mood. According to a study looking at a large body of research on exercise and depression: (22)
- Structured exercise can relieve symptoms of clinical depression.
- Exercise may result in a happier mood.
- Improvements can last as long as three to 12 months after a training program ends.
- Benefits may be similar between aerobic exercise (running, walking, swimming) and resistance or strength training (weight lifting, stretching).
- Exercise may be just as beneficial as talk therapy.
- For some people, exercise may work just as well as medication to reduce symptoms of depression in the short term, and it may have longer lasting effects.
Before you start an exercise program, talk with a health care professional. Here are some tips for using exercise to treat depression symptoms: (23)
- Start slowly and pick something you like.
- Walking or jogging as little as 20 minutes per day, three days per week may be enough to significantly relieve symptoms and boost mood.
- Exercise doesn’t have to be super-intense or lengthy for you to get a benefit.
- Have a back-up plan for days with bad weather or when it is not safe or comfortable to exercise outside.
- Choose a place and time to actually schedule exercise into your day. Make sure it is convenient for you.
- Track your progress using an exercise log, pedometer, or a series of weekly or monthly goals.
Proactively manage your stress
Proactively managing your stress can help stop problems before they start. By relieving sources of stress, you have less to upset you. According to the Mayo Clinic, you can improve your ability to relax and manage stress by meditating or practicing progressive muscle relaxation, yoga or tai chi. (24)
You can work to figure out your own triggers for stress and depressive symptoms and avoid them if possible. Common triggers include: (25)
- An unrealistic workload or a nonstop onslaught of emails and deadlines
- Financial burdens
- Major life changes, such as moving
- Internal fears, attitudes and beliefs
- Lack of control over situations
Once you know what triggers stress for you, you can develop strategies to cope with it. By improving your problem-solving skills and working on positive behaviors, you may be able to reduce your stress.
- Get a hobby that relaxes you.
- Say “no” to responsibilities that you don’t want or need, such as extra work projects or other nonessential obligations.
- Take breaks from your routine, such as a vacation.
- Spend time with supportive friends and family.
- Take part in religious services.
- Do breathing exercises to slow your heart rate.
- Avoid situations that trigger stress, depression or anxiety.
- Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Cognitive behavioral analysis system of psychotherapy (CBASP)
- Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT)
- Manualized group therapy
- Problem-solving therapy
- Couples, family or group therapy
- Combination therapies
The type of therapy you may want or need will depend on your personality, goals and symptoms. (29) Therapy may help you identify negative thought or behavior patterns and how to change them. It may also help you cope with triggers of depression, such as stress, loss, isolation, rejection and other upsetting experiences. In general, therapy can help you develop skills and strategies for overcoming emotional and psychosocial barriers to good mental health now and in the future.
Stay socially engaged
Although you may benefit from avoiding stressful public or social circumstances, such as public speaking or over-commitment to unnecessary activities, it is important to stay involved in activities with friends, family and the community. Interacting with others and staying connected to people helps prevent symptoms of depression. (30)
You can get or stay involved in multiple ways:
- Volunteer with a charity, religious organization, or community group that is important to you. (31)
- Take part in social gatherings with friends and neighbors. (32)
- Focus on outings that you find most enjoyable and that make you feel less lonely. (33)
- Take time to work on your most important relationships, for example with your family, spouse, and closest friends. (34, 35)
- Scale back on the number of social media platforms you use to emphasize quality over quantity. (36)
Eat to support your mental health
Although diet alone cannot cure dysthymia or depression, it can help reduce inflammation, boost mood, and keep your body healthy so that you can cope better with stress. A healthy diet can also make it more likely that you achieve remission from depressive symptoms. The SMILES trial in Australia found that a modified version of the Mediterranean diet plan helped significantly more people achieve remission from depression than people who received social support instead. (37) If you wish, you can try the modified Mediterranean diet as well using the following number of daily servings for each of these food groups: (38)
- 5–8 servings of whole grains
- 6 servings of vegetables
- 3 servings of fruit
- 2–3 servings of low-fat, unsweetened dairy
- 1 serving of raw, unsalted nuts
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil per day
The plan is called the ModiMed Diet and also includes 3–4 servings of legumes, 2 servings of fish, 3–4 servings of lean red meat, 2–3 of poultry, and up to 6 eggs per week. The diet also recommends avoidance (or capping at no more than three per week) of refined cereals, fast food, sweetened food, processed meats, alcohol (except red wine with food), and sugary drinks. Calories and total quantity of food are not limited on this diet, since weight loss is not the goal.
