Want to add a flavourful layer (that is also good for you) to your latte or desert?

Just sprinkle a little nutmeg on top. 

Nutmeg is the world’s most favourite common spice, making its way to sweet and savoury recipes of many nations. Originating from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, nutmeg has been cultivated and evolved into several plant species. However, the most common type comes from the evergreen tree Myristica fragrans. Its earthy, exotic yet sweet profile became popular in kitchens around the globe and healing tonics of traditional medicines. Health properties of nutmeg were many, from keeping the plague at bay to stimulating the brain. This made nutmeg a very lucrative business which waged conflicts and signed treaties, like trading the island of Manhattan for nutmeg. [1]

This popular spice has a long list of health benefits including: relieving pain and inflammation, improving skin conditions, detoxing the body, while improving sleep, blood circulation, cognition and digestive process. [2] In this article, we’ll discuss what nutmeg is, and its extensive health and wellness powers.

Elevate benefits of spices Nutmeg

History of Nutmeg

The most common nutmeg spice (Myristica fragrans) originated from the Banda Islands (also known as the Spice Islands) in the Moluccas of Indonesia. The native island inhabitants used nutmeg as a food and healing source for thousands of years before it was discovered by Europeans. The earliest archeological nutmeg was found on the island of Pulau Ay, where the ancient pottery with nutmeg residue dates back some 3,500 years. [3]

Muslim sailors are believed to be the first foreigners to discover the Spice Islands and began trading various spices including nutmeg. It was the Arabic ships which introduced this tasty spice to the Venetians at the beginning of the 7th century. Due to its taste, aroma and health beliefs, nutmeg quickly grew in popularity, demand and cost. By 12th century, the Venetian spice traders were the main nutmeg suppliers to rest of Europe. But, other European nations wanted to get in on these nutmeg profits, initiating the world search for this spice.

In 1511, the Portuguese conquered Malacca, the hub of the Asian trade, which included nutmeg; and sailed to several Banda Islands by 1512 in the Malay Peninsula. Although, the Portuguese began trading in nutmeg they could not gain full control of the islands. During this time, the Dutch were also on the hunt to establish a direct nutmeg route. In 1621, the Dutch East Indian Company (VOC) gained control over nutmeg trade by waging a bloody war in the Banda Islands, and gaining control of nutmeg plantations. As a result, the Bandanese population had greatly declined but still remained on the Spice Islands along with the Dutch settlers. 

The British also wanted in on the spice trade, and negotiated with the village leaders of the island of Rhun (later knowns as the Nutmeg Island) to protect them from the Dutch in exchange for their nutmeg. However, this only lasted until 1624, as the control of Banda Islands continued to be flipped around between the British and the Dutch. [1] In 1667, the British signed the Treaty of Breda and gave up control of Rhun island to the Dutch in exchange for the island of Manhattan (later renamed as New York). [4] During the Napoleonic Wars, the Dutch loosened control over Banda Islands as the British once again temporarily took over. The British East Company transplanted nutmeg trees with soil to British colonies including: India, Sri Lanka, Peanag, Bencoolen and Singapore, and later Zanzibar and Grenada. This eventually ended Dutch control of the nutmeg trade, and of the Spice Islands by World War II. [1]

Today, nutmeg remains the most commercially traded spice with average production ranging between 10,000 and 12,000 tonnes (nutmeg and mace) per year. Indonesia is the world’s largest producer with 75% of world market share followed by Grenada with 20%. Other producers include India, Sri Lanka, Papua new Guinea, Malaysia and Caribbean Islands.

What is Nutmeg?

The nutmeg fruit which grows on the nutmeg tree is scientifically called Myritica fragrans. Native to Indonesian Spice Islands, nutmeg trees now thrive in tropical climates across the globe and can reach 17 meters (~ 60 feet) in height. The nutmeg fruit is about the same size as an apricot and produces two types of spices.

  • The outside of the fruit has an outer shell, followed by a red-lacy type thread known as “mace” which is also dried and used as spice. The mace is more subtle of the two spices carrying similar warm and sweet flavour profiles as nutmeg.
  • Wrapped inside the mace is the inner kernel of the fruit, which is dried and grated into the common nutmeg spice we know and enjoy. 

