13 Possible Health Benefits Of Cilantro Or Coriander Leaves
Health Benefits Of Cilantro Or Coriander Leaves
Cilantro or coriander leaves, rich in antioxidants and vitamins, protect the heart and the liver by scavenging free radicals, manage diabetes, and show anticancer activity. Acting against microbes, they can prevent food poisoning and yeast infections and help resolve indigestion, flatulence, and diarrhea by improving gastric functions.
The flavorful leaves of cilantro are a welcome addition to many savory dishes across Asia and Latin America. Sprinkle it over salads, add to a salsa or a guacamole, blend into a chimichurri sauce, or use it to garnish Indian curries, you have a flavor bomb on your plate. Cilantro is the Spanish name for coriander (Coriandrum sativum L). In the USA, it refers to the leaves and stems of the coriander plant, while coriander itself refers to the dry seeds that are used whole or ground as a spice in Asian cuisine.
100 g of cilantro contains:
- 23 Calories
- 2.6 g dietary fiber (11% DV)
- 6748 IU vitamin A (134% DV) from beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, and lutein and zeaxanthin
- 27 mg vitamin C (45% DV)
- 300 mcg vitamin K1 (375% DV)
- 521 mg potassium (14% DV)
- 1.77 mg iron (9% DV)
- Fatty acids, phytosterols, aldehydes, flavonols like quercetin and kaempferol1
The use of cilantro or coriander isn’t restricted to cooking, however. Traditionally, coriander has been used to treat numerous ailments, including measles, chicken pox, urinary tract infections, and stomach disorders, and even today, coriander is a common home remedy for indigestion and flatulence. Ayurveda considers it a tridoshik herb, that is one that balances the three doshas, vata, pitta, and kapha, with special benefits for the pitta type.
Though cilantro and coriander seeds come from the same plant, they have some nutritional differences in terms of the variety and quantity of bioactive compounds – for instance, cilantro has more vitamins and polyphenolic antioxidants, while the seeds have a higher mineral and sterol content. This translates into different health benefits and degree of efficacy. Here are the health benefits of cilantro or coriander leaves.
1. Reduces Oxidative Stress
In the course of daily metabolic processes as well as upon exposure to external toxins, our body produces reactive molecules called free radicals. These damage cells and trigger chronic inflammation. When the body’s antioxidants, which are part of the immune system, cannot cope with the damage, it leads to oxidative stress. In the long term, oxidative stress leads to premature aging as well as chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. This is where an antioxidant-rich diet plays a part in helping you recover.
Cilantro has potent antioxidants like quercetin, kaempferol, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, and vitamin C that give it a moderately high ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) value of 5141 μ mol TE/100g.2 The ORAC value measures the antioxidative capacity of a whole food by testing how many oxygen radicals (a type of free radicals) it can mop up. While berries are known to be potent antioxidants, cilantro turns out to be even better than red raspberries in terms of the ORAC value.
An in vitro study on human skin cells under oxidative stress found that a standardized extract of cilantro leaves could lower rates of oxidation. The leaf extract increased the levels of glutathione, a natural antioxidant in the body, and enhanced the activity of enzymes like superoxide dismutase and catalase which break down toxic byproducts into harmless chemicals. It also increased the activity of an antioxidant protein.3
2. Can Reduce Inflammation
Coriander seeds have been found to reduce swelling and inflammation in patients of rheumatoid arthritis, albeit at a high dose, but can cilantro?4 Possibly yes. Though cilantro has a much lower quantity of the sterols beta-sitosterol and beta-sitosterolin that give the seeds their anti-inflammatory property, it does have polyphenols like quercetin and kaempferol which are known to have anti-inflammatory benefits.5 6 This is probably why it has been used as part of an anti-inflammatory diet for patients of IBD (inflammatory bowel disorder) as well, besides the fact that it aids digestion.7
3. Can Manage Diabetes
In Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Morocco, coriander seed infusion is used as a remedy for diabetes.8 Cilantro leaves too may help in improving multiple aspects of diabetes. In a study on diabetic rats, cilantro leaf extract reduced the blood glucose, total cholesterol, LDL and VLDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels and increased the HDL cholesterol levels. Usually, diabetic patients also have both lipid imbalance and oxidative stress, which increase the risk of damage to vital organs like the heart, liver, and kidneys. Cilantro could counter the oxidative stress as well.9 The blood glucose-lowering effects, however, were found to be significant only in diabetic rats. So for non-diabetics, consumption of cilantro in dietary amounts should not be of concern.10
4. Can Protect The Liver
Any natural herb that helps balance lipid levels must also have a beneficial effect on the liver. Since the liver is directly involved in lipid metabolism, an imbalance indicates poor liver function. This can happen when in the process of transforming food into non-toxic byproducts, the liver itself undergoes oxidative damage. This is where cilantro can help.