Separate research also supports the use of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids as part of a healthy diet to reduce symptoms of depression. (39)
There is a long history of using essential oils for depression treatment. Although many oils have been used to relieve symptoms, there is only limited scientific research to date on the therapy. Modern research may support the use of aromatherapy and massage aromatherapy for relieving symptoms of depression.
- Although some of the included studies were low quality, a review of aromatherapy-related depression studies found that essential oil inhalation or aromatherapy massage may be beneficial for some people with depression. (40) In some cases, people experienced less emotional stress and fewer depressive symptoms after inhaling essential oils such as lavender and rose otto. Similarly, massage plus aromatherapy relieved depressive symptoms — in some cases more than massage alone.
- In this study, the most common oils used alone or in combination included lavender and bergamot. Other oils included petitgrain, Yuzu, cedarwood, and rose otto.
- For inhaled aromatherapy, treatments varied from daily to twice per week over a period of a few days to eight weeks. For massage, treatments varied from weekly to once every two weeks for up to eight sessions. The effects appeared to increase when there were more, lengthier sessions over a longer period of time.
- In a study of people with depression and arthritis, inhaling a blend of lavender, marjoram, eucalyptus, rosemary and peppermint essential oils (in a carrier oil) significantly reduced pain and depression. (41)
- In a study of mice with depression-like behavior and stress, inhaling essential oil from Asarum heterotropoides (wild ginger) helped reduce symptoms and improved the levels of mood regulators in the brain. (42) According to the authors of the study, lemon oil and lavender oil inhalation have been found to have similar anti-anxiety and anti-depression effects on animals in other studies.
- Inhalation of cinnamon essential oil was found to decrease depression-like behaviors in another study on mice. (43)
In addition to the above studies, many recommendations exist for different essential oils to improve symptoms of depression. The studies mentioned above and other sources discussing the use of essential oils for depression suggest that these oils may be useful as aromatherapy: (44, 45)
- Roman chamomile
- Ylang ylang
- Sweet orange
- Wild ginger
You can inhale the oil directly from the bottle, put a few drops on a cotton ball and inhale, add it to a diffuser, put a few drops in a bath, or dilute it in a massage oil and rub it into your skin. However, if you are normally very sensitive to strong scents or if you have allergies to common carrier oils (such as coconut or almond oil), you should proceed with caution or consider a different therapy.
Ask about supplements and herbs
The Mayo Clinic strongly recommends that anyone considering alternative or complementary medicine for depression, including supplements and herbs, should first discuss their options with their physician. This is because supplements commonly used to treat depression, such as St. John’s wort, can interact with other medications, such as blood thinners, birth control, cancer drugs, antidepressant drugs and others. (46)
Before you start or stop any medicine, herb, or supplement to manage your dysthymia symptoms, talk with a health care professional. Some evidence exists supporting the use of:
- St. John’s wort, SAMe and omega-3 fatty acid supplements: A review of dozens of studies examining herbs and supplements for depression symptoms found that St. John’s Wort, SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine), and omega-3 fatty acids all have promising research supporting their effectiveness. (47)
- The study reported conflicting results from studies of St. John’s Wort; however, many trials that included people other than those with strict diagnoses of major depressive disorder (such as other types of depression) found positive results for improved mood with doses ranging from about 900 to 1,500 milligrams/day.
- The study found that early research on SAMe may indicate it can be a useful addition to certain antidepressant drugs by boosting response and remission rates. Doses ranged from 200 to 1,600 milligrams/day.
- The study also reported that 20 high-quality trials support the use of omega-3 fatty acid supplements of about five times the standard dietary intake in the U.S.
- Passionflower, kava, L-lysine plus L-arginine, and magnesium: Another review reports promising research supporting passionflower, kava, L-lysine and L-arginine, and magnesium as possible herbal preparations and supplements that may reduce anxiety and insomnia. (48)
- Zinc: A randomized trial found that people with major depression who received a daily 25 milligram zinc supplement in addition to their antidepressant medication had improved symptoms compared to people who received a fake (placebo) supplement. (49)
- Folic acid and vitamin B12: According to one study, low folate and low vitamin B12 levels are associated with depression in humans. The researchers suggest that early research points to the usefulness of these supplements for improving treatment outcome in depression. They suggest doses of 800 micrograms of folic acid per day and 1 milligram/day of vitamin B12 should be studied. (50)
- Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM): A review of many studies on traditional herbs used in China for the treatment of depression found that the Xiao Yao San formula is the most promising therapy based on existing research. (51) However, the researchers found that this preparation was made with different herbal combinations from study to study, so it may be difficult to determine exactly what part of the formula shows promise for depression symptoms.