Nutmeg has been used as a food ingredient in many countries since their creations. But, its pleasant aroma and taste have also long been valued as a healing plant. Long ago, the Arab sailors told stories about nutmeg’s hallucinating and aphrodisiac powers, to boost sales of their cargo. However, there’s more to nutmeg than just old man’s tales. In fact, nutmeg’s active ingredient myristicin is chemically related to mescaline and amphetamine and is known to produce hallucinogenic effects in large doses. [5]

As nutmeg’s popularity expanded beyond Indonesian islands, it became a common ingredient in traditional Asian medicine. The Arab healers used nutmeg as early as 1st century to treat indigestion, toothaches, intestine, liver and spleen issues. By 11th century, nutmeg was a common remedy for inflammation, vomiting, bowel movement, kidney disease and respiratory conditions. Ayurvedic medicine designated nutmeg as a warming spice, prescribing it for various ailments including: headaches, common colds and digestive issues. The spice was also used as an aphrodisiac. In medieval Europe, nutmeg was often used in food to mask the unpleasant smell and taste. As a medical agent, nutmeg was used to induce abortions but, that effect has long been dismissed even when taken at large-toxic doses. [6,7]

Today, traditional medicines within many Arabic, Asian and South Indian countries use nutmeg as a remedy for various conditions. Nutmeg has numerous active compounds which produce strong effect in our body. These active ingredients have been associated to many health benefits including: [2,8-10]

  • Anti-inflammatory (relieves swelling, pain and soreness of muscles and joints);
  • De-stresses the body (reduces depression and anxiety);
  • Improves sleep;
  • Improves digestive health;
  • Good for the brain activity (increases cognition, memory and focus);
  • Detoxifies the body and organs (liver, kidneys);
  • Fights oral bacteria (bad breath, toothaches);
  • Good for the skin (good anti-microbial agent);
  • Good for the heart (regulates blood pressure and circulation);
  • Regulates blood sugar and cholesterol;
  • Cancer fighting properties.

Nutmeg seed consists of oil (predominantly myristic acid), starch and essential oils. The essential oil contain powerful phytonutrients (terpenes and phenylpropanoids) such as sabinene, 4-terpineol and myristicin. Other active compounds like limonene, linalool, as well as structural variations of terpineol, safrole and eugenol present in smaller quantities. [9,11]  Research shown many of these compounds to be potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-microbial, anti-depressant and cellular protective agents. [8-11]

Nutmeg’s Benefits

As the most commercially utilized spice, nutmeg appears to be everywhere. From meat and savoury dishes, to holiday eggnog and pumpkin spice lattes, nutmeg has made its way to all culinary cuisines. Even the secret recipe of coca-cola is rumoured to contain this majestic spice.  And all for good reasons – taste and wellness. To this day, traditional medicines use nutmeg to heal various ailments. The modern science researching old traditions, confirming the old wisdom. Lets take a closer look into the power of this unique spice.

Antioxidant Benefits

Our body continuously uses various biochemical pathways to build, use, break-down and reconstruct vast number of compounds and cell structures to maintain daily activities. These internal processes create byproducts, some of which are incomplete (or unstable) molecules.  These molecules often referred to as free radicals or reactive oxygen species (ROS) which cause damage to cellular structural molecules, and genetic material. Some environmental factors like poor air quality, stress and food contribute to ROS production within the body.

Antioxidants are the counter-active molecules which react and neutralize ROS, protecting the body systems against cellular damage. Many antioxidants occur naturally in plants, including nutmeg and have been shown as strong free radical scavengers. [12] In nutmeg, 38 different compounds have been identified as powerful antioxidants which are shown as strong protectors of DNA and cellular integrity against ROS damage. [13]

The same compounds which carry warm and sweet flavours of nutmeg are also responsible for numerous health benefits. These phytonutrients affect different antioxidant protective pathways including:

