Vanilla is a great spice with many health benefits.

What is Vanilla?

Vanilla is an extract from the vanilla bean. It has many culinary and cosmetic uses. However, vanilla and its flavoring extracts can also serve a multitude of medicinal functions. For example, the extract vanillin has long been recognized for its role in the treatment of sickle cell anemia.

1) Antimicrobial Properties

Vanillin shows antimicrobial properties against E Coli and Listeria [1].

Biofilms are microbial films that are embedded in a self-produced matrix [2].

Quorum sensing is a process by which bacteria produce and detect signal molecules and thereby coordinate their behavior. Vanilla is a unique quorum sensing inhibitor and this may help break up biofilms [2].

2) Antioxidant Properties

Extracts of vanilla pods scavenged radicals in a concentration-dependent manner [3].

Various extracts scavenged hydroxyl and nitric oxide radicals [3].

Treatment with vanillin ameliorated impaired mitochondrial enzyme complexes (I, II, and IV) in the experimental model of Huntington’s disease. Further, it could inhibit singlet oxygen-induced protein and lipid oxidation [4].

The inhibitory effect against oxidation is similar to Vitamin C but less effective than glutathione [5].

3) Anti-Depressant Properties

Vanillin activates the α2 adrenergic receptors or opioid receptors, which has anti-depressant and pain relieving effects [6].

The Antioxidant properties of vanillin could also contribute to its antidepressant activity [6].

4) Anti-Cholesterol Properties

The cholesterol-lowering effect of vanilla is either due to its hypotriglyceridemic effect or its regulatory effect on the genes involved in cholesterol metabolism including LDL receptor (LDLR) and HMG Co-A reductase (HMGCR) genes [7].

Vanilla inhibits the oxidation of human LDL in rats [7].


Vanillin shows dose-dependent inhibition of deoxygenation-induced cell sickling [8], which might help for sickle cell anemia.

Potential Risks/Negatives

Vanillin at very high dosages have some carcinogenic effects.

The study concludes [9]:

“Vanillin was not cocarcinogenic when consumed orally. However, it was cocarcinogenic when being administered intraperitoneally at high concentration. Hence, the use of vanillin in food should be safe but might have cocarcinogenic potential when it is used in high concentration for therapeutic purposes.”


In the human health risk assessment, the Acceptable Dietary Intake value of vanillin is 10.0 mg/kg/day) [10].

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