- Do not attempt to self-diagnose dysthymia. It shares symptoms with many types of depression and other personality disorders. Get evaluated by a health professional if you believe you may have dysthymia.
- Most people with dysthymia require medication and talk therapy to get better. Do not attempt to self-treat. Depression can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions, and a medical treatment plan can help make sure you are receiving the care you need to help avoid severe complications from your condition.
- Do not stop taking your prescribed medication without first talking with your doctor.
- Do not start any herbs, supplements or alternative therapies for your dysthymia without first consulting a health care professional who is aware of your formal diagnosis and all other medications and supplements you take.
- If you are having thoughts of suicide, tell someone and seek professional psychiatric or medical care immediately.
Dysthymia Key Points
- Dysthymia is chronic depression. It can last for years and vary in intensity over time. It can also exist at the same time as major depressive episodes.
- There is no known cause for dysthymia and no single effective cure.
- Conventional treatment for this condition usually involves a combination of antidepressant drugs and talk therapy.
- Do not attempt to self-diagnose or self-treat dysthymia, since it can have serious health consequences and may also be easily confused with other mental health problems.
Natural ways to manage your symptoms and even improve dysthymic mood include:
- Proactively manage your stress.
- Get therapy.
- Stay socially engaged.
- Eat to support your mental health.
- Consider aromatherapy.
- Ask about supplements and herbs.
Katie Brind’AmourDr. AxeJanuary 22, 2018
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By Rachael Link, MS, RD
Ranked as one of the top herbs and spices for healing, anise seed is a nutritional powerhouse when it comes to your health. Plus, besides being associated with an extensive list of anise seed benefits ranging from reduced blood sugar to decreased menopause symptoms, it also boasts a unique flavor that’s ideal for kicking up the flavor of just about any dish or drink.
Commonly added to everything from cookies and cakes to liquors and more, a few sprinkles of this flavor-packed seed can be an easy way to upgrade the nutritional profile of your favorite foods, supplying an added dose of nutrients like iron, manganese and calcium.
Ready to give it a try? Keep reading to learn more about the health benefits of this powerful plant, plus find out how to use and where to buy anise oil and anise seed.
What Is Anise Seed?
Anise, also known as aniseed or Pimpinella anisum, is a plant in the Apiaceae family that is closely related to carrots, parsley and celery. The anise plant is native to the Mediterranean as well as Southwest Asia but is grown and used around the world. The plant can grow to be over three feet tall and produces white flowers as well as an oblong fruit known as anise seed.
The anise taste is very distinct and often compared to licorice root, fennel and star anise. Available in seed, extract and oil form, anise is frequently used as a flavoring for teas, desserts and liquors. Historically, it was also revered for its medicinal properties and used to treat everything from flatulence to menstrual pain.
More recently, researchers have uncovered a host of health benefits associated with anise seed, including improved blood sugar levels, decreased menopause symptoms and even protection against stomach ulcers. Anise may also be associated with improved breast milk production, protection against insects, a reduced risk of seizures and increased urine flow, though more research is needed to confirm these potential benefits. (1)
Anise Seed Benefits
- Regulates Blood Sugar
- Blocks the Growth of Fungus and Bacteria
- Eases Menopause Symptoms
- May Help Treat Depression
- Could Protect Against Stomach Ulcers
1. Regulates Blood Sugar
For those with diabetes, maintaining normal blood sugar levels can be a massive challenge. Symptoms of high blood sugar can range from headaches to increased thirst to fatigue and unintentional weight loss. If left untreated long-term, high blood sugar can eventually lead to nerve damage, kidney failure and even blindness.
Although more studies are needed, there has been some promising research showing that anise seed could help manage your blood sugar. Anise seed contains a compound called anethole, which is responsible for providing its unique flavor and aroma. One 2015 animal study out of India showed that administering anethole to diabetic rats helped prevent high blood sugar by modifying the activity of some key enzymes involved in carbohydrate metabolism. (2)
Other ways to keep your blood sugar under control include upping your fiber intake, getting plenty of physical activity, and reducing your intake of carbohydrates and ultra-processed foods.
2. Blocks the Growth of Fungus and Bacteria
Anise seed has been shown to have powerful antifungal properties that could aid in the treatment of fungal infections like athlete’s foot or ringworm.
A study conducted at the University of Zagreb’s Department of Microbiology Faculty of Pharmacy and Biochemistry in Croatia tested the antifungal activity of fluid extract and essential oil from anise fruits and found that both were able to effectively inhibit the growth of certain types of fungus. In particular, anise was especially effective against yeast and dermatophytes, a type of fungus responsible for many types of skin disease. (3)
Meanwhile, anethole, one of the active compounds found in anise seed, has also been shown to reduce the growth of bacteria. In fact, a test-tube study published in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Science showed that anethole was able to kill off a strain of bacteria known to cause cholera, a condition that causes severe diarrhea and dehydration. (4)
3. Eases Menopause Symptoms
Menopause is a condition caused by a natural decline in hormones as women get older. Common symptoms include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings and sleep disturbances.
Anise seed has been shown to help relieve menopause symptoms. In one study published in the Iran Journal of Pharmaceutical Resarch, 72 women were given a capsule containing either 330 milligrams of anise seed or a placebo three times daily for four weeks. Anise seed was found to be effective in decreasing both the frequency and severity of hot flashes in postmenopausal women. (5)
Besides anise seed, a few other natural remedies for menopause relief include reducing stress levels, getting enough sleep, and giving supplements like Vitex, ginseng or maca root a try.
4. May Help Treat Depression
Some studies have found that anise seed may be helpful in reducing symptoms of depression. For example, a recent 2017 study measured the effectiveness of anise oil on depression in 120 patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Compared to a placebo, anise oil was found to significantly reduce symptoms of depression following the four-week study. (6)
Anise oil may also aid in the treatment of postpartum depression. Although many mothers experience the “baby blues” after childbirth, postpartum depression is a serious condition that affects millions of people every year. This mood disorder is most often seen in women within the first year after giving birth, and it can cause symptoms like a decreased appetite, insomnia, mood swings and irritability.
A study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences found that anise was able to reduce symptoms of postpartum depression among 47 participants with functional dyspepsia, a disorder characterized by pain or discomfort in the upper digestive tract. (7)
Following a healthy diet, eating lots of probiotic-rich foods and spending time outside are some other useful natural remedies for depression as well.
5. Could Protect Against Stomach Ulcers
Stomach ulcers are painful sores that form on the lining of the stomach. These ulcers are associated with a slew of adverse side effects, such as heartburn, indigestion, gas, nausea and stomach pain.
While current research is limited, there is some evidence that anise may help protect against the formation of these painful sores. An animal study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology treated rats with gastric ulcers using anise and found that it helped protect against damage and exhibited anti-ulcer activities in the body. (8)
You can also help treat and prevent stomach ulcers by limiting your use of NSAID pain relievers, avoiding stomach irritants like alcohol and caffeine, and including plenty of anti-inflammatory foods in your diet.
Anise Seed Nutrition
Tiny but powerful, even a small amount of anise seed can help add a boost of extra nutrients to your day, including iron, manganese and calcium. In fact, just one tablespoon of whole anise seed contains approximately: (9)
- 22 calories
- 3.3 grams carbohydrates
- 1.1 grams protein
- 1 gram fat
- 0.9 gram fiber
- 2.4 milligrams iron (13 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram manganese (7 percent DV)
- 42 milligrams calcium (4 percent DV)
- 11.1 milligrams magnesium (3 percent DV)
- 28.6 milligrams phosphorus (3 percent DV)
- 93.7 milligrams potassium (3 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram copper (3 percent DV)
In addition to the above nutrients, anise seed also contains a small amount of zinc, vitamin B6 and vitamin C.
Anise vs. Fennel
Anise and fennel are terms often used interchangeably, but although they share some similarities in taste and health benefits, anise and fennel are two completely different plants. Bulb fennel is a vegetable with a bulb-like stem and leaves that resemble fresh dill. Despite belonging to the same family of plants, the seeds, bulb and fronds of the fennel plant can be used in cooking while generally only the anise seeds are consumed from the anise plant. Additionally, fennel seeds typically have a milder and sweeter flavor than anise seeds, which tend to be more astringent.
