“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food – Hippocrates”
Indeed, nutrition and health are intimately linked.
Cancer, a life-threatening malignancy, is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality. It is a significant healthcare concern in both developed and developing countries. The rising cost of conventional cancer therapy and the subsequent unpleasant effects have encouraged researchers to seek alternative cost-effective therapies.
The introduction of a healthy lifestyle and nutrition with increased dietary consumption of fruits and vegetables can safeguard healthy people from cancer risk. Today, spices, a common element of the human diet, are increasingly revered not only for their culinary properties but also for their innumerable health benefits. Spices may also help in preventing and managing cancer progression, if consumed at safe doses. To mitigate oncological threats, various phytochemicals-enriched spices have been explored.
One such spice is cardamom (elaichi) that is regarded as the queen of spices and is ranked the third-most-expensive spice after saffron and vanilla. Traditionally, it has been used in Ayurveda, Chinese, and Unani medicine for many years. It is extensively employed in Indian, Arabic, Middle Eastern, and Swedish cuisine. This spice is commonly utilized in desserts, hot and spicy dishes, as well as aromatic beverages (tea and coffee).
Cardamom is not just a flavoring agent but a wonderful spice with promising therapeutic benefits. Emerging evidence depicts that incorporating cardamom in one’s diet may minimize cancer risk and affect tumor behavior.
Let us explore the cancer-fighting potential of cardamom.
- What is cardamom?
- Subspecies of cardamom
- Constituents of cardamom
- Health benefits of cardamom
- Anticancer potential of cardamom
What is cardamom?
Cardamom is an aromatic spice made from the seed pods of various plants belonging to the Zingiberaceae or ginger family. Cardamom pods are spindle-shaped and contain a number of seeds. The seeds are small and black, while the pods differ in size and color by species.
Subspecies of cardamom
- Elettaria represents green or true cardamom
- Amomum represents black, white, or red cardamom
Constituents of cardamom
Cardamom contains cineole (active constituent of the volatile oil) and other compounds such as diindolylmethane, indole-3-carbinol, terpinyl acetate, terpineole, borneole, terpinene, pinene, sabinene, myrcene, limonene, phellandrene, terpinolene, p-cymene, caffeic acid, linalyl acetate, linalool, terpinen-4-ol, citronellol, nerol, methyl eugenol, geraniol and trans-nerolidal.
Health benefits of cardamom
Cardamom has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. It lowers the risk of diabetes, depression, and liver toxicity. It protects your heart from high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels. It neutralizes dental bacteria and helps to alleviate oral health problems like bad breath and cavities.
It can relieve stomach cramps, and can also be used as a carminative and anti-emetic. Its aphrodisiac properties help to cure erectile dysfunction, impotency, and premature ejaculation.
Anticancer potential of cardamom
Cardamom has been found to be effective against colorectal cancer. It is known to decrease azoxymethane-induced colon carcinogenesis by virtue of its anti-inflammatory, proapoptotic, and antiproliferative activities.
A study conducted by Sengupta et al. at Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute in Kolkata have illustrated that dietary cardamom had a positive result in combating colorectal cancer to an extent of 48% by improving the antioxidant activity in the body. In an analysis, cardamom was found to inhibit the proliferation of human oral cancer cells.
Phytochemicals present in cardamom such as limonene and cineole have also illustrated an anti-oncogenic role. Numerous studies have indicated that daily intake of cardamom may minimize the risk of breast cancer. Diindolylmethane and indole-3-carbinol present in cardamom have displayed a robust role in the prevention and inhibition of breast cancer.
Cardamonin, present in cardamom species has been studied as a chemo-preventive agent in a variety of cancers, including breast, gastrointestinal, and colorectal cancers. A study determined that cardamonin suppresses existing breast cancer stem cells (CSC) after chemotherapeutic drug treatments, and also enhances the efficacy of chemotherapeutic drugs by reducing tumor burden. It seems to be a promising candidate in CSC-targeted therapies if used with chemotherapeutic drugs or after chemotherapeutic treatment.
A study demonstrated that feeding of cardamom oil for two weeks can inhibit chemical carcinogenesis. In another study, the cardamom and black pepper aqueous extracts were found to remarkably improve the cytotoxic effect of natural killer cells against YAC-1 lymphoma cells.
Cardamom also displayed antioxidative effects against non-melanoma skin cancer by modulating NRF2 (nuclear factor erythroid-2-related factor 2) and NF-κB (nuclear factor kappa B) signaling pathways.
Recently, substantial attention has been focused on identifying naturally occurring cancer-fighting compounds capable of inhibiting or retarding the development of cancer. Dietary spices provide promising new leads that could be utilized for developing novel strategies for cancer management. In physiologically relevant concentrations, spices and their phytochemicals have a potent ability to regulate multiple cancer-related processes.
Cardamom, a peppery citrusy spice, contains cancer-fighting compounds with the potential to kill cancer cells. Cardamom-based therapy is safe and possesses very few side effects. However, cardamom as a whole and its active components require further rigorous investigation in preclinical and clinical studies if the use of this spice is to be recommended for cancer prevention and treatment.
You should definitely consider adding it to your spice arsenal. So go ahead and make sure you keep this aromatic and healthy spice on hand!