People of the world, spice up your life! 🌶️

High blood pressure is one of the seven largest contributors to our overall risk profile for the #1 cause of death in the United States: heart disease.

You're probably familiar with the advice to eat less sodium and more potassium if you're seeking the best blood pressure-lowering diet, but salt isn't the only flavor element that can impact your ticker. Turns out, dialing up the spices in your food can also help keep your BP in check. According to a September 2021 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who ate more herbs and spices—in particular, cinnamon, turmeric and oregano—recorded lower blood pressure readings 24 hours later.

Before we dive into the details, it's worth taking this with a small grain of salt, as only 71 participants between the ages of 30 and 75 participated in the study. Still, the limited sample size can inspire future research on this fairly new scientific interest area.

Each of the 71 individuals had at least one risk factor for heart disease, and fell into the "overweight" or "obese" category on the body mass index (BMI) scale. After fasting for 12 hours, the participants had their blood pressure, height, weight, waist circumference, fasting blood sugar and artery flexibility measured. They then wore blood pressure monitors for the following 24 hours.

The 71 participants were randomly separated into three groups:

  • Low-spice diet (0.5 grams per day)
  • Moderately-spiced diet (3.3 grams per day)
  • High-spice diet (6.6 grams per day)

They were told to then hit their quota of spice content per day using herbs and spices typical in many American diets, with a heavy focus on three in particular—cinnamon, turmeric and oregano—that the scientists had learned about from previous research reviews and meta-analyses that may relate to heart health.

They followed their diet for 4 weeks, took a 2-week break, then tried another spice level diet. (So someone may begin in the high-spice category, pause for 2 weeks and eat as usual, then try the low-spice diet.) At the end of each 4-week span, they completed follow-up assessments.

lamb and beef balti

Of the 63 people who finished all of the spice trials, the researchers determined that the high-spice diet resulted in healthier 24-hour blood pressure readings (a proven predictor of cardiovascular death risk) than the moderate and low versions. Cholesterol, blood sugar, arterial function and other categories didn't change.

"The blood pressure-lowering effects of herbs and spices in an average Western diet were surprising to me. We [already know] about the effects of many lifestyle factors, especially dietary factors, that can increase blood pressure—such as sodium, alcohol and caffeine—and others that can decrease blood pressure, such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, weight loss, physical activity and some vitamins, including folate and vitamin D when intake is low," Penny Kris-Etherton, one of the lead authors of the study, tells Medical News Today. "But the blood pressure-lowering effects of herbs and spices are new! In terms of herbs and spices, there hasn't been a clinical trial showing benefits on blood pressure lowering until our study." (ICYMI, having high-blood pressure can speed up cognitive decline—here are 4 ways to combat both, according to doctors.)

The short timespan and limited scale of this study leaves room for research to build on the dosage needed, to control for other dietary changes and to ensure a consistent herb and spice exposure throughout the study.

"It will be important to evaluate the effects of individual spices on blood pressure and to understand the mechanism[s] by which each lowers blood pressure," Kris-Etherton continues to Medical News Today. "It would also be interesting to assess the effects of herbs and spices on the microbiome and evaluate whether the effects of herbs and spices on [blood pressure] are modulated by any changes in the gut microbiome. Beyond clinical trial research, studies are needed to evaluate effective education programs that teach use of herbs and spices in a healthy dietary pattern that is lower in sodium, saturated fat and added sugar on diet quality and clinical endpoints, such as risk factors for chronic diseases."

Until we know more, it certainly can't hurt to start infusing more herbs and spices, especially cinnamon, turmeric and oregano (which may offer anti-inflammatory and blood sugar benefits as well), into your daily diet.

"It is important to note that while the aim of this study was to look at the average American diet, we need major shifts in average dietary patterns to make our eating habits healthier and more sustainable. While certain foods or ingredients may have a small benefit alone, we need to encourage a shift to healthier eating across the board," adds Simon Steenson, Ph.D., a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation.