Health benefits of lettuce include lowering of cholesterol, cancer control, protection of neurons, sleep induction, anxiety control, lowering inflammation and supply of anti-oxidants.
Lettuce or Lactuca sativa as it is known scientifically has first been cultivated by the Egyptians thousands of years ago. The Egyptians who cultivated lettuce first, used the seeds to produce oil and its leaves. The plant also had cultural and religious significance in ancient Egypt, as it was considered to be sacred. Later on the Greeks and Romans also cultivated it.
It was during the 16th and 18th centuries that different types of lettuce were developed due to the adaptation of this particular sub-species to cross-pollinate with other sub-species. During the medieval times in Europe, lettuce was considered to possess medical qualities as mentioned in several writings. One can find instances of the plant being prescribed as a medicine for several diseases in Unani medicine system. It was prescribed for bilius eructation, disturbed blood pressure, loss of appetite, insomnia, tonic for intestines and digestive system and to stop sexual urge.
The dried latex of lettuce was prescribed for inducing sleep, used as nasal drops, a sedative, antispasmodic and anodyne. During the medieval times and the beginning of the modern times, lettuce spread from Europe to North America and during 19th century, it spread to other parts of the world as well, particularly in Asia, South America, Africa and Australia. Today, lettuce can be found in almost all parts of the world starting from the Americas to Siberia.
Lettuce contains moisture, energy, protein, fat, carbohydrates, dietary fibre and sugars. The minerals and vitamins found in lettuce include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sodium, zinc along with thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin B-6, C, A, E and vitamin K.
Health benefits of lettuce
For thousands of years, lettuce has been cultivated not only as a vegetable, but it was also considered to possess medicinal properties by ancient people. Some of the health benefits that have been confirmed by modern scientific research include
Anti-inflammatory properties: Lettuce possesses anti-inflammatory properties which help in controlling inflammation. In experimental models, the extracts of lettuce have shown significant control over inflammations induced by biocatalysts like lipoxygenase and carrageenan.
Protects neuron cells: Neurons are brain cells which form physical connections that make up memory. The death of neurons in particular connections or circuits can result in loss of memory. In some worst cases, significant neuron death can result in the offset of diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. The extracts from lettuce showed considerable control of neuron cell death due to glucose/ serum deprivation (GSD). The research has also mentioned that lettuce has a potential to be used in neuro-protection as a common remedy for neurodegenerative diseases.
Lowers cholesterol levels: Lettuce can be beneficial in lowering cholesterol levels in cardiovascular disease and otherwise. High cholesterol levels, particularly the LDL or bad cholesterol levels are harmful and cause heart attack. A study was conducted on mice to test impact of lettuce consumption on fat and cholesterol. The results indicate significant lowering of cholesterol levels compared to mice which weren’t fed lettuce. Lipid peroxidation was observed in most cases which were concluded to be responsible for cholesterol control.
Induces sleep: One of the major traditional uses of lettuce in Unani medicine was its use as a sleep inducer. Research into the extracts of lettuce resulted in the isolation of depressant chemical. This chemical when administered in experimental animals showed significant sedative effects. Decreased heart rate and ventricular contraction were also observed. This particular chemical acts by blocking the excitatory signal processes of muscular and neural tissues.
Anti-oxidant properties: Studies have shown that lettuce possesses anti-oxidants with significant free radical scavenging capabilities. Anti-oxidants are a wide range of bio-chemicals that are mostly found in our diet and are also very necessary. Anti-oxidants act as barriers to free radicals, which are produced during metabolism. These free radicals attack healthy tissues, cells and the DNA inside and damage them. The result is the development of various diseases. Anti-oxidants on the other hand counteract with free radicals and neutralize them before free radical attacks take place.
Anti-microbial properties: The latex of lettuce possesses anti-microbial properties. Candida albicans and a number of yeasts were completely deformed upon coming into contact with the latex from lettuce. Biochemicals that are considered to possess these anti-microbial properties are the terpens, cardenolids and enzymes like glucanases.
Controls anxiety: The neurological properties of lettuce have long been suggested and exploited during ancient and middle ages in medical treaties such as the Unani system. Detailed research in the recent times had led to the conclusion that lettuce possesses anxiolytic properties. When lab animals were given lettuce extracts, their locomotors activity was reduced, suggesting considerable anxiolysis.
Anti-cancer properties: Lettuce leaf extracts can control certain type of cancers. Research on human cancer cells, particularly leukaemia cells and breast cancer cells were controlled to a significant extent after being administered by lettuce extracts. The experiments also suggested that the weight ratio of human lettuce consumption required to kill 50% of leukaemia cells would be 3 kg.
Simple lettuce recipes
Few lettuce recipes are given below, which can be tried at home.
Vegetable salad: Cut tomato, cucumber, radish, carrots, red pepper, yellow pepper and lettuce leaves. Add the cut vegetables to a bowl. Season with salt, pepper, dash of olive oil and lime juice.
Corn lettuce salad: Boil one cup corn and let it cool. Cut lettuce, onion, tomato and put in a bowl. Add the boiled corn to this mixture. Season with salt, pepper, olive oil and lime juice. You can add other vegetables like boiled baby potatoes, mushroom, peas or boiled chicken or fish etc.
Side-effects of lettuce
Food allergies are abnormal response of the immune system to certain types of foods which the body recognizes are harmful. In most cases, the reasons for food allergies are unknown. Food allergies with anaphylaxis are of the worst kind and according to Centre for Disease Control they are on the rise.
Studies have shown that even lettuce can produce allergies and the allergen proteins have also been identified. People who already suffer from food allergies are generally at risk of trying new foods. So, a word of caution is advised while eating lettuce for the first time. Try skin prick testing before eating it, just to be sure.