  • Polyphenols, lignans and terpenes such as isoeugenol, eugenol, linalool and beta-caryophyllene – strong free radical scavengers creating antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-mutagenic effects. [14]
  • Eugenol is a type of lignan that has been extensively studied. A potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound for the muscle, joint and tooth aches. Eugenol further enhances activity of antioxidant enzymes like catalase (CAT), superoxide dismutase (SOD), gamma glutamyltransferase (GGT), glutathione peroxidase (GPx), and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), reducing oxidative stress in the body. [14] Isoeugenol is a chemical relative of eugenol and part of nutmeg’s essential oil, shown to protect cellular lipid layer and overall integrity. [15]
  • Myristicin is the main active ingredient of nutmeg. As a terpene, it’s sweet aroma provides the signature flavour nutmeg is known for. [16] Myristicin is an established psychoactive and brain stimulant but, can also soothe the mind, and improve sleep by decreasing activity of stress related enzymes. [17] Myristicin studies show it to be a mighty antioxidant and anti-mutation agent. [13,18]
  • Linalool is another ingredient of nutmeg’s essential oil. This terpene is another natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent which (like myristicin) shown to improve mood and produce a calming effect.
  • High levels of terpenes and terpenoid components within nutmeg make it a powerful antioxidant spice. [12] These active compounds include elemicin, safrole, pinene, camphene, dipentene, cineole, sabinene, terpeniol – shown tissue protective properties. [2,12-14,19]
  • Nutmeg contains many other phytonutrients including dietary fiber, vitamin-A, vitamin-C, B-vitamins, copper, magnesium, iron, zinc, calcium, and and other flavonoid antioxidants like betacarotene and cryptoxanthin. All of these nutrients are important for optimum health, cellular protection and immunity. [12,19]

Protects Liver – Detoxifies the Body

The environmental factors affect our body in different ways. Pollutants and toxins in the air and food produce greater stress on our systems, increasing overall oxidative stress. Overtime, the build up of toxins in filter type organs like liver and kidneys potentially leads to illnesses and disorders. Thus, detoxification is essential to cleanse the body, flush out the systems and improve overall health.

Research shown nutmeg essential oil to possess strong detoxification abilities. A major component of essential oil myristicin can also protect hepatic tissues by directly reacting with ROS while inhibiting pro-inflammatory proteins like TNF-alpha. [20]

Animal studies identified a compound called myrislignan which prevents liver damage. [21]  Myrislignan along with other acylic neolignans within nutmeg utilizes peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha (PRAR-alpha) to trigger fatty acid breakdown resulting in less inflammation and oxidative stress within liver tissue. [22] If PRAR-alpha sounds familiar to you, it is the main transcription factor of lipid metabolism in liver. During extensive fasting or, low energy periods (low glucose), PRAR-alpha is active producing energy by braking down body fat  into ketone bodies (form of sugars) through the process known as ketogenesis. These ketone bodies are then used as energy by the body, especially the brain. [23,24] Linalool (in nutmeg) also protects liver against damage and disease through PRAR-alpha by reducing overall fat storage. Linalool is so effective in reducing stress in liver, that its ability was compared to cholesterol medication – fenofibrate. [25]

Digestive Aid and Protection

Ayurveda, Unani and traditional Chinese medicines use nutmeg to improve sleep, blood circulation and indigestion. Ground nutmeg retains its fiber which stimulates digestive track improving the peristaltic movement (symmetrical contractions and relaxation of smooth intestine muscles through to generate wave down-type movement) of intestinal pathway. Nutmeg also contains several of important elements including iron, magnesium, zinc and manganese. This ingredient list improves the function of overall digestive system and eases constipation and bloating issues. [2] The fiber further binds to bile salts (produced from cholesterol) reducing their re-absorption in the colon, lowering serum LDL (aka “bad”) cholesterol levels.

Eugenol in spice plants, including nutmeg has been shown to be a mighty antibacterial powerhouse, producing cell death (apoptosis) in various bacteria and pathogen strains, including Leishmania donovani (L. donovani) and Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). [26-28]

Anti-Diabetic – Lowers Blood Sugar

Diabetes is a chronic high blood-sugar levels disease affecting millions of people on every continent. This disorder affects insulin system and overall ability to utilize carbohydrate metabolism. As a result, the body begins to rely on fats for energy, raising blood-lipid (fat) levels and overall risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Many of current pharmaceutical drugs do manage diabetes but their long term use comes with side effects. Modern science is continuously searching for solutions to this world crisis by researching traditional practices and remedies of our ancestors. This is no accident, as the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially recommended research and development of herbal medicines, including anti-diabetic agents. [29]

Nutmeg is much more than just a cooking spice, as it is extensively used in remedies to treat diarrhoea, indigestion, insomnia and diabetes. Studies shown that nutmeg extract stimulates pancreatic activity and insulin release, significantly decreasing blood glucose and lipid profiles in diabetic animals. Nutmeg also improved organ health while reducing body weight. [30,31]

