If you’re looking to improve your gut health and reduce inflammation, you’re on the right track. Gut health is crucial to your overall well-being, and inflammation can cause a range of health issues. “A healthy gut is essential for proper digestion, absorption of nutrients, immune function and overall wellness,” explains Sarah Robbins, M.D., a gastroenterologist and physician nutrition specialist in Kelowna, British Columbia. She adds that a healthy gut plays a role in neurotransmitters important for mental health and metabolic conditions such as obesity and diabetes.
Fortunately, certain spices can help reduce inflammation and promote a healthy gut. We spoke with gastroenterologists who shared some of the best spices to add to your meals to combat gut inflammation.
6 Best Spices to Fight Gut Inflammation
Turmeric is a bright yellow spice commonly used in Indian cuisine. “Turmeric has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Many are attributed to curcumin, a polyphenol that’s been the subject of thousands of studies and associated with a range of benefits, from regulating immune cells to help promote tissue healing,” says Alex Chavez, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of California San Diego. Curcumin may help reduce inflammation in the gut by inhibiting the production of inflammatory cytokines, according to 2021 research in Drug Design, Development and Therapy.
Ginger is another spice with potent anti-inflammatory and digestion-friendly properties. “Ginger has long been used to alleviate nausea, vomiting and motion sickness. Gingerols and shogaols are bioactive compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, ginger may reduce gas and bloating by stimulating the production of digestive enzymes,” says Robbins.
Cinnamon is a warm and comforting spice often used in baked goods, as well as in oatmeal and yogurt. “Cinnamon is a common spice that may support the production of digestive enzymes, thereby reducing bloating, gas and indigestion,” says Robbins. The spice contains a compound called cinnamaldehyde, which can help counteract inflammation, regulate blood sugar, and has antimicrobial properties that may help improve your gut microbiome, she says.
Peppermint is a refreshing herb often used to soothe digestive issues like bloating and gas. It contains a compound called menthol. According to 2019 research in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies, peppermint oil may reduce markers of gut inflammation in people with irritable bowel syndrome. “The oil extracted from peppermint has been suggested to have many positive effects on gut health,” says Chavez. For example, he explains that peppermint may ease abdominal pain and spasms by affecting contractions of smooth muscle in the gut.
5. Licorice Root
Licorice root is a sweet and earthy herb often used in traditional medicine, per the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. It contains a compound called glycyrrhizin, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, notes 2022 research in the Journal of Functional Foods.
“Licorice root has traditionally been used to soothe the gut and has been used to relieve acid reflux and indigestion,” says Robbins. “The glycyrrhizin in licorice root is known to be an anti-inflammatory. It may also have antiviral and antimicrobial properties. An additional benefit is that it has been known to promote skin health,” she adds.
Oregano is a fragrant herb that’s commonly used in Mediterranean cuisine. It contains two compounds—carvacrol and thymol—which may help cool off inflammation. In animal research, animals that were fed oregano essential oil had improved markers of gut barrier function, says Chavez.
Other Ways to Fight Gut Inflammation
To complement the benefits of adding the above spices to your diet, several other lifestyle habits can help promote gut health and reduce inflammation.
- Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, antioxidants and other nutrients that help support a healthy gut microbiome, per 2022 research in Frontiers in Nutrition. “Fruits and vegetables will provide a source of prebiotics to support a healthy and diverse microbiome, promote regular bowel movements and provide additional metabolic benefits such as a reduction in cholesterol and healthy blood sugars,” says Robbins. Aim to eat a variety of colors and types of produce to reap the most benefit.
- Limit ultraprocessed foods and added sugar: Excessive added sugars can disrupt your gut microbiome and contribute to inflammation, notes 2020 research in Nutrients. Instead, focus on natural, nutrient-dense foods as much as possible.
- Manage stress: According to a 2020 study in Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, chronic stress can contribute to inflammation and negatively impact gut health. Incorporate habits that counter stress into your daily routine, such as meditation, yoga or deep breathing.
- Get enough sleep: Sleep has been shown to promote a healthy, diverse set of bacteria in your gut, finds 2019 research in PLOS One. Aim for seven to eight hours of quality sleep each night to support gut health and overall wellness.
The Bottom Line
Certain spices can help reduce inflammation and promote a healthy gut. Turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, peppermint, licorice root and oregano are six spices with potent anti-inflammatory effects that support optimal gut health. Additionally, eating a wide range of nutritious foods, limiting added sugars, managing stress and prioritizing sleep can help fight against gut inflammation.