The most impressive health benefits of annatto include its ability to promote healthy digestion, strengthen bones, prevent neural tube defects, promote healing, lower fevers, boost eye health, eliminate headaches, reduce nausea, and protect respiratory distress.
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What is Annatto?
The food coloring and condiment that is extracted from the seeds of the achiote fruit is called annatto and has a wide array of uses throughout history. The achiote tree is a tropical shrub or small tree that grows in Central and South America with the scientific name bixa Orellana. The flowers of this tropical tree are white or bright pink, but the fruit is actually the most desirable part of the plant, made up of spiky brown and red pods that grow in clusters. When those pods dry and crack open, they expose seeds of a red color, from which red pigment can be extracted. This is why the achiote tree is often called the lipstick tree. Annatto’s strong pigmentation makes it a natural food dye, and it has plenty of applications in cosmetics, but more importantly, it has numerous medicinal and herbal benefits that are only now being fully understood.
In the Caribbean and Central American cultures, annatto has been used for thousands of years to cure everything from mild to potentially life-threatening diseases, making it an ancient “super food” to a certain degree. However, it has only been in recent generations that the chemical composition of annatto has been fully understood, and the high concentration of tocotrienols, which are similar in effects and structure as vitamin E, makes this plant substance so powerful.
Health Benefits of Annatto
Now, let’s take a closer look at the impressive health benefits of annatto.
The red color of annatto seeds and the pigment extracted from them is due to the carotenoid content of those seeds. Over time, carotenoids breakdown, so only buy annatto seeds if they are bright orange or red. This high carotenoid content will function as antioxidants in your ocular system and prevent the development of cataracts, while also staving off macular degeneration, keeping your vision strong for years.
The other organic compounds that makeup annatto, like tocotrienols, also act as antioxidants in other parts of the body, which is one of the reasons that it is so sought after for treatment of the skin. If you’ve been looking for an anti-aging solution for your skin, annatto pastes made from the seeds can be topically applied to reduce the signs of wrinkles, blemishes, and other imperfections, while also tightening up the skin and making it look younger.
The high level of fiber found in annatto seeds, as well as the edible leaves of the achiote plant, means that it can be very good for human digestion by promoting the smooth passage of food through the bowels and the efficient uptake of nutrients. Fiber also helps to lower cholesterol and manage diabetes, as it can help optimize the insulin and glucose levels in the blood. It has also been turned to as a diabetic management herb for generations.
A significant level of calcium found in annatto makes it important if you want to supplement your bone mineral density and ensure strength and durability as you age. Osteoporosis can affect anyone, so preventing it with essential minerals like calcium is crucial.
Prevents Birth Defects
There is an impressive amount of folate (folic acid) found in annatto, and while there are many important benefits of this vitamin, preventing neural tube defects in newborn children might be the most important. Pregnant women are encouraged to boost their folic acid levels to prevent these types of conditions.
Promotes Wound Healing
If you have suffered from burns or wounds on the skin, or are suffering from skin irritation of any kind, annatto seed paste can be applied to speed the healing process and reduce the appearance of the scar. Also, its natural antimicrobial nature can help prevent infections.
Relieves Stomach Issues
To calm an upset stomach, annatto is often consumed, as it functions like a stomachic, treating heartburn and discomfort, which may be associated with everything from viral infections to simply eating too much spicy food.
Norbixin is one of the pigments found in annatto seeds and is known to be a powerful antioxidant. In recent research, it was shown that norbixin has a decidedly anti-mutagenic effect on healthy cells exposed to cancerous cells and free radicals, meaning that the seeds may be able to help prevent a variety of different cancers from spreading.
Annatto has been proven over the centuries to be an effective herbal treatment for gonorrhea. For those suffering from the painful and embarrassing condition, using its paste either internally or topically can be very effective for clearing up that particular STD.
Word of Warning: Although there is no known toxicity, there are some who experience severe allergic reactions from annatto, even anaphylaxis. Also, if you are undergoing surgery in the near future, avoid annatto, as it can affect blood sugar levels quite dramatically. Similarly, pregnant women should only take limited amounts under direct supervision from a trained medical professional who is familiar with herbal remedies.