Chicory is a woody, herbaceous plant that has a wealth of health benefits. These include the ability to ease digestive problems, prevent heartburn, reduce arthritis pains, detoxify the liver and gallbladder, prevent bacterial infections, boost the immune system, and reduce the chances of heart diseases. It is also a natural sedative that can fight against kidney stones and promote weight loss. All in all, this small plant is a powerful addition to any diet.
Chicory grows well in many different conditions and is commonly found on the roadsides in Europe, where it originated, but it has now naturalized into the Americas and can be found widely there. The leaves, buds, and roots all have certain beneficial qualities, and the leaves are used in a similar way as spinach in many cultures. The root is often ground into a powder and used as a coffee substitute. It has been used for hundreds of years as an herbal remedy for many diseases and continues to prove its worth today.
In terms of nutritive value, chicory is a great source of vitamins and minerals, including zinc, magnesium, manganese, calcium, iron-folic acid, and potassium, as well as vitamin A, B6, C, E, and K. These are the main agents behind all of the health benefits that come from chicory, which are explained below.
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Health Benefits of Chicory
Health benefits of chicory include:
Aids in Digestion
One of the most common reasons for adding chicory to a diet is to improve various functions of the digestive system. Chicory contains inulin, which is a powerful prebiotic. Prebiotics are a classification of bacteria that confer benefits on the host, rather than diseases, which is what bacteria is commonly associated with. Inulin is used to combat a number of intestinal and digestive concerns, including acid reflux disease, indigestion, and heartburn because it actively reduces the acidity of the body’s systems.
Reduces Heart Diseases
Inulin is not only beneficial for the digestive system, it has also been shown to reduce the levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol in the body. This cholesterol is one of the main causes of atherosclerosis and high blood pressure because it blocks the flow of blood when it binds to arteries and veins. It can also contribute to the possibility of heart attacks and strokes. Interestingly enough, the chemical pathway that inulin functions in to reduce the presence of LDL cholesterol is rarely active unless a person consumes a high level of carbohydrates, so this benefit has a slightly smaller range of effects. However, more research is currently being done on how chicory can help heart health in other ways.
Chicory is also packed with plant phenols, which have been widely studied as anti-thrombotic and anti-arrhythmic agents. They are considered antioxidants, and studies have shown that chicory-based coffee rather than a normal coffee can significantly improve the balance of blood and plasma in the body, which reduces the chances of cardiovascular diseases.
Although research is still ongoing in terms of the exact mechanism of prevention, chicory extract has been linked to a reduction in tumor growth in various cancer studies. Early reports indicate that it is due to the fructans within chicory, which have anti-tumor qualities and antioxidant properties. The polyphenols and phytochemicals within chicory also have a positive effect on preventing cancer of various types, including breast cancer and colorectal cancer.
Reduces Arthritis Pain
Chicory has traditionally been used as a treatment for arthritis, and studies have shown chicory to have anti-inflammatory properties, which is why it reduces the pain in conditions like osteoarthritis. In a 2010 study, 70% of the test subjects who received the chicory treatment reported a noticeable improvement in the pain associated with their osteoarthritic conditions. Chicory can also be used as a general anti-inflammatory agent for aches, muscle pains, and joint soreness for this same reason.
Promotes Weight Loss
Chicory is a good source of oligofructose, and inulin itself is a form of natural dietary fiber, which helps in the management of weight by promoting weight loss. Both of these aid in the regulation of ghrelin, an amino acid primarily associated with feelings of hunger and food-seeking behavior. By reducing the amount of the ghrelin, chicory can reduce the chances of overeating and promote satiety, or the feeling of fullness, thus helping in weight loss.
Once again, inulin’s role as a natural fiber comes as a major benefit to chicory eaters! The fiber helps bulk up bowel movements and promote peristaltic motions and secretion of gastric juices. Basically, this means that digestion as a whole is improved, and constipation too is greatly reduced. By maintaining a smooth and regulated digestive process, people can reduce the chances of a number of gastrointestinal conditions and diseases, including stomach and colon cancer!
Chicory has a number of helpful qualities that make it a powerful booster for your immune system. It displays clear antibacterial effects on a number of dangerous strains of bacteria, and we have already mentioned the benefits of the polyphenolic compounds in chicory in terms of an immune system boost. There are also phytochemicals in chicory that act as antioxidants, further sweeping out free radicals from the bloodstream. This reduces the chances of contracting a number of diseases or conditions, including heart diseases and cancer.
Chicory has sedative qualities that can reduce anxiety and soothe the mind, thereby relieving stress and the dangerous effects it can have on the body. Chicory root extracts can also be used as a sleep aid due to this sedative quality and are much healthier than many of the sleeping pills on the conventional market. Relieving stress and anxiety can also help reduce your chances of heart disease, hormonal imbalance, insomnia, cognitive decline, and premature aging.
Treats Kidney Health
Chicory root extract is often used as a diuretic, which increases urine volume. Frequent urination can help eliminate toxins that the body stores in the liver and kidneys, and thereby prevent the dangerous conditions that occur when toxins are allowed to remain in the body. Also, frequent urination can eliminate excess water weight, and even reduce fat, since 4% of urine is usually fat deposits that would otherwise be stored somewhere else in the body.
Word of Caution: Although there are clearly many benefits of using chicory for your health, you should not use excess chicory if you are pregnant, as there is a possibility that it can stimulate menstruation and possibly lead to a miscarriage. Also, women should not eat excess chicory while breastfeeding, since there is a lack of research done on the transfer between mother and child through breast milk.
Furthermore, this plant is closely related to ragweed, marigolds, and daisies, so allergic reactions are not uncommon, especially, if you are already allergic to these species. It is advisable to consult your doctor whenever you add something new to your diet. Finally, if you have gallstones, too much chicory can exacerbate the problem, so be sure to speak to your doctor if you have had gallbladder issues in the past.
Other than that, enjoy chicory extract in your food, coffee, or whatever other preparation brings you all of these wonderful benefits!