4 Foods with Surprising Medicinal Purposes

AUGUST 02, 2016
As health care professionals, it’s our job to individualize treatment to meet patients’ needs.
Notably, many patients prefer complementary alternative medicine (CAM) over prescription medication. According to the Mayo Clinic, nearly 40% of adults report using CAM.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health classifies CAM therapies as whole medical systems, energy medicine, mind-body medicine, manipulative and body-based practices, and biologically based practices. CAM includes many different therapies, like the consumption of foods and spices we may not even know are medicinal.
Here are some foods and spices patients might already have in their pantries that may have beneficial use.

1. Artichoke
This plant can be eaten from its leaves to its heart. It can be blended into a dip or roasted and served as a side veggie.
The positive health effects of the artichoke aren’t widely reported. Not only is it packed with tons of antioxidants, but it’s also used to battle high cholesterol, alcohol-induced hangovers, and indigestion. High cholesterol’s associated with an increased risk for coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis. Artichokes and artichoke leaf extract reduce cholesterol levels. 
A 2001 study conducted in Germany analyzed the effects artichokes had on cholesterol: 143 patients with high cholesterol received 1800 mg of artichoke extract in 450 mg tablets for 6 weeks. The results showed an 18.5% decrease in total cholesterol and a 22.9% decrease in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) in the artichoke group, versus a 8.6% decrease in total cholesterol and 6.3% decrease in LDL-C in the placebo group.

Artichokes can also be beneficial after a night of drinking. Although there isn’t a lot of scientific data on this use, some individuals swear by eating artichokes or taking artichoke extract in order to ease the aftermath of alcohol. One reason may be the high levels of vitamin B6 in the artichoke counteract the depletion that drinking alcohol causes.
Last but not least, the artichoke can be beneficial to patients with indigestion, as it reduces symptoms like nausea, vomiting, flatulence, and stomach pain. Improvement is typically seen after 8 to 12 weeks.

2. Cranberry
The cranberry is a type of evergreen shrub. Some individuals eat cranberries raw, but most enjoy them more cooked or sweetened because it reduces the bitterness.
Cranberries are most commonly used for the prevention of urinary tract infections (UTIs). It was a common misconception that cranberry worked primarily by making the urine acidic, which stunted the growth of bacteria in the urinary tract; however, researchers have disregarded this theory, and they now believe some of the chemicals found within cranberries keep the bacteria from sticking to multiplying cells that line the urinary tract. Although cranberries don’t have the ability to release the bacteria already stuck to the cells, they’re effective in preventing more from getting stuck, which overall can lead to UTI prevention.

Cranberries also contain a significant amount of salicylic acid. By drinking cranberry juice regularly, patients can increase the amounts of salicylic acid in their body, which can reduce swelling and prevent blood clots.
Lastly, cranberries can be used to treat peptic ulcer disease (PUD). The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends drinking cranberry juice and consuming other foods containing flavonoids, as they inhibit the growth of bacteria contributing to the formation of ulcers.

Shelby Leheny, Pharm D, B.S
Shelby Leheny, Pharm D, B.S
Shelby Leheny received her Doctor of Pharmacy Degree from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) and her Bachelor's of Science degree at the University of Pittsburgh. She is a pharmacist at CVS.