Anise is also often confused with star anise, a spice with a similar aromatic flavor. This is because, like fennel, they both contain anethole, an organic compound that is responsible for their distinct flavor and odor. However, star anise and anise are unrelated, hail from different parts of the world and share very little in terms of appearance. Because of their similarities in flavor, however, ground star anise may be used in place of anise seed in certain recipes.
Where to Find and How to Use Anise
Wondering where to buy anise seed and how you can add it into your daily routine? The good news is that this powerful ingredient is easy to find in the spice aisle of most grocery stores and can even be purchased through some online retailers as well. You can also find anise oil and anise extract at many natural health stores and pharmacies.
Anise seed can be used whole or ground in cookies, cakes, candies or drinks. It can also be added to an empty tea bag and steeped in hot water to make a delicious cup of anise seed tea.
Anise oil, on the other hand, can be diffused, applied to the skin or even used in baking. Anise oil for baking works especially well for bumping up the flavor of foods and imparting its powerful taste and aroma.
Anise extract can also be used in the same way as anise oil. When comparing anise oil vs. anise extract, anise extract is less potent as it is diluted with alcohol and water. In recipes, one part anise oil is equivalent to about four parts anise extract. If a recipe calls for one teaspoon of anise oil, you can swap in four teaspoons of anise extract for the same flavor.
Anise Seed Recipes
Thanks to its distinct aromatic flavor, anise seed makes a great addition to desserts and drinks alike. Here are a few anise seed recipes that you can give a try at home:
- Italian Anise Cookies
- Greek Honey and Anise Twists
- Toasted Almond Anise Biscotti
- Black Licorice Caramels
- Cinnamon Anise Tea
First cultivated in the Middle East and Egypt, anise was later imported to Europe and then brought around the world due to its potent medicinal properties.
Historically, anise was used as a spice and flavoring for everything from soups to cakes. It was also used in the preparation of liqueurs like Anisette, a refreshing drink commonly consumed in many Mediterranean countries.
The use of anise even dates back to Biblical times. In fact, anise is considered to be one of the top 14 herbs of the Bible. In the book of Matthew, anise is mentioned as a way to pay tithes alongside about other herbs like mint and cumin seeds.
Today, while anise is often used to incorporate a strong flavor to foods and drinks, it is also used as a natural remedy to soothe coughs, ease menstrual pain and decrease gas.
The amount of anise found in foods is safe and can be consumed with minimal risk of side effects for most people. However, be sure to consume in moderation, as there is not enough evidence to determine the safety of consuming larger amounts.
Anise may cause an allergic reaction in some people, especially those who are allergic to plants in the same family, such as dill, fennel or celery. If you experience food allergy symptoms, such as itching, swelling or hives, after eating anise, discontinue use immediately and consult with your doctor.
Additionally, anise is thought to be an estrogenic food, meaning it acts like estrogen in the body. If you have a history of any hormone-sensitive conditions like breast cancer, ovarian cancer or endometriosis, consuming anise may worsen these conditions.
Finally, keep in mind that anise is safe for pets but should be used only in moderation. Anise is often called “catnip for dogs,” but high amounts are thought to result in negative symptoms like an upset stomach or depressed nervous system.
- Anise seed is in the parsley family of plants and is closely related to carrots and celery.
- With a taste similar to licorice, fennel and star anise, anise seed is used as a flavoring agent for sweets, liquors and teas.
- Anise has been associated with a number of health benefits and has been shown to help maintain blood sugar, reduce the growth of fungus and bacteria, decrease symptoms of depression and menopause, and even protect against stomach ulcers.
- It can be found in seed, oil and extract form and is widely available in grocery stores, health stores, pharmacies and online retailers.
- Alongside a balanced diet and regular physical activity, a few servings of anise seed each week can be a powerful addition to a healthy lifestyle.
Rachael LinkDr. AxeJanuary 21, 2018
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Red palm oil has garnered a good amount of both interest and controversy in recent years — much like coconut oil, but for different reasons. It has drawn attention for its potential effect on health, but it has also been the subject of intense debate regarding the effects that its production may have on the environment.
Palm oil has long been used throughout the food supply and in certain parts of the world for thousands of years, but only lately has it earned widespread recognition for its benefits on health. It has been associated with everything from reduced cholesterol levels to decreased oxidative stress and better brain health.
However, not all palm oil is created equally. Making a few savvy shopping choices can help ensure that you’re getting the highest-quality oil and purchasing from producers that prioritize sustainability and positive environmental practices.
