The Benefits of Caraway

Caraway seeds are tasty and may also offer health benefits

Caraway seeds
Caraway seeds. Getty Images/DR NEIL OVERY

Caraway seeds (Carum carvi) are a natural substance long used in cooking and in Ayurvedic medicine. Caraway seeds are typically consumed as a food or spice, but caraway oil and caraway seed powder are also sold in dietary supplement form. Some proponents suggest that consuming caraway seeds or caraway supplements can promote weight loss and offer other health benefits.

Uses for Caraway

In alternative medicine, caraway is often touted as a natural remedy for the following health problems:

Caraway is also said to act as a carminative, which is a substance that prevents the formation of gas in the gastrointestinal tract. By inhibiting gas formation, caraway is thought to prevent bloating (and, in turn, keep your stomach from appearing larger after eating).

When used as a carminative, caraway oil is often taken in combination with peppermint oil.

Health Benefits of Caraway

To date, very few scientific studies have tested the health effects of caraway. However, some preliminary research indicates that caraway may offer certain health benefits. Here's a look at some key findings from the available studies:

1) Indigestion

A combination of caraway oil and peppermint oil may help treat indigestion, according to a study published in the German journal Drug Research in 1999. For the study, 120 patients with a tendency toward indigestion took either the peppermint-caraway formula or cisapride (a medication typically used to treat heartburn) every day for four weeks.

Study results showed that the two treatments were similarly effective when it came to alleviating symptoms of indigestion.

It should be noted that it's unknown whether caraway oil on its own might be useful in the treatment of indigestion.

2) Diabetes

Preliminary research from animal-based studies raises the question of whether caraway may also be of some benefit to people with diabetes.

For instance, a 2006 study on diabetic rats (published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology) found that treating the rats with caraway extract led to a significant decrease in cholesterol levels.

In addition, a more recent study on diabetic rats (published in Saudi Medical Journal in 2011) found that treatment with caraway caused a significant reduction in blood sugar levels and helped promote weight loss. However, the study's authors note that caraway cannot be recommended to diabetes patients until further research is conducted.

Caveats

Since caraway may lower your blood sugar, people with diabetes should be cautious when consuming high amounts of caraway. Given caraway's potential to affect blood sugar levels, it's also important to avoid consuming caraway for at least two weeks prior to undergoing surgery.

In addition, caraway oil should be avoided by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

It's important to keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated.

In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in children and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.

Where to Find It

Caraway seeds are available in most grocery stores. Caraway supplements are widely available for purchase online, and can also be found in many natural-foods stores and in stores specializing in dietary supplements.

Using Caraway for Health

Although it's too soon to recommend caraway supplements as a standard treatment for any health-related purpose, it's possible that including caraway seeds in your diet could help enhance your health to some degree.

If you're considering the use of caraway supplements for the treatment of a specific health condition, make sure to consult your physician before starting your supplement regimen. Self-treating a chronic condition with caraway supplements and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious health consequences.

Sources:

Haidari F, Seyed-Sadjadi N, Taha-Jalali M, Mohammed-Shahi M. "The effect of oral administration of Carum carvi on weight, serum glucose, and lipid profile in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats." Saudi Med J. 2011 Jul;32(7):695-700.

Lemhadri A, Hajji L, Michel JB, Eddouks M. "Cholesterol and triglycerides lowering activities of caraway fruits in normal and streptozotocin diabetic rats." J Ethnopharmacol. 2006 Jul 19;106(3):321-6.

Madisch A, Heydenreich CJ, Wieland V, Hufnagel R, Hotz J. "Treatment of functional dyspepsia with a fixed peppermint oil and caraway oil combination preparation as compared to cisapride. A multicenter, reference-controlled double-blind equivalence study." Arzneimittelforschung. 1999 Nov;49(11):925-32.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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