Chicory is a woody, herbaceous plant that has a wealth of health benefits, including 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 chance of heart disease. It is also a natural sedative, and can protect against kidney stones, and benefit attempts to lose weight. 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, which doesn’t negate all of its health benefits. It has been used for hundreds of years as a 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, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin K. These are the main agents behind all of the health benefits that come from chicory, which are explained below.
Health Benefits of Chicory
Digestive Issues: 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 probiotic. Probiotics are a classification of bacteria that actually 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.
Heart Disease: Inulin is not only beneficial for the digestive system, it has also been shown to reduce the levels of “bad” cholesterol in the body. This LDL cholesterol is one of the main causes behind atherosclerosis and high blood pressure, because it somewhat 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 s slightly smaller range of affect. 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 normal coffee can significantly improve the balance of blood and plasma in the body, which reduces chances of cardiovascular disease.
Cancer Prevention: 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.
Reduce Arthritis Pain: Chicory has traditionally been used as a treatment for arthritis, and studies have shown chicory to have significant anti-inflammatory properties, which is why it works to reduce the pain from conditions like osteoarthritis. In a 2010 study, 70% of test subjects who received the chicory treatment reported a noticeable improvement in the pain associated with their osteoarthritic condition. Chicory can also be used as a general anti-inflammatory agent for aches, muscle pains, and joint soreness for this same reason.
Weight Loss: Chicory is a good source of oligofructose, and inulin itself is a form of natural dietary fiber, and these help in the management of weight and attempts at weight loss. These both aid in the regulation of ghrelin, which is an amino acid primarily associated with feelings of hunger and food-seeking behavior. By reducing the amount of the ghrelin hormone, chicory can reduce the chances of overeating and promote satiety, or the feeling of fullness. This can help in weight loss efforts!
Constipation: Once again, inulin’s role as a natural fiber comes as a major benefit to chicory eaters! The fiber helps to bulk up bowel movements, promote peristaltic motions, and the secretion of gastric juices. Basically, that means that digestion as a whole is improved, and constipation 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!
Immune System: 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 the immune system. There are also phytochemicals in chicory that act as antioxidants, further sweeping out free radicals from the blood stream, which reduces the chances of contracting a number of diseases or conditions, including heart disease and cancer.
Anxiety and Stress: 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 extract can also be used as a sleep aid due to this sedative quality, and is 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.
Kidney Health: Chicory root extract is often used as a diuretic, which increases the amount of urination. Consistent and healthy frequency of urination can help to eliminate toxins that the body stores in the liver and kidneys, and preventing the dangerous conditions that can 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!
A Few Words of Caution: Although there are clearly many benefits of using chicory for your health, you should not use excess chicory if you are pregnant, because there is a possibility that it can stimulate menstruation and possibly a miscarriage. Also, women should not eat excess chicory while breastfeeding, since insufficient research has been 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 if you are also allergic to those species. Consult your doctor or get an updated allergy panel to be safe, and as always, whenever you add something new to your diet, be sure to check with your doctor first. 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!