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Cilantro & Digestion

By Meg Campbell

With its delicate, bright green leaves and small aromatic seeds, cilantro -- also known as coriander or Chinese parsley -- is both an herb and a spice. In addition to playing a central role in culinary traditions throughout the world, cilantro is widely valued for its medicinal properties. Among other health benefits, it’s often cited as a potent digestive aid. Although many of the claims about how cilantro affects digestion have been verified by science, certain assertions require further research.

Promotes Digestive Efficiency

Fresh cilantro supports normal digestive function. Like other green herbs, cilantro gets most of its weight from water and provides a moderate amount of dietary fiber. Although you’ll only get about 1/2 gram of fiber -- and just 5 calories -- from 1 cup of cilantro, much of it is insoluble, the type that combines with water to help move material through your digestive tract more efficiently. With just over 2 grams of fiber per tablespoon, cilantro seeds are a much better source of total as well as insoluble fiber. Including whole or ground cilantro seeds in your diet on a regular basis can help you maintain bowel regularity and avoid constipation.

Supports Liver Function

Cilantro may protect liver function, thereby supporting your body’s ability to digest fats, regulate cholesterol, process sugar and filter out toxins. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Food Science found that extracts from the leaves and stems of cilantro plants helped preserve liver function in diabetic rats by significantly boosting the activity of various antioxidant enzymes in the liver. Another study published the same year in Toxicology and Industrial Health found that cilantro leaves and seeds helped improve liver function in rats with toxin-induced liver damage. More research is needed, however, to know if cilantro has the same effects in humans.

May Alleviate Gas

Although cilantro has been credited with the ability to alleviate general indigestion as well as specific symptoms like gas, bloating, heartburn and abdominal cramps, not all of these claims are backed up by science. More research is required to find out if cilantro is a true carminative -- both the herb and the seed are often added to bean-based dishes to help prevent or reduce intestinal gas, but research hasn’t definitively shown whether either actually helps combat flatulence. Cilantro seeds have been shown, however, to have a mild diuretic effect, meaning they increase urine, a waste product of digestion.

Kills Food Bacteria

Cilantro leaves contain essential oils with antimicrobial properties that support digestive function by protecting against the bacteria that cause food poisoning and other gastrointestinal problems. According to a study published in 2011 in the Journal of Medical Microbiology, cilantro’s essential oils are capable of killing most of the pathogenic bacteria that cause foodborne illness. A study published in 2012 in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology also found that cilantro extract may be useful in suppressing H. pylori, a common bacterial infection associated with peptic ulcers, gastritis and stomach cancer.

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