13 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Nutmeg

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated - Medically reviewed by Vanessa Voltolina (MS, RD)

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Nutmeg is a popular spice with a long list of health benefits like relieving pain, indigestion, insomnia, and improving brain function. It extends its ability to provide hepatic protection, relieve depression, improve cholesterol levels, regulate blood pressure levels, and alleviate oral conditions.

What is Nutmeg?

Nutmeg is a spice that comes from the seed of the evergreen nutmeg tree (Myristica fragrans). The nutmeg tree, interestingly, is a host to one more incredibly potent and unique spice, mace, which is the dried reddish seed covering.

The tree is native to the Maluku or Spice Islands of Indonesia and is the only tree that is the source of two distinct spices in the world. It is commonly grown in the Caribbean, other tropical areas of the world, and also in Southern India in the state of Kerala.

Uses of Nutmeg

Nutmeg spice has a pungent fragrance and a slightly sweet taste which is why it is widely used in cuisines around the world. Nutmeg is used and found in many forms like essential oils, powder, and extracts. While the ground nutmeg is used in many preparations like baking, puddings, confections, beverages like eggnog, pumpkin pie and apple pie, it is mostly used in making nutmeg butter. The spice is also a key ingredient in creamy and cheesy dishes like alfredo.

Nutrition Facts

Spices, nutmeg, ground
Serving Size :
Water [g]6.23
Energy [kcal]525
Energy [kJ]2196
Protein [g]5.84
Total lipid (fat) [g]36.31
Ash [g]2.34
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]49.29
Fiber, total dietary [g]20.8
Sugars, total including NLEA [g]2.99
Calcium, Ca [mg]184
Iron, Fe [mg]3.04
Magnesium, Mg [mg]183
Phosphorus, P [mg]213
Potassium, K [mg]350
Sodium, Na [mg]16
Zinc, Zn [mg]2.15
Copper, Cu [mg]1.03
Manganese, Mn [mg]2.9
Selenium, Se [µg]1.6
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid [mg]3
Thiamin [mg]0.35
Riboflavin [mg]0.06
Niacin [mg]1.3
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0.16
Folate, total [µg]76
Folate, food [µg]76
Folate, DFE [µg]76
Choline, total [mg]8.8
Vitamin A, RAE [µg]5
Carotene, beta [µg]28
Cryptoxanthin, beta [µg]66
Vitamin A, IU [IU]102
Tocopherol, gamma [mg]0.53
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]25.94
12:0 [g]0.37
14:0 [g]22.83
16:0 [g]2.26
18:0 [g]0.17
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]3.22
16:1 [g]1.4
18:1 [g]1.59
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]0.35
18:2 [g]0.35
Phytosterols [mg]62
Sources include : USDA

Nutmeg Nutrition Facts

While nutmeg is only a spice that is used sparingly in dishes, it can still impact your health in a variety of ways, mainly due to its nutritive content of vitamins, minerals, and organic compounds related to essential oils. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, these beneficial components include dietary fiber, manganese, thiamin, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, copper, and macelignan.

Health Benefits of Nutmeg

The health benefits of this amazing spice are explained in greater detail below.

Relieves Pain

People suffering from chronic conditions like cancer, inflammatory diseases, and diabetes often suffer from persistent pain. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, nutmeg oil, derived from the seed of nutmeg tree, has been proven to be an analgesic and a chronic pain reliever.

Published in the Food and Nutrition Research journal, a 2016 comparative study conducted on rats, showed that topical application of nutmeg oil, when compared to other pain alleviators like diclofenac, has a better effect on the inflammatory pain. The same study also shows that nutmeg oil can also alleviate joint swelling as well as mechanical allodynia, which is an intense pain caused by even a light touch.

Relieves Insomnia

For generations, nutmeg has been recommended as a home remedy for sleeplessness and insomnia. A pinch of nutmeg in warm milk always seems to do the trick.

An uncontrolled trial by Naidu et al. was conducted on 251 patients, who were administered with a nutmeg-containing herbal capsule. The patients received the capsule for 4 weeks regularly. All the people who participated in the research apprised that they witnessed an improvement in the overall weakness levels and insomnia. One animal study also suggested that nutmeg extracts helped in increasing the duration of deep sleep.

Promotes Digestion

According to Essential Oils in Food Preservation, Flavor and Safety, by Gomathi Perisamy, et al. nutmeg is known to have medicinal properties and has been used to treat digestive issues such as indigestion and stomach ulcers. These medicinal properties come from the unique scent of the nutmeg seed.

A close-up view of whole nutmegs and nutmeg powder on a wooden background

Nutmeg and its powder Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Improves Brain Health

Nutmeg is often connected with neuroprotective properties. In recent research by Dr. Waluga Plaingam, et al., these effects of nutmeg volatile oil are tested on rats.

Results of the study show that nutmeg contains volatile oils like myristicin, eugenol, and elemicin, all of which helped in increasing the levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the hippocampus of the rats. The hippocampus is the organ located in the brain that is mainly associated with memory and spatial navigation, which is the part of memory responsible for recording and retrieving all the information in the brain.

Therefore the study concluded suggesting that the oils in nutmeg have a therapeutic effect on the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease.

Oral Health

A 2012 study led by Shafeie Z, et al. suggests that nutmeg has antibacterial properties and has the potential to inhibit the activity of bacteria such as Porphyromonas gingivalis that causes periodontitis and Streptococcus mutans that are associated with tooth decay.

