In addition to herbs and spices anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting properties, they may help lower blood pressure and cholesterol too. Bet you have plenty in your pantry as we speak!

Hey '90s kids: Remember the Spice Girls lyric "spice up your life!"? Welp, it now has scientific evidence to be true—and a couple new studies prove that herbs and spices can help lower blood pressure, cholesterol and reduce your risk for certain chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

Previous studies suggested that herbs and spices both offer anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting benefits, and suggest that everything from cilantro (sorry, Ina!) to cinnamon can lower risk for heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. And two findings presented at NUTRITION 2021 Live Online meeting of the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) add to the mounting evidence that it's a great idea to spice-spike your menu.

In one study discussed at the ASN meeting, scientists found that adding herbs and spices to meals helped to reduce blood pressure in individuals at risk for heart disease. (Curious if you're at risk? These 7 things could make you more likely to get heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.)

Kristina Petersen, Ph.D., an assistant research professor in the Cardiometabolic Nutrition Research Lab at Penn State College of Health and Human Development summarizes her team's results from that first study. Their findings suggest even adding the spices and dried herbs found in your local supermarket to recipes you already make can help benefit your blood pressure and lower your heart disease risk.

Senior woman measuring her blood pressure at home on a designed background
Credit: Getty Images / Dean Mitchell

To determine this, Petersen and her colleagues tracked 71 American adults who fit criteria for obesity (a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or higher) and had other risk factors of heart disease. They were told to eat their typical American diet, which is a macronutrient breakdown of 50 percent of calories from carbs, 17 percent from protein and 33 percent from fat (with 11 percent from saturated fat).

Every 4 weeks, the participants tweaked their meal plans a bit.

  • Low spice: With 0.5 grams per day of herbs and spices
  • Medium spice: With 3.3 grams per day of herbs and spices
  • High spice: With 6.6 grams per day of herbs and spices

While blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels remained fairly consistent as the individuals rotated through the three menus, those on the high-spice diet had significantly lower 24-hour blood pressure levels.

"This is likely because we added the herbs and spices to a diet similar to what the average person in the United States consumes, which is not as nutritious as diets that are recommended for health and heart disease prevention. It remains important to eat a healthy diet, including lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes," Petersen says.

In the other study presented at the same meeting, researchers determined that spice-filled supplements reduced cholesterol levels in participants with type 2 diabetes.

"Our systematic review of the available journal articles on ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, curcumin and curcuminoids suggested an association with an improved lipid profile," said Sepideh Alasvand, a Ph.D. student in the department of food, nutrition, and packaging sciences at Clemson University who completed the review with her supervisor, Vivian Haley-Zitlin, Ph.D., RDN., a professor for the department of food, nutrition and packaging sciences at Clemson University.

Alasvand and Haley-Zitlin analyzed 28 1- to 3-month randomized controlled trials that involved participants with type 2 diabetes who received ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, curcumin or curcuminoid supplements (the latter two are turmeric derivatives).

The Bottom Line

More research diving into the dose needed to produce a specific response are needed, and it's important to note that some herb and spice supplements—and supplements in general—can interact with certain medications or cause side effects. As with any new medicine, be sure to consult with your doctor before starting anything new.

Whether you and your doc decide to supplement or not, it certainly can't hurt to add more fresh herbs, dried herbs and spices to your recipes. Just be sure you're choosing options without added salt. So people of the world, we have 31 cozy turmeric recipes for an anti-inflammatory boost to help get you started as you spice up your life!