Spices are Powerful Inhibitors of Oxidative Stress


Oxidative stress occurs when the amount of free radicals, including reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (ROS, RNS) exceed the abilities of the body’s genetically coded defenses (antioxidants) to maintain a balanced state. Oxidative stress impairs the normal function of bodily systems, including, in particular, the nervous system.

The brain consumes roughly 20% of the oxygen used by the entire body and contains high concentrations of phospholipids. Because of these two important factors, the brain is highly prone to oxidative stress.

In the aging brain, as well as in the case of several neurodegenerative diseases, there is a decline in the normal antioxidant defense mechanisms, which increases the vulnerability of the brain to the deleterious effects of oxidative damage.

This results in a significant and progressive increase in the level of oxidatively damaged DNA and lipids in the brain during the aging process which can lead to the death of neurons.

Oxidative stress increases blood-brain barrier permeability which can result in neuroinflammation. Oxidative stress is suspected to be important in neurodegenerative diseases including Lou Gehrig’s disease (aka MND or ALS), Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and Multiple sclerosis.

An antioxidant is a molecule that inhibits the oxidation of other molecules. Antioxidants terminate these oxidation chain reactions by removing free radical intermediates, and inhibit other oxidation reactions.

Herbs and spices have some of the highest antioxidant content (other than some fruits and berries) of any foods. There are two well researched studies on the antioxidant content in spices and herbs.

The first is by MH Carlsen et.al. Published in 2010. The results of this research is illustrated in the Table below, listing the antioxidant content in spices and herbs. Cloves clearly have the highest content of all spices.

Excerpt of the spices and herbs analyzed in the Antioxidant Food Table.
Antioxidant content mmol/100 ga) n Min Max
Allspice, dried ground 100.4 2 99.28 100.40
Basil, dried 19.9 5 9.86 30.86
Bay leaves, dried 27.8 2 24.29 31.29
Cinnamon sticks and whole bark 26.5 3 6.84 40.14
Cinnamon, dried ground 77.0 7 17.65 139.89
Clove, dried, whole and ground 277.3 6 175.31 465.32
Dill, dried ground 20.2 3 15.94 24.47
Estragon, dried ground 43.8 3 43.22 44.75
Ginger, dried 20.3 5 11.31 24.37
Mint leaves, dried 116.4 2 71.95 160.82
Nutmeg, dried ground 26.4 5 15.83 43.52
Oregano, dried ground 63.2 9 40.30 96.64
Rosemary, dried ground 44.8 5 24.34 66.92
Saffron, dried ground 44.5 3 23.83 61.72
Saffron, dried whole stigma 17.5 3 7.02 24.83
Sage, dried ground 44.3 3 34.88 58.80
Thyme, dried ground 56.3 3 42.00 63.75
a) mean value when n > 1
Carlsen et al. Nutrition Journal 2010 9:3 doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-3

Source:  Carlsen MH, Halvorsen BL, Holte K, et al. The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide. Nutr J. 2010;9:3.

The second study was published in 2003 by S. Dragland, et. Al. The research study evaluated the antioxidant content in commercial herbs. The results of this study are illustrated in the Table below. Again, Cloves showed the highest level of antioxidant content of all herbs (spices).

Total antioxidants in commercial herbs

Commercial spices (dried herbs) Total antioxidants
mmol/100 g
Clove (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 465.3
Allspice/pimento (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 101.5
Cinnamon (Santa Maria, Mölndal, Sweden) 98.4
Rosemary (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 66.9
Thyme (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 63.7
Marjoram (Santa Maria, Mölndal, Sweden) 53.9
Cinnamon (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 53.0
Saffron, red (Gaea, Agrinion, Greece) 47.8
Oregano (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 45.0
Tarragon (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 43.3
Common basil (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 30.9
Bayberry leaves (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 24.3
Ginger (Santa Maria, Mölndal, Sweden) 22.5
Nutmeg (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 20.3
Dill (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 15.9
Curry (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 13.0
Mustard (Colman’s, Carrow, England) 10.4
Curcuma (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 10.3
Vanilla (Santa Maria, Mölndal, Sweden) 10.1
Juniper berry (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 9.3
Pepper, black (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 8.7
Chilipepper (Santa Maria, Mölndal, Sweden) 8.5
Jalapeno pepper (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 8.2
Vanilla (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 7.2
Chives (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 7.1
Cumin (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 6.8
Red pepper (Santa Maria, Mölndal, Sweden) 6.1
Piri Piri (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 6.0
Cayenne (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 5.9
Red pepper (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 5.6
Caraway seeds (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 4.5
Parsley (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 3.6
Coriander (Santa Maria, Mölndal, Sweden) 2.8
Vanilla seeds (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 2.6
Garlic (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 2.1
Coriander (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 2.1
Cardamom (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 0.5
Poppy seeds (Black Boy, Elverum, Norway) 0.3

Source:  Dragland S, Senoo H, Wake K, Holte K, Blomhoff R. Several culinary and medicinal herbs are important sources of dietary antioxidants. J Nutr. 2003;133:1286-1290.


Lovell MA and Markesbery WR. Oxidative DNA damage in mild cognitive impairment and late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Nucleic Acids Res. 2007;35(22):7497-504.

Finkel T, Holbrook NJ. Oxidants, oxidative stress and the biology of ageing. Nature. 2000;408:239

Chapter 15: Oxidative Stress and the Aging Brain: From Theory to Prevention,
Gemma C, Vila J, Bachstetter A, et al.

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Oxidative stress increases blood-brain barrier permeability and induces alterations in occluding during hypoxia-reoxygenation.

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Informational Reference:

Download PDF:  BioFoundations Table of Spices that Inhibit and Counteract Oxidative Stress

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