The antioxidant theory of cardiovascular disease has been extensively researched. The theory suggests that free radicals, molecules with unpaired electrons, attack the tissues of the arteries. This causes oxidative stress that might have two effects. Firstly it may damage the cells of the endothelium and this triggers an autoimmune reaction that may cause atherosclerosis. Secondly the oxidative stress may inhibit nitric oxide production and this may lead to endothelial dysfunction.
Whether the artery diameter is thinned because of atherosclerosis or because they do not dilate properly in response to blood flow (endothelial dysfunction) the result is the same. Flow remains the same, resistance is increased and so blood pressure increases. Free radicals may therefore play an important role in the aetiology of high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants may protect from cardiovascular disease because they inhibit free radicals.
Fruits And Vegetables
Fruit and vegetable intake is inversely associated with cardiovascular disease. In other words, the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the lower your risk for cardiovascular disease. One reason fruits and vegetables are said to be beneficial to cardiovascular disease is because of the antioxidants they possess. However, while fruits and vegetables are undoubtedly full of antioxidants, spices contain even higher concentrations and may therefore also be cardioprotective.
Some spices like cinnamon and cloves contains some of the highest amounts of antioxidants of any foods. Weight for weight they may provide higher levels of protection that most fruits or vegetables. Some of the common spices like thyme, rosemary and parsley are also high in antioxidants. Many research papers have looked at the health benefits of spices on cardiovascular disease, and generally they have been shown to offer significant protection.
Spices may protect from cardiovascular disease in two main ways. Firstly, the antioxidants they possess can protect the artery walls from atherosclerosis and endothelial dysfunction. However, in addition, some spices may prevent or reverse insulin resistance, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, through their antioxidant action. Spices may therefore have more than one mechanisms by which their antioxidants are cardioprotective.
So Which Spices?
Although some spices are higher in antioxidants than others, the truth is that it may be better to eat a variety of spices rather than just the ones with the most antioxidants. The reason for this is that the different phytonutrients within spices that give them their antioxidant properties may have different modes of action which may allow them to act synergistically together. The trick then is to add a variety of spices in the diet to increase the variety of antioxidants.