In the aforementioned study on diabetic rats, cilantro reduced oxidation by enhancing the activity of antioxidant enzymes like catalase, superoxide dismutase, and glutathione peroxidase in the liver and countered damage. In another animal study, cilantro prevented cell damage in the liver caused by a toxin and improved liver function.11 12 Many chemicals we are exposed to, through pollution, as occupational hazard, or through medicines, have a similar deleterious effect on the liver. The liver in turn functions poorly, leading to a whole host of metabolic problems.
Adding an extra sprig of cilantro to your salad or salsa and combining it with other liver-cleansing foods can certainly go a long way in keeping your body toxin-free. You may even want to try a cilantro juice or smoothie.
5. Can Protect The Heart
Several animal studies have established the beneficial effects of coriander fruit and seed extract on the heart. In one study, the seed extract prevented heart attack by scavenging free radicals, while in another the fruit extract could lower blood pressure by increasing urine output as well as by dilating blood vessels.13 14
Coriander can regulate blood pressure by inducing contractions (in a mechanism involving the neurotransmitter acetylcholine) and relaxing blood vessels (by blocking calcium from entering the heart and blood vessel cells).15 Further research is required to see if cilantro has a similar function.
While no study has yet tested the effect of cilantro on the heart, we know that due to a higher phenolic content, the leaves have a higher antioxidative capacity than the seed.16 The same polyphenols that make cilantro good for the liver can also make it good for the heart. Individually, these have been seen to lower blood pressure and prevent atherosclerosis by balancing lipid levels and fighting free radicals.17 18 The other way in which cilantro controls blood pressure is by increasing urine output.19
6. May Improve Digestion And Relieve Flatulence
Ayurveda recommends using coriander (dhanyaka) to resolve pitta type digestive disorders since it stimulates the agni (digestive fire) but does not increase acidity. In smaller amounts, it is useful for kapha and vata types as well.20
The traditional use of coriander as a carminative – a substance that can expel gas and relieve flatulence – is well known and justified. In animal studies, the seed extract stimulated the secretion of gastric acids, increased contractions, possibly by supporting the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and helped food pass faster through the gastrointestinal tract. This makes coriander an effective remedy for digestive disorders caused by a delay in the passage of food in the gastrointestinal tract – such as flatulence, indigestion, vomiting, and anorexia.21
Usage in traditional diets and home remedies indicates that cilantro too could have similar benefits. In India, finely chopped cilantro or a spoon of the juice of the leaves is added to buttermilk to serve as a digestive aid after a heavy meal.
Coriander seed extract also helps alleviate diarrhea and abdominal spasms. It behaves in the same way as standard drugs for conditions like diarrhea and abdominal spasms, that is by blocking calcium channels that induce smooth muscle contractions in the gut.22 But whether cilantro could help similarly is not yet known.
7. Prevents Microbial Infections And Food Poisoning
A recent study has found that essential oil extracted from the stem of cilantro can kill the larvae of Aedes aegypti, a mosquito that can transmit dengue, chikungunya, zika, and yellow fever.23
Though you may be skeptical about adding cilantro to your diarrhea diet, trust its antimicrobial benefits to prevent food poisoning. Essential oil extracted from the leaves has been found to have potent effect against Listeria monocytogenes, a pathogenic food-borne bacteria that causes a severe infection called listeriosis. The long-chain alcohols and aldehydes in cilantro essential oil were found to be more beneficial than the seed essential oil.24 Cilantro can also protect you from Salmonella enterica, thanks to an antibacterial aldehyde known as dodecanal, as well as a number of other pathogenic bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus spp, and Escherichia coli and the yeast Candida albicans that causes opportunistic infections.25 26
But be careful when using fresh cilantro. The FDA has found that imported cilantro may itself contain several strains of bacteria and rinsing the leaves cannot ensure complete removal. So look for home grown or local produce.
8. May Treat Urinary Tract Infections
Some claim that cilantro can ease menstrual pain and increase breastmilk production, but there’s no evidence to back these claims.
