Study to examine whether high-antioxidant spices improve health

September 17, 2009

Antioxidants are often touted for their anti-aging effects. However, little is known about how antioxidants from foods actually work inside the body. A new $400,000 study being conducted in Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development is testing how much our bodies actually benefit from eating one group of high-antioxidant foods: spices.

“As we age, oxidation takes place within the body’s cells. This is a chain reaction that can lead to increased cell damage and cell death. Antioxidants can help fight this process,” said Ann Skulas-Ray, Nutrition graduate student, who is a key player on the study. “By doing this, they may help preserve the function and life of our cells. Stronger, healthier cells translate to more chances for a longer, healthier life.”

Oxidative stress -- excessive oxidation in the body -- has been associated with increased risk for developing cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s syndrome. Antioxidants may improve artery function, immune system function, and the decrease the risk of blood clots and other cardiovascular problems.

The study, which is funded by the McCormick Science Institute, will be testing how effectively nine spices (cloves, cinnamon, rosemary, oregano, ginger, black pepper, paprika, garlic powder, turmeric) reduce oxidative stress. These spices have some of the highest-known antioxidant levels of any food. The study will also be looking at the effectiveness of ingesting capsules filled with spices versus spices directly on food.

“Spices beat out, gram for gram, other nutrients in terms of the antioxidants they contain,” said Skulas-Ray. “The only problem with this is that we don’t know how much of those antioxidants our bodies actually use, and how much of what we eat gets absorbed into the blood.”

Other key individuals working on the project are Sheila West, associate professor of biobehavioral health (principal investigator); Laura Klein, associate professor of biobehavioral health; John Vanden Heuvel, professor of veterinary sciences and Penny Kris-Etherton, distinguished professor of nutritional sciences.

The study is now accepting participants with BMI greater than 25. For more information contact Ann Skulas-Ray at 814-867-1822.

  • Researchers will examine how effectively nine spices can improve health

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Ann Skulas-Ray

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Last Updated November 18, 2010