So how is red palm oil made, and is palm oil healthy? Or do the side effects and environmental impacts of this product outweigh any potential benefits? Keep on reading to find out.
What Is Red Palm Oil?
The palm oil definition encompasses any oil that comes from the fruit of oil palms. Elaeis guineensis, however, is a specific species native to Southwest Africa that is considered the primary source of palm oil.
These trees grow to be 20 meters tall and produce anywhere from 20–30 leaves per year. They also produce the palm fruit from which palm oil is extracted. Palm oil comes from both the kernel and pulp of the fruit, and it’s estimated that every 100 kilograms of palm fruit yields about 23 kilograms of palm oil.
Because of its high yield, palm oil has become a common ingredient for cooking in many parts of the world. Malaysia and Indonesia, in particular, account for about 80 percent of the worldwide palm oil supply. (1)
Additionally, due to its high smoke point and heat stability, red palm oil is a good choice for dishes that are fried or sautéed. (2) It is also often found in many types of processed foods, like protein bars, baked goods and cereals.
Unrefined palm oil has a reddish hue and is often referred to as red palm oil. This type of oil is especially rich in beneficial carotenoids and antioxidants. Not only that, but including a tablespoon or two of this healthy oil in your diet each day has been linked to a number of powerful health benefits.
Red Palm Oil Benefits
- Reduces Cholesterol Levels
- Slows the Progression of Heart Disease
- Boosts Brain Health
- Enhances Vitamin A Status
- Reduces Oxidative Stress
- Improves Skin and Hair Health
1. Reduces Cholesterol Levels
High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. Too much of this fatty substance can build up in the arteries, which causes them to harden and narrow, forcing your heart to work harder to pump blood throughout the body.
Some studies have found that red palm oil may actually help decrease the amount of bad LDL cholesterol in your blood to keep your heart healthy and strong.
One study published in the Journal of Nutrition looked at the effects of palm oil, soybean oil, peanut oil and lard on cholesterol levels. Researchers found that palm oil caused a 13.1 percent decrease in bad LDL cholesterol and a 6.7 percent drop in triglyceride levels in those with normal cholesterol. (3)
Another 2016 study out of Colombia showed that palm oil had a similar effect on blood cholesterol levels as extra virgin olive oil and was able to lower both triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. (4)
Other ways to lower cholesterol naturally and fast include eating more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, limiting your intake of sugar and refined carbs, and getting enough fiber in your diet.
2. Slows the Progression of Heart Disease
Besides lowering your cholesterol levels, palm oil has also been shown to help improve the health of your heart by slowing the progression of heart disease.
One study looked at the effects of palm oil on heart disease. After 18 months, 28 percent of people with heart disease who were treated with palm oil showed improvement while 64 percent remained stable. Conversely, no one in the placebo group showed improvement, and 40 percent actually got worse. (5)
A healthy diet and lifestyle are key to slowing the progression of heart disease. Besides including heart-healthy fats, like red palm oil, in your diet, getting enough exercise, eating plenty of anti-inflammatory foods and keeping your stress levels in check can also help reverse and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
3. Boosts Brain Health
Palm oil is jam-packed with tocotrienols, a form of vitamin E that has potent antioxidant properties and can support healthy brain function. This can have far-reaching benefits and may aid in everything from slowing dementia to enhancing cognition.
A recent 2017 animal study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that tocotrienols were able to improve cognitive function in mice. (6) Another study in 2011 composed of 121 people with brain lesions found that twice daily supplementation with tocotrienols helped block the growth of lesions. (7)
Besides palm oil, other brain foods that can help boost memory and focus include blueberries, broccoli, leafy green vegetables and salmon.
4. Enhances Vitamin A Status
Red palm oil is an excellent source of beta-carotene, a type of carotenoid that is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is an incredibly important nutrient that’s involved in many aspects of health, from maintaining healthy vision to promoting immune function. In fact, vitamin A deficiency can cause symptoms like dry eyes, frequent infections and even blindness. (8)
Palm oil is often used as a supplement to help improve vitamin A status in those who are at risk for deficiency. A study from the National Institute of Nutrition, Indian Council of Medical Research in India, for example, showed that treating pregnant women with red palm oil increased vitamin A levels for both them and their babies. (9)
Another study looked at the effects of red palm oil on 16 participants with cystic fibrosis, a condition that affects the secretory glands and causes difficulty absorbing fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A. Supplementing with two to three tablespoons of palm oil per day for eight weeks was found to increase their vitamin A levels. (10)
To help maintain healthy levels of vitamin A and prevent negative side effects, be sure to include a few servings of other vitamin A foods in your diet, such as carrots, sweet potatoes and kale.
