How Artichoke Benefits You
If I ask you how you think artichoke benefits you, I wouldn’t be surprised if you said as a favorite entree, pizza topping, or sliced into a salad. And it’s true, this amazing plant is a tasty treat! But artichoke benefits go well beyond cuisine.
Globe artichoke is the definition of ‘food as medicine’. A tasty mediterranean favourite, the large, green artichoke heads - a type of thistle - are steamed or marinated and eaten as an entree.
How the tasty artichoke benefits the human diet and overall health has been known for thousands of years. The Greeks and Romans favored the plant, considering it to be a delicacy and perhaps even an aphrodisiac.
In fact the artichoke’s botanical name, Cynara scolymus, is said to stem from a Greek myth about a young mortal, Cynara, that Zeus fell in love with and seduced, whisking her back up to Mt Olympus with him. When Cynara got homesick and snuck in a visit back to her family on earth, Zeus found out and flew into a fit, tossing her back to earth and turning her into an artichoke.
Which, as you read on, you might think is more of a blessing than a curse. After all there could be much worse - or shall we say far less nutritious - plants to be turned into!
Myths aside, over the years artichoke has become a well-studied herbal supplement, famous for stimulating the production and flow of bile from the gallbladder.
Traditional herbalists knew that artichoke benefits were far-reaching. They used the globe variety for all conditions related to the liver, gallbladder and digestive system - especially for symptoms like bloating, fullness and flatulence. The bile-stimulating effect holds exciting benefits for the cardiovascular system, too, with the ability to lower cholesterol.
Further research is uncovering yet more therapeutic actions of artichoke, like blocking enzymes that create new cholesterol, acting as a supreme antioxidant, protecting and regenerating the liver and even preventing cancer.
Fun fact: a chemical in artichoke leaves called cynarin has the ability to block certain taste receptors on the tongue, making food, drinks - even water - seem sweet. For this reason, it’s best to avoid eating artichoke if you’re also tasting wine!
Artichoke Benefits For Health
So how are artichoke benefits realized in your body’s functions?
Globe artichoke contains bioactive plant compounds (flavonoids) such as luteolin, cynarin, apigenin, silymarin and chlorogenic acid.
The total antioxidant content of artichoke is one of the highest of any vegetable!
These compounds make artichoke potentially useful for:
→ Improving digestion
By stimulating the secretion of bile, as well as stomach acid, globe artichoke may counteract indigestion, feelings of fullness, bloating and flatulence.
→ Lowering cholesterol
Globe artichoke is a time-honoured and well-studied remedy for high cholesterol, which appears to increase bile production, helping digest fats and also excrete them if present in excess. It may also inhibit the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme - responsible for creating more cholesterol.
→ Protecting the cardiovascular system
Globe artichoke helps protect this system mainly thanks to its cholesterol-lowering effects (as covered above). It also helps by preventing the oxidation of LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol which is implicated in heart disease. Further, it increases nitric oxide production - which opens blood vessels, lowers blood pressure and encourages healthy circulation; and acts as an antioxidant.
→ Protecting and regenerating the liver
Chemicals found in globe artichoke such as cynarin and silymarin have shown promise for protecting hepatocytes (liver cells), and even helping them regenerate. In fact, silymarin is a famous constituent of St Mary’s Thistle (or Milk Thistle), one of the world’s most well-known liver herbs.
→ Cancer treatment and prevention
Evidence suggests that chlorogenic acid found in globe artichoke may trigger the death of breast cancer cells. Apigenin has been shown to act against pancreatic cancer cells. By offering antioxidant support, artichoke also helps protect DNA from damage that may lead to mutations and cancer.
→ Boosting antioxidant activity
Phenolic compounds unique to globe artichoke were found to have significant antioxidant activity, preserving glutathione (the body’s master antioxidant) and protecting liver cells in mice.
→ Antimicrobial support
Globe artichoke leaf extract has shown activity against bacteria, yeasts and moulds, suggesting that the herb may play a role in treating infection (especially of the gut).
→ Blood sugar management and diabetes
The fact that globe artichoke benefits you primarily by supporting digestive and cardiovascular health - alongside strong antioxidant activity - makes it likely to offer positive effects in this area, too. This effect requires further research.
How To Enjoy Artichoke Benefits
There isn’t yet a consensus on the recommended dosage. Anything between 1800 and 6000 mg of the extract shows therapeutic activity, but the dose will depend on the individual.
Caution is advised for those with an allergy to the Asteraceae plant family, or with gallstones, liver or gallbladder disease or known obstruction of the bile ducts.
Globe Artichoke Leaf Extract In Athletic Greens
We can all take a leaf (ha) out of the book of the mediterranean diet. While artichokes have long been enjoyed there, artichoke is not included so much outside this region. Which is a shame because this amazing thistle has great general benefits that most people could use help with, such as controlling cholesterol and improving liver health. Further, it can help if you’ve got discomfort after a big meal thanks to increased bile production.
As artichoke benefits are well known in the area of helping to lower cholesterol, artichoke works well with the policosanol and beta glucans in our Athletic Greens mix. Artichoke is also known for improving liver health, so it combines nicely with the milk thistle and dandelion root in our greens mix. And as a potent antioxidant it works well with vitamins A,C&E as well as Alpha Lipoic Acid.
If all that wasn’t enough to convince you, just think for a moment that artichoke benefits have been enjoyed as a medicinal food as far back as 500 BC. That’s well over 2000 years of humans enjoying the many benefits, and healthy amounts of research building up in support.
So follow in the footsteps of the Greeks and Romans and enjoy your own artichoke benefits, every day!