In Palestine, the fruits of coriander are used in folk medicine to treat urinary infections, probably due to their antimicrobial and diuretic properties. However, evidence is limited. A 2014 lab study found that a methanolic extract of the seeds is effective against a number of UTI-causing drug-resistant pathogens, but only further research can tell us if cilantro leaves too could have a similar effect inside the body.27
9. May Remove Heavy Metals From The Body
Cilantro may be capable of removing heavy metals from the body and mitigating the damage caused by them. Exposure to pollutants and certain medicines causes heavy metals like lead, arsenic, aluminum, mercury, and cadmium to be deposited in the body. These can damage a number of organs by increasing oxidative stress, and may even be utilized by microbes to render antibiotics ineffective. A study found that lead and mercury deposits in the body were responsible for frequent relapses of Chlamydia trachomatis and Herpes simplex 1 and 2 infections in patients despite several antibiotic courses. Quite accidentally, it was then found that cilantro leaves could speed up the excretion of these heavy metals and improve the effectiveness of antibiotics.28 The researchers concluded that cilantro helps remove heavy metals from the body. But promising as this theory may be, follow-up studies are required to firm it up. Meanwhile, some recommend taking it in a drop by drop dose, together with chlorella.29
That said, there’s evidence that coriander can fight against the oxidative damage caused by heavy metals. In a study on mice exposed to lead, a coriander extract prevented oxidative stress to a large extent.30 It can also protect the liver from lead toxicity.
10. Protects The Eye
Thanks to a very high amount of vitamin A, cilantro can keep your eyes healthy well into old age and ward off night blindness. What’s better is that the vitamin comes from carotenoids, a group of antioxidants that can reduce inflammation, and even a very high amount does not cause vitamin A toxicity. Cilantro also has a good amount of vitamin C, which reduces the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.31
11. Can Treat Allergies, Rashes, Wounds
Ayurvedic practitioners recommend using cilantro juice or pulp to treat allergic reactions like insect bites, skin rashes, itching, and inflammation. Blend 1 cup of cilantro leaves with 1/3 cup of water. Strain the juice and apply the pulp directly on the bite twice a day. Drink 2 tablespoons of the juice thrice a day. The pulp may also be used on a burn wound.32 Cilantro is also thought to be effective for hay fever and allergic rhinitis for people with pitta dosha.33
12. Improves Memory And May Prevent Alzheimer’s
Recent research has found that cilantro could improve your memory and help keep neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s at bay. In a study, both young and old rats were given a specially prepared diet, with cilantro making up 5%, 10%, and 15% of the diet. The animals showed an improvement in memory in a dose-dependent manner. And even when they were given an amnesia-inducing drug, cilantro could reverse the memory deficits.
The researchers found that it protects memory by reducing cholesterol in the brain and blocking the function of an enzyme called cholinesterase, which breaks down acetylcholine. Since Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the deficiency of acetylcholine, the researchers felt that cilantro could act as a preventive.34 However, the amount you might need to consume for this benefit might be lot more than normal dietary amounts. But you could always combine it with other brain-enhancing herbs and foods.
13. Has Anti-Cancer Activity
In lab studies, cilantro has shown anti-cancer properties. Cilantro juice reduced the mutagenicity of a number of carcinogenic aromatic amines by up to 92.43%, thanks to chlorophyll.35 To explain in lay terms, aromatic amines or heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are toxic chemicals produced when muscle meat (poultry, beef, pork, or fish) is grilled, charred. These are mutagenic in nature, that is these have the ability to trigger changes in the DNA and cause cancer. Further in vivo studies will give us a clearer idea on the mechanism and the amount to be consumed. But till then, pairing grilled meat with cilantro sauce could be a welcome move.
Lab studies have also shown that coriander seeds and root (in different extracts) show anticancer activity against oral cancer, gastric cancer, and breast cancer. Coriander functions in a number of ways like preventing DNA damage and cancer cell migration and inducing cell death.36 37 38 However, whether intake of cilantro in dietary amounts can prevent or treat cancer can only be understood after large-scale clinical trials.
Not many studies have been conducted exclusively on cilantro leaves, and none at all on human beings; so if you want to use cilantro to remedy a specific condition, don’t stop medication without consulting your doctor.
Some people may be allergic to cilantro, but apart from that there seems to be no contraindication at present. The leaves are not known to interact with drugs, except, possibly blood thinners due to its high K content. If you are on blood thinners, have a word with your doctor to find your ideal intake.
References [ + ]
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Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.