5. Reduces Oxidative Stress
Free radicals are highly reactive compounds that form in your body as a result of factors like stress, a poor diet, or exposure to pollutants and pesticides. They can build up in your body over time, leading to oxidative stress, inflammation, cell damage and even chronic disease. Antioxidants, on the other hand, are compounds that can neutralize harmful free radicals to prevent damage to your cells. (11)
Red palm oil is high in beneficial antioxidants and has also been shown to reduce the inflammation and oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
A 2013 animal study in Malaysia evaluated the antioxidant activity of palm leaves extract (OPLE) in mice with diabetes. After just four weeks, OPLE was found to cause improvements in kidney dysfunction and fibrosis, two conditions commonly associated with diabetic neuropathy. Not only that, but it was also found to decrease markers of oxidative stress and inflammation as well. (12)
To really knock out oxidative stress, make sure you pair palm oil with a balanced diet as well as plenty of other high antioxidant foods, such as turmeric, ginger, dark chocolate and pecans.
6. Improves Skin and Hair Health
What you eat can make a big impact on the health of your skin and hair. In fact, many people swear by using red palm oil for skin and claim that it can do everything from improve the appearance of scars to fight off acne. This is because it’s rich in vitamin E, a nutrient that plays a central role in skin health.
One study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences reported that taking vitamin E by mouth for four months significantly improved symptoms of atopic dermatitis compared to a placebo. (13) Other research has suggested that vitamin E may be useful in the treatment of wounds, pressure ulcers and psoriasis. (14)
Red palm oil for hair growth is also commonly used thanks to its rich tocotrienol content. A study in 2010 comprising 37 participants with hair loss found that taking tocotrienol for eight months increased the number of hairs by 34.5 percent. Meanwhile, the placebo group actually saw a 0.1 percent decrease in the number of hairs by the end of the study. (15)
Other top vitamin E foods that you may want to include in your diet include almonds, avocado, sunflower seeds, butternut squash and olive oil.
Red Palm Oil Side Effects and Concerns
Although there are a wide array of health benefits associated with red palm oil, there are some side effects and ethical concerns that should be considered.
First of all, consuming red palm oil may affect people differently. While several studies have shown that palm oil can decrease cholesterol levels, others have produced conflicting results and report that it may actually increase cholesterol concentrations for some individuals. (16, 17, 18) For this reason, it’s best to use palm oil in moderation and use it in combination with other healthy fats in your diet.
Additionally, much of the palm oil on the market today is heavily processed and oxidized for culinary purposes. This depletes the palm oil of its health-promoting properties and can have negative impacts on health. Be sure to use unrefined and cold-pressed palm oil to sidestep any adverse health effects.
There are also some concerns over the environmental impacts of palm oil production. The growing market has placed a strain on countries like Malaysia and Indonesia where a large amount of palm oil is produced. Unfortunately, this has led to palm oil deforestation as forests and peatlands have been destroyed in order to keep up with the increased demands.
This has had devastating consequences, causing habitat loss for wildlife and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. There have also been reports of human rights violations by the corporations that produce palm oil with issues like unsafe working conditions and low wages drawing particular concern.
So Should You Use Palm Oil?
Red palm oil has a unique flavor and high smoke point, making it suitable for cooking many types of dishes. It also boasts a long list of potential health benefits, from relieving inflammation to improving heart health.
But with all the environmental and ethical concerns surrounding palm oil production, should you really add it to your kitchen pantry?
By becoming a well-informed consumer and making smarter decisions about which brands you buy, you can ensure that you’re gaining the health benefits of palm oil without the potential downsides.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is an organization focused on improving sustainability and producing oil that is environmentally friendly. It has created a set of guidelines and standards that producers must adhere to in order to be RSPO-certified. According to its website, these principles include: (19)
- Commitment to transparency
- Compliance with applicable laws and regulations
- Commitment to long-term economic and financial viability
- Use of appropriate best practices by growers and millers
- Environmental responsibility and conservation of natural resources and biodiversity
- Responsible consideration of employees, and of individuals and communities affected by growers and mills
- Responsible development of new plantings
- Commitment to continuous improvement in key areas of activity
By opting for RSPO-certified products, you can rest assured that you’re purchasing from producers with sustainable practices who are dedicated to protecting both wildlife and the environment. Check on the RSPO website for a list of certified producers before you head to the grocery store, and opt for brands that practice sustainability.
