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Vanilla: Potential Uses, Health Effects, and Safety

Written by Aleksa Ristic, MS (Pharmacy) | Last updated:
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Aleksa Ristic, MS (Pharmacy) | Last updated:

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Vanilla is a great spice with versatile uses in cooking and cosmetics. This post reveals less-known potential uses and health effects of vanilla, along with safety precautions.

What is Vanilla?

Vanilla is an extract from the vanilla bean. It has many culinary and cosmetic uses. However, vanilla and its flavoring extracts also have potential health effects worth further research. For example, the extract vanillin has been studied for its potential role in the management of sickle cell anemia.

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].

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 animal model of Huntington’s disease. Further, it could inhibit singlet oxygen-induced protein and lipid oxidation [4].

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

Vanilla inhibited the oxidation of LDL cholesterol in rats [6].

Other

Vanillin shows dose-dependent inhibition of deoxygenation-induced cell sickling, which might help for sickle cell anemia [7].

Oral vanillin decreased the percentage of sickled red blood cells in 30 patients with sickle-cell anemia [8].

Until more research is done, we can’t make any conclusions about the therapeutic potential of vanillin in sickle-cell anemia. Additionally, vanilla extract likely wouldn’t produce the same effects.

Side Effects and Risks

Vanilla is generally safe and well-tolerated in the amounts usually present in food. Vanillin at extreme doses may have some carcinogenic effects. An animal study on vanillin safety concludes [9]:

“Vanillin was not cocarcinogenic when consumed orally. However, it was cocarcinogenic when being administered intraperitoneally at high concentrations. 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.”

About the Author

Aleksa Ristic

Aleksa Ristic

MS (Pharmacy)
Aleksa received his MS in Pharmacy from the University of Belgrade, his master thesis focusing on protein sources in plant-based diets. 
Aleksa is passionate about herbal pharmacy, nutrition, and functional medicine. He found a way to merge his two biggest passions—writing and health—and use them for noble purposes. His mission is to bridge the gap between science and everyday life, helping readers improve their health and feel better.

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