Cardamom has been used as a spice and as a traditional medicine in many cultures. Modern science shows that cardamom may help lower cholesterol, improve diabetes, and reduce your risk of heart disease. Read on to discover all the potential benefits of cardamom, but also its side effects.
What Is Cardamom?
It is a perennial plant of the family of Zingiberaceae, which also includes ginger and turmeric .
The plant produces pods or capsules that contain 15 to 20 seeds each. These seeds are often ground to a fine powder before use in cooking or medicine .
There are two main types of commercially available cardamom:
- Green, large, or true cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)
- Black, small, or winged cardamom (Amomum subulatum)
Because these two species grow at different elevations, regional cuisines and folk medicines tend to favor the species that is most common in their area. Southern Indian cuisine typically uses green cardamom and northern Indian and Nepalese cuisines favor the black one. Both types have been used in traditional Unani and Ayurvedic medicines .
Cardamom contains a number of potentially active ingredients, the most important of which are :
Terpenes – a class of compounds known for many familiar aromas and associated with antioxidant health benefits.
- Limonene – also found in citrus fruit oils
- 1,8-cineole – also found in eucalyptus oil
- Linalool – known for its pleasant scent
- Linalyl acetate – a terpene derived from linalool
- Alpha-terpinyl acetate – also found in pine oil
Flavonoids and propanoids – two classes of compounds with antioxidant activities produced by plants.
- Eugenol – phenylpropanoid, also found in cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and basil
- Quercetin – a flavonoid found in many other fruits and vegetables
The peculiar aroma of cardamom is due to alpha-terpinyl acetate and 1,8-cineole .
Mechanisms of Action
- Anti-inflammatory: Cardamom increases Th2 cytokine release and decreases Th1 cytokine release. Cardamom also decreases inflammatory markers COX-2, IL-6, NF-κB, and TNF-α, and the production of NO through iNOS [2, 3, 4].
- Antispasmodic: Cardamom reduced potassium-ion-induced contractions in intestinal, bronchial, and heart tissues. It also bound calcium ion receptors to stimulate tissue relaxation. The results in an antispasmodic property that may reduce gut distress, asthma symptoms, and blood pressure. Alternatively, it may achieve the same effects by blocking muscarinic acetylcholine (cholinergic) receptors [5, 6, 7].
- Anti-anxiety: Quercetin, a flavonoid found in cardamom, has a potential anti-anxiety effect in the brain by reducing corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRF) .
- Antioxidant: In addition to its free radical scavenging capacity, cardamom extract increased activities of some liver enzymes (SOD, GSH, GST) and reduced activity of others (cytochrome p450, ALT, AST, and ALP). These changes are associated with increased antioxidant status, and detoxification of foreign compounds [9, 10, 3, 11].
- Anti-cancer: Cardamom oil may prevent cancer-causing DNA damage. It may also increase the activity of natural killer cells and cause cancer cell death through the activation of the ERK1/2 pathway and inhibition of HDAC2 [12, 13, 2].
Note, however, that the above-listed mechanisms have been observed in animals and cells only. Cardamom may have different effects in humans.
Health Benefits of Cardamom
Possibly Effective for:
Lowering Blood Fats
A 19% overall decrease in total cholesterol, a 25% decrease in LDL cholesterol, and a 15% drop in triglycerides was observed in 20 people with elevated blood pressure treated with green cardamom powder over a 3-month period .
In 80 pre-diabetic women, the group given green cardamom had lower total cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol after 2 months .
In another trial on 83 people with type 2 diabetes, green cardamom reduced blood triglycerides but had no effect on cholesterol .
A study of rats with high cholesterol separated green cardamom oil from its powder and found the oil to be more effective at reducing cholesterol than powder alone .
Taken together, limited evidence suggests that cardamom may help lower blood cholesterol and triglycerides. You may discuss with your doctor if this spice may help in your case.
Insufficient Evidence for:
Green cardamom had the same effects in a clinical trial on 87 people who were either overweight or obese with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease .
A study of 80 pre-diabetic women measured no significant difference in blood sugar levels of those given green cardamom compared to those who received a placebo over 2 months, but did show improved insulin sensitivity .
However, in a trial with 204 type 2 diabetes patients, green cardamom supplements (3g powder in their tea per day for 8 weeks) didn’t improve blood sugar levels .
Rats with symptoms similar to diabetes were dosed with green cardamom and compared to a group given a common diabetes medication, pioglitazone. Both were effective in reducing blood cholesterol and fasting blood glucose levels, and preventing liver enlargement. However, only pioglitazone effectively lowered blood glucose after a meal .
All in all, limited evidence with mixed results suggests that cardamom may help with diabetes by reducing sugar and insulin while increasing insulin sensitivity. Larger, more robust trials are needed to shed some light on its potential effects.
A study of 80 pre-diabetic women compared a cardamom supplement to placebo over 8 weeks. The patients taking green cardamom had decreased markers of inflammation at the end of the trial (hs-CRP and the hs-CRP: IL-6 ratio) .
Rats with swollen paws (induced edema) had reduced inflammation when injected with green cardamom extract or with its essential oil at the site of the swelling. The extract/oil likely blocked the production of inflammatory molecules (including COX-2, IL-6, and TNF-α, as well as iNOS) [6, 3].
Although the results are promising, a single clinical trial and some animal and cell research cannot be considered sufficient evidence that cardamom improves inflammatory issues. Further clinical research is required.
3) Antioxidant Activity
In a clinical trial on 20 people with high blood pressure, a 3-month course of green cardamom powder supplements increased their antioxidant status by 90% .
Rats fed a high-fat diet supplemented with black cardamom had increased levels of important antioxidant enzymes: superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), and glutathione S-transferase (GST) in both their liver and heart .
Similar to the previous section, the antioxidant effects of cardamom have only been proven in a few human and animal studies. More clinical trials on larger populations are needed.
4) Reducing the Risk of Heart Disease
The purported benefits of cardamom to prevent heart disease are only supported by a few, low-quality clinical studies and some animal and cell research. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of cardamom for this purpose. Remember to discuss with your doctor if cardamom may help in your case and never use it as a replacement for approved medical therapies.
Preventing Blood Clots
Twenty patients with high blood pressure took green cardamom supplements for 12 weeks. This increased their ability to dissolve clots (fibrinolysis), reducing their risk of heart disease .
Clotting (platelet aggregation) in human blood samples was reduced by a green cardamom extract .
Reducing Heart Damage
Rats given green cardamom for 30 days suffered less heart damage after a heart attack and maintained higher levels of antioxidants. This was due to the free radical scavenging and antioxidant activities of cardamom .
Rats treated with black cardamom extract suffered less heart damage when infected with Enterovirus (Coxsackie virus), a contributing factor to some cases of chronic heart problems .
Lowering Blood Pressure
Twenty patients with mildly elevated blood pressure (and not taking medication) were given a twice-daily dose of green cardamom powder for 12 weeks. By the end of the study, their blood pressure levels had dropped to within normal range .
Studies in cells and in mice confirm that green cardamom lowers blood pressure by two mechanisms: through the cholinergic pathway, and by controlling calcium ion channels .
Cardamom is also a diuretic. Rats fed a green cardamom extract had increased urine volume and excreted higher levels of sodium and potassium ions. Because diuretics help to relax blood vessel walls, which decreases blood pressure, they are often prescribed in combination with blood pressure drugs. This suggests cardamom may potentially be an even more effective therapeutic .
5) Protecting the Liver
In a clinical trial on 87 overweight people, green cardamom improved the grade of fatty liver in those with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It also increased blood irisin and HDL cholesterol while reducing triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, thus reducing the risk of this condition .
Rats fed a high-fat diet had increased antioxidant enzymes and glutathione (GSH) in their liver tissues over a 90-day treatment with black cardamom. They retained better liver function as a result .
Improved liver function was among the improved metabolic syndrome symptoms observed in rats fed a high-carb, high-fat diet supplemented with black cardamom .
Rats given green cardamom extracts had higher antioxidant enzyme activities (SOD, GSH, and GST) in the liver that protected them from damage under stress .
Again, this potential benefit is only supported by a single clinical trial and some animal research. We cannot conclude for certain that cardamom reduces liver damage until more clinical research is conducted.
Animal and Cell Research (Lack of Evidence)
No clinical evidence supports the use of cardamom for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.
Weight Loss and Metabolic Syndrome
Rats fed a high-carb, high-fat diet develop metabolic syndrome. When this diet was supplemented with black cardamom (rich in 1,8-cineole), their metabolic syndrome symptoms got reversed: fat mass decreased, so did blood pressure and triglycerides, while heart and liver function improved. Green cardamom did not have the same effect .
In a similar study, obese rats fed a high-carb, high-fat diet with a green cardamom powder supplement showed an improvement in metabolic syndrome symptoms, including reduced belly fat .
This spice improved symptoms of gut discomfort like diarrhea and stomach cramps related to spasms in the gut in animals, due to its antispasmodic action. Treatment of rabbit intestinal cells with green cardamom oil reduced movement. Cardamom likely achieves this by blocking muscarinic receptors (the cholinergic pathway) [6, 7].
Green cardamom extracts and essential oils prevented stomach lesions (ulcers) caused by alcohol or aspirin in rats. However, ulcers caused by excess stomach acid did not improve with cardamom treatment. Moreover, one of the extracts was more effective than ranitidine, a drug used to treat ulcers .
Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, cardamom has long been a folk remedy for asthma.
When tested in rats and in rabbit throat cells, green cardamom extract had an anti-asthma effect, relaxing airway muscles through control of calcium ion channels .
However, cardamom does stimulate Th2 allergic responses, so it would be hard to say what the effects on asthma would be in humans or animals.
Rats with symptoms similar to PTSD were given green cardamom extracts either before or after stressful sessions. In both treatments, anxiety-related behaviors improved compared to rats that did not receive the cardamom .
Mice fed a green cardamom extract became sedated, similar to the effect of a prescription sedative (diazepam) .
More study is needed, but this sedative effect may be the source of claims that cardamom is good for patients with epilepsy .
Green cardamom oil decreased pain in rats with swollen paws. This reduction was similar to another group of rats treated with aspirin .
Antibacterial and Antifungal
Black cardamom extracts and its essential oils were able to slow or stop the growth of many bacterial and fungal species in test tubes. The essential oil was particularly effective, reducing the growth of the largest number of species tested (Bacillus pumilus, Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae) .
Note, however, that these are very preliminary results that haven’t been tested in humans or even in animals. Further clinical research is needed to confirm if cardamom may help fight the infections caused by these microorganisms when ingested in normal doses.
Both green and black cardamom extracts inhibited the growth of several species of cavity-causing harmful microorganisms commonly found in the human mouth (S.aureus, C. albicans, S. cerevisiae, and S. mutans) .
Cardamom has historically been chewed to freshen breath and even to help smokers quit (when used in nicotine gum), but more studies are needed to determine if its antibacterial properties improve cavities in humans [38, 39].
Below, we will discuss some preliminary research on cardamom’s anticancer mechanisms and activity. It’s still in the animal and cell stage and further clinical studies have yet to determine if its compounds are useful in cancer therapies.
Do not under any circumstances attempt to replace conventional cancer therapies with cardamom or any other supplements. If you want to use it as a supportive measure, talk to your doctor to avoid any unexpected interactions.
Green cardamom protected cells against DNA damage from free radicals, and reduced protein and fat damage (oxidation) .
Green cardamom essential oil prevented the binding of cancer-causing chemicals to DNA, reducing the risk of potentially cancer-causing DNA damage .
Preventing Cancer Growth
Mice given oral doses of green cardamom had reduced the number and size of tumors of both skin and stomach cancers. These cancer-protective effects were observed when cardamom was given before and after tumors appeared [40, 10, 4].
Green cardamom also blocked NF-κB activation and decreased COX-2 production in mice, suggesting it may help fight cancer through this mechanism .
Natural killer cells are part of the immune system’s response to seek out and kill cancer cells. The activity of these cells was enhanced by the presence of green cardamom in cell-based studies .
Improving the Work of Detox Enzymes
Mice fed green cardamom essential oil had altered enzyme activities in the liver, with reduced CYP p450 and elevated glutathione S-transferase activity (GST). These enzyme levels are associated with detoxification of cancer-causing chemicals and mutagens .
Side Effects & Precautions
Keep in mind that the safety profile of cardamom is relatively unknown given the scarcity of well-designed clinical studies. The list of side effects below is not a definite one, and you should consult your doctor about other potential side effects based on your health condition and possible drug or supplement interactions.
Cardamom is listed as a rare trigger of severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) .
Cardamom powder can cause contact dermatitis in some people .
This is likely because it stimulates Th2 cells responsible for allergic reactions. In rare cases, this dermatitis may even be systemic after cardamom ingestion .
Supplement/Herb/Nutrient-drug interactions can be dangerous and, in rare cases, even life-threatening. Always consult your doctor before supplementing and let them know about all drugs and supplements you are using or considering.
There were a few reports in which patients with high cardamom intakes excreted red blood cells through their urine (hematuria). Patients taking anticoagulant or antiplatelet medications should be particularly mindful of their cardamom intake .
Because cardamom can lower cholesterol significantly on its own, patients prescribed medication to lower their cholesterol should be careful about combining those therapies with cardamom. The same is true for patients taking medication to lower blood pressure.
Limitations and Caveats
Many of the benefits are derived from animal studies. There are a few human studies, but most of them have small amounts of test subjects.
Differences Between the Two Species of Cardamom
Most studies focus on only one of the two main kinds of cardamom, green and black. In a few studies where both were analyzed, the health benefits were sometimes very different between the two types .
Incomplete data makes it difficult to determine which type might be of the best value for some health conditions where only one type has been thoroughly tested.
Table of evidence for health benefits described in this article:
(A “+” indicates evidence for a species of cardamom (green or black) and a particular health benefit. A “-” indicates that a species was tested and did not have evidence for the health benefit. A blank cell indicates that no study has been done at the time of writing. Where conflicting results were found, both “+/-” are indicated in the table.)
|Lower blood pressure||+|
Benefits May Depend on the Type of Extract
Not all studies use the same cardamom sources – examples used include powder from the seeds, crude extracts, alcohol-soluble extracts, water-soluble extracts, and the essential oil, among others. Some of these cardamom sources might have lost certain potentially active compounds, and in doing so, fail to identify potential health effects in their study data.
The composition of cardamom can additionally vary from harvest to harvest according to environmental factors.
- Seed pods
- Whole seeds
- Powdered seeds (spice)
- Essential oil
Common sources of cardamom include the seed pods, spice powder (ground seeds), essential oil, and tea. Cardamom tea and its essential oil are likely to only contain a portion of the compounds responsible for its health effects, so spice powder may be the most complete form of supplementation for health .
Cardamom supplements often come bundled with other wellness herbs for various uses (mind health, colon health, etc.) or as part of chai or other tea blends.
Because cardamom is not approved by the FDA for any conditions, there is no official dose. Users and supplement manufacturers have established unofficial doses based on trial and error. Take cardamom as recommended by your doctor and never use it to replace proven therapies.
Dosages reported in studies varied greatly depending on the type of cardamom extract or preparation. For cardamom powder, 3g daily seems sufficient for most health benefits and is within normal doses for dietary cardamom intake .
Of common supplement formulations (whey protein, guar gum, carrageenan), the best formulation for encapsulation while still preserving shelf stability was the 30% whey protein isolate .
The opinions expressed in this section are solely those of cardamom users, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. Their reviews do not represent the opinions of SelfHacked. SelfHacked does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.
Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or another qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on SelfHacked. We understand that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.
Users of cardamom tea typically reported improved regularity and digestion, but few other specific health benefits.
Essential oil users sometimes reported relief of muscle cramps when the oil was rubbed on the skin.
Customers who used cardamom capsule supplements sometimes saw improved cholesterol or heart health, but as a part of an improved diet and lifestyle.