Palm Oil vs. Coconut Oil
There’s been a lot of buzz around these two types of oil, and for good reason. Both have been associated with a number of health benefits, plus a good amount of debate as well.
The biggest differences lie in the composition of these two types of oils. Coconut oil is higher in saturated fats and medium-chain triglycerides. While palm oil is split nearly 50/50 between saturated and unsaturated fats, coconut oil is almost entirely made up of saturated fats. Coconut oil also contains beneficial compounds like lauric acid, which has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and contains antimicrobial and antiviral properties.
When comparing red palm oil vs. coconut oil, however, both bring a different set of benefits and health-promoting properties to the table. Include both, along with other healthy sources of fat, to a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet to promote better health.
Palm Oil Nutrition + Recipes
Take a look at the red palm oil nutrition facts and you’ll see that it’s primarily made up of fat and is composed of almost equal parts saturated and unsaturated fatty acids.
One tablespoon (14 grams) of palm oil contains approximately: (21)
- 119 calories
- 13.5 grams fat
- 2.2 milligrams vitamin E (11 percent DV)
Red palm oil is also rich in carotenoids, which are the plant pigments responsible for its reddish-orange hue. Red palm oil is especially high in beta-carotene, a carotenoid that can be converted to vitamin A in the body.
This nutrient-rich oil also has a very strong and distinct flavor that sets it apart from many other oils like olive oil or grapeseed oil. The red palm oil taste is often described as carrot-like, and it also has a rich texture that makes it a good fit for many dishes.
If you’re ready to start using this unique ingredient in your kitchen, here are a few red palm oil recipes for you to start experimenting with:
- Red Palm Oil Sweet Potato Fries
- Brazilian Chicken Stew
- Spicy Chicken with Red Palm Oil
- Red Palm Oil Roasted Zucchini
- Ginger Tempeh Vegetable Stir Fry
It’s believed that we have been using palm oil for the past 5,000 yeas. In fact, in the 1800s, archaeologists unearthed palm oil in an Egyptian tomb dating all the way back to 3000 B.C.
Although originally used as a cooking oil, palm oil had a variety of medicinal uses in Africa as well. It was used as a an antidote for poison, a cure for gonorrhea, a natural laxative, a diuretic, and a treatment for headaches and skin infections.
Malaysia and Indonesia account for the majority of worldwide palm oil production today. In fact, the Federal Land Development Agency, or FELDA, is a Malaysian government agency and one of the biggest producers of palm oil. In 1956, the Land Development Act was enacted, which sought to fight poverty. Settlers were given 10 acres of land from FELDA with oil palm or rubber and given 20 years to pay it off, resulting in an explosion in palm oil production.
These regions have faced the most deforestation and destruction due to palm oil. A 2016 review even noted that 45 percent of the land that is now used for palm oil production in Southeast Asia was actually forest back in 1990.
It wasn’t until 2004 that the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil was formed, putting the emphasis on sustainability and responsible production that minimizes the impact on the environment, wildlife and the community.
For most people, the palm oil health risks are pretty minimal as it is unlikely to cause an allergic reaction or any negative side effects. Regardless, if you do experience any adverse symptoms after eating palm oil, discontinue use and talk to your doctor.
Keep in mind that some studies have found that reheated palm oil could increase arterial plaque, which may result in an increased risk of heart disease. (22) For this reason, it’s best to avoid repeated reheating as it may decrease the oil’s antioxidant activity and lead to negative effects on health.
Additionally, while red palm oil is associated with many health benefits, it’s important to keep your intake in moderation. Too much of any type of fat can have negative consequences, such as weight gain and increased cholesterol levels.
- Palm oil is made from the fruit of the oil palms. Red palm oil is unfiltered and high in carotenoids, which are pigments that give it a characteristic reddish hue.
- Benefits of palm oil include decreasing cholesterol levels, reducing oxidative stress, boosting brain health, slowing the progression of heart disease, increasing vitamin A status, and improving skin and hair health.
- Unfortunately, the growing demand for palm oil has been linked to deforestation, loss of wildlife diversity and unethical treatment of workers.
- Opting for brands that are RSPO-certified can ensure that you are buying from producers that prioritize sustainability practices.
Rachael LinkDr. AxeJanuary 19, 2018
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