While there are countless medicines available over-the-counter or with a prescription, you can also find a host of beneficial remedies in your garden or while shopping in the grocery store.
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Sweet, delicious honey, for example, contains healing properties, while flavorful garlic has been shown to improve cholesterol levels. Then there's apple cider vinegar, cinnamon and cayenne pepper — all kitchen staples in their own right, and all nutritional standouts for their own reasons.
To understand the health benefits of these foods, we took a deeper look at honey, garlic, apple cider vinegar, cinnamon and cayenne pepper and how they can nourish the human body. Read on for more details.
Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar
The claims around apple cider vinegar's (ACV) health benefits are vast, and while not all are proven, there's evidence to support at least a few.
The vinegar, which is made from fermented apple juice, may aid in lowering blood sugar levels, which may be helpful for people managing diabetes, per UChicago Medicine.
An August 2009 study in Bioscience, Biotechnology & Biochemistry showed a possible link between ACV and weight loss. In the study, Japanese men with obesity consumed either no vinegar, 3 teaspoons of apple vinegar or 6 teaspoons of apple vinegar mixed into a beverage each day for 12 weeks.
At the end of the trial, the men who had ingested the beverages containing vinegar had lower body mass indexes and waist circumferences compared to those who had not consumed any vinegar. After the study ended and all participants ceased vinegar consumption, the men's BMIs and waist measurements returned to their original numbers.
Despite the findings of this one small study, there's doubt among health professionals that ACV could have any significant effect on weight loss. Additional research on ACV for weight loss has not consistently shown significant or sustainable weight loss across diverse groups of people, per the Mayo Clinic.
Health Benefits of Garlic
Garlic is probably what people mean when they describe food as medicine. Botanically known as Allium sativum, it adds great flavor to meals and has many proven health benefits. While low in calories, garlic is rich in nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin B6 and manganese.
The pungent plant has been shown to support a healthy immune system and possibly defend against the common cold. One older study, published August 2001 in Advances in Therapy, found that, in a 12-week trial, a daily garlic supplement cut the number of colds by 63 percent compared to a placebo. The same study also found that those who took the garlic supplement experienced colds much shorter in duration: The placebo group experienced cold symptoms for an average of five days, while for the garlic group it was just one and a half days.
A separate January 2012 study in Clinical Nutrition found that people who took a high dose of aged garlic extract decreased their number of sick days with a cold or flu by 61 percent.
While garlic does appear to have beneficial antimicrobial and antiviral properties that seem to at least shorten symptoms of the common cold, the verdict is still a little muddy around the extent of garlic's abilities, and more research is needed, per a November 2014 Cochrane Review.
Whether it's a totally viable defense against the common cold, garlic boasts other benefits of which experts are more confident. These include working as an anti-inflammatory, reducing blood pressure, treating skin conditions and fighting fungus, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Health Benefits of Honey
Honey has been used as a topical treatment for centuries and is still found useful today.
A March 2015 review in Cochrane Reviews examined 26 studies on honey and wound care, finding the sweet stuff most effective for treating partial-thickness burns and wounds that have become infected after surgery.
Honey has been found to be a soothing treatment for coughs, per the Mayo Clinic.
Heart and Gut
Because there are so many different types of honey and no single standardized method for producing the substance, findings for its benefits are likely to vary, per the Mayo Clinic. Still, research suggests that the antioxidants in honey might be associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and that honey might help relieve gastrointestinal tract conditions, like diarrhea.
Honey is home to many powerful antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation in the body. A January 2018 study in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity suggests that honey may be an effective therapy when administered alone or as part of a comprehensive treatment plan to prevent disorders such as diabetes, allergies, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Experts strongly advise against giving honey to children under the age of one, as it can lead to a serious gastrointestinal condition, per the Mayo Clinic.
Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Delicious in your morning oats, sprinkled atop apples or even added to vanilla ice cream, cinnamon does more than add a little kick to your favorite foods. It's another food that has been regarded as a health hero for centuries.
Cinnamon may help reduce inflammation, as research has found the spice to contain strong anti-inflammatory properties, like one March 2012 study in Evidenced-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Cinnamon may also help decrease the risk of heart disease by regulating cholesterol levels, reducing LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (the "bad" type) without affecting levels of HDL cholesterol (the "good" type), per an October 2013 review in Annals of Family Medicine.
Health Benefits of Cayenne Pepper
Some like it hot, and that can be a very good thing for health.
Capsaicin, the active ingredient in peppers that's responsible for their spice, has anti-inflammatory properties, which may be helpful for reducing the risk of heart disease, per the Mayo Clinic.
This spicy stuff in cayenne pepper may also help reduce feelings of hunger, which can aid in weight loss in the long run. A June 2005 study in the International Journal of Obesity found that participants who ate capsaicin before a meal reported feeling fuller while consuming fewer calories than the placebo group. The study also found that participants who drank a beverage containing capsaicin ate 16 percent less than the control group, while those taking capsaicin supplements ate 10 percent less.
Is This an Emergency?
- Cochrane Reviews: "Honey as a topical treatment for wounds"
- Mayo Clinic: "Honey"
- UChicago Medicine: "Debunking the health benefits of apple cider vinegar"
- Bioscience, Biotechnology & Biochemistry: "Vinegar intake reduces body weight, body fat mass, and serum triglyceride levels in obese Japanese subjects"
- Mayo Clinic: "Weight Loss"
- FoodData Central: "Garlic, raw"
- Advances in Therapy: "Preventing the common cold with a garlic supplement: a double-blind, placebo-controlled survey"
- Clinical Nutrition: "Supplementation with aged garlic extract improves both NK and γδ-T cell function and reduces the severity of cold and flu symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled nutrition intervention"
- Cochrane Review: "Garlic for the common cold"
- Cleveland Clinic: "6 Surprising Ways Garlic Boosts Your Health"
- Evidenced-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "Anti-Inflammatory Activities of Cinnamomum cassia Constituents In Vitro and In Vivo"
- Annals of Family Medicine: "Cinnamon use in type 2 diabetes: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis"
- Mayo Clinic: "Capsaicin’s connection to heart health"
- International Journal of Obesity: " Sensory and gastrointestinal satiety effects of capsaicin on food intake"
- Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity: "Honey as a Potential Natural Antioxidant Medicine: An Insight into Its Molecular Mechanisms of Action"