Furthermore, according to Chemistry of Spice by Valtcho D. Jeliazkov (Zheljazkov), myristic acid and trimyristin found in nutmeg also exhibit good antibacterial activity. The methanol extract found in nutmeg has anti-cariogenic properties and helps prevent tooth decay and dental caries. Macelignan, another antibacterial agent found in this spice, also helps inhibit the activity of bacteria that cause the cavity.

Moreover, a 2016 study led by Wei Kevin Zhang, et al. and published in the Food and Nutrition Research journal suggests that topical application of nutmeg oil may relieve a toothache.

Liver Protection

Nutmeg is a well-known plant with various medicinal applications including its use in treating liver disorders. An animal study by Dr. Frank Gonzalez, (Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, Maryland, US) et al. suggests that nutmeg rich in myrislignan may help in relieving liver injuries.

In the study, mice were administered with thioacetamide (TAA), which is a chemical compound that causes chronic liver disease like fibrosis and cirrhosis and treated with nutmeg. Nutmeg extracts helped lower the hepatic inflammation and also the free radical activity in the liver.

Another study on rats by Prof. Morita T, et al. suggests that myristicin found in nutmeg oil has hepatoprotective properties. However, further studies are required to explain the benefits of nutmeg for the liver.

Anti-depressant Properties

In Ayurvedic medicine, nutmeg has been treasured for a long time for its medicinal properties when it comes to depression. In a 2012 study conducted by Dr. Deepak Kumar Khajuria and his team, from the Al-Ameen College of Pharmacy, Bangalore, India, it was found that nutmeg extracts demonstrated an antidepressant activity. Moreover, it also has fewer side effects than conventional allopathic drugs.

In a mice study led by Dhingra D. and Sharma A., it was found that extract of nutmeg seeds exhibited antidepressant effects.

Regulates Blood Pressure

In a comprehensive guide to lowering blood pressure by the National Institutes of Health, it is suggested to add more spices like nutmeg to the diet. The guide also mentions and emphasizes using less sodium in the food to keep blood pressure levels healthy.

Another study reported that nutmeg extracts did not exhibit any significant effect on blood pressure levels. More scientific evidence is required to prove the effects of nutmeg on blood.

Anticancer Potential

A lesser-known quality of nutmeg is its potential use against cancerous cells. According to a study published in Chemico-Biological Interactions, myristicin found in nutmeg has chemopreventive properties. It is found to induce cell death (apoptosis) in leukemia cells. This, in turn, may help in preventing the growth of cancerous cells and metastasis of leukemia that commonly affects children.

Skin Care

Although the exact mechanism is not fully understood, herbal and traditional medicines have long used nutmeg to boost the appearance and health of the skin. Most commonly, it is applied as a paste mixed with water, or even honey, which is also great for skin care.

According to a 2016 research, nutmeg has shown a positive response in treating skin infections. Interestingly, research by KE Lee and colleagues. found that nutmeg and the bioactive compounds it contains like macelignan — helped in delaying premature aging caused by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. Nutmeg in its oil form has also gained popularity for its skin-enriching properties.

Lowers LDL Cholesterol Levels

In a study using albino rabbits, nutmeg extracts showed hypolipidemic effects. This means that there was a significant reduction in the LDL cholesterol levels in this population. Another animal study showed that nutmeg seed extracts help lower LDL cholesterol along with total cholesterol levels.

Even though most of this research is animal-based and more scientific evidence is needed, preliminary studies show that nutmeg’s potential to lower the bad lipoproteins in the body.

Antidiarrheal Effect

According to “Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Ayurveda, nutmeg has been commonly used throughout for giving relief from diarrhea. It is rich in carminative properties and helps promote digestion.

It can be either applied topically on the stomach or consumed with ginger and cold water.

A study conducted and published in Methods and Findings in Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology showed that nutmeg could decrease the loose stools. Therefore, nutmeg extracts can be touted as containing a good antidiarrheal effect.

Anticonvulsant Properties

A 2009 study by Wahab A, et al. suggests that the use of nutmeg oil may help prevent the spread of seizures. It is also indicated that this oil may be effective against both grand mal and partial seizures.

As this research was conducted on animal models, more research is needed to confirm the benefits, however, initial results are promising.

Nutmeg Poisoning

Consuming a huge amount of nutmeg can complicate your bodily processes, as it is a potent spice meant to be used in small quantities. Nutmeg has come under considerable suspicion since the cases of accidental poisoning have increased in recent years.

Dr. Jamie E Ehrenpreis et al. from the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, USA has published research on nutmeg poisoning taking in observations for the years 2001 to 2011 from the Illinois Poison Center. The 10-year review suggested that nutmeg has come under considerable suspicion since the cases of accidental poisoning have increased in recent years. The myristicin oil in it is a major reason behind the toxic effects of the spice. It also causes tachycardia, which is an increase in normal heart rate and triggers agitation when consumed without moderation.

Moreover, the same study shows that excess consumption of nutmeg can have psychotropic and hallucinatory effects on people, and is used as a narcotic by many people. Consuming too much of it can result in seizures, irregular heart palpitations, and vomiting. Elemincin, found in nutmeg, can lead to a decrease in muscle coordination and activity.

One study also shows findings wherein long-term consumption of nutmeg can hamper the hearing abilities.

When used appropriately, as a spice, the benefits outweigh the negatives. If you have any concerns about using nutmeg, be sure to speak with a medical professional before using it.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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