Nutmeg’s active ingredients appear to improve diabetic type symptoms by interacting with 5-adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK). This is a big deal, as AMPK pathway is the master regulating switch of cellular energy use and storage. [32] Thanks to our ancestors’ difficult past, the AMPK pathway evolved within us to improve body survival. AMPK turns-on the breakdown of stored body fat into free fatty acids (within muscle) and ketone bodies (in liver) to fuel body’s metabolism. An active AMPK pathway reduces fat stores, lowers blood sugar, overall triglyceride levels and slows down the aging process. [33]  In test-tube studies, nutmeg’s myristicin and nectandrin B positively interact with AMPK. [34,35] Nectandrin B is also a strong antioxidant that is especially protective against liver damage and oxidative stress. [36]

Anti-Diabetic – Lowers Cholesterol

High cholesterol can lead to variety of health problems and is a common marker for several metabolic diseases. Our modern diet is filled with empty calories which often get stored as body fat. Because of continuous caloric surplus, the body stores triglycerides anywhere it can, including the heart, pancreas, skeletal muscles, liver and kidneys. This leads to lipid-toxicity, organ malfunction and in some cases organ failure.

Nutmeg’s active ingredients have been investigated for metabolic health and overall glucose and lipid management. Studies shown nutmeg to significantly reduce overall triglycerides (47% reduction) and cholesterol (67% reduction), making this spice as effective as common anti-diabetic drugs. [37]

Hypercholesterolemia is a science term for high blood cholesterol. It’s a type of hyperlipidemia where blood has high levels of lipids and/or lipoproteins (VLDL, LDL, IDL, HDL). [38] Anti-diabetic research identified nutmeg as an effective agent to significantly reduce total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL) while maintaining or increasing high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. [39] In another study, nutmeg extract significantly reduced total cholesterol after 60 days (lowering LDL while maintaining HDL levels). Nutmeg reduced cholesterol all over the body including blood and vital organs like the heart and liver, further reducing the risk of cardiovascular and liver diseases. [40]

Heart Health – Regulates Blood Pressure

Traditional practices have utilized nutmeg to relieve various physical discomforts including regulating blood pressure. Nutmeg contains fiber that helps digestion, decreases blood lipids and blood clot formations, lowering a chance of a heart attack or a stroke. Nutmeg oil also contains extensive list of micronutrients including vitamin C—a potent antioxidant which improves blood vessel integrity and health. Also, it has potassium (K+)—a natural vasodilator that relaxes blood vessel walls, therefore reducing blood pressure and overall strain on the cardiovascular system. [41]

Nutmeg’s essential oils contain another well studied terpene linalool, which is a major component of coriander (another powerful spice). Research identified linalool as a strong vasodilator of smooth muscles, including blood vessels. Animal studies confirm linalool’s ability to reduce overall blood pressure. [42] Linalool prevented cardiac hypertrophy (abnormal thickening of the heart muscle) often seen with chronic high blood pressure, while increasing levels of anti-inflammatory cytokine Interleukin 10 (IL-10). [43]

Improves Male Libido

In many parts of the world nutmeg is used as an aphrodisiac spice to improve vigor, vitality and erotic sensation. Asian and African remedies used nutmeg type tonics to reinforce stamina. Since ancient times, Unami medicine (also known as Greeco-Arab medicine) used nutmeg to treat male sexual disorders. In Europe, nutmeg was used since 18th century to treat sexual dysfunction, impotency and spermatorrhoea. [41]

Science confirms nutmeg’s effect as a traditional sex tonic. Studies shown male mice to significantly increase their sexual behaviour even after 3 hours after eating nutmeg-clove tonic. [44]. Nutmeg only tests show similar, sexually driven behaviour. The mechanism for such sexuality enhancement is not fully understood but, it’s believed that nutmeg excites the nervous system by elevating certain neurotransmitters. [45]

Fights Bad Breath and Oral Bacteria

Nutmeg’s sweet and fragrant flavours make it a common ingredient to freshen bad breath.  Considered by many as the best spice for oral health, nutmeg oil possesses antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic abilities often relieving toothaches, gum infections and bad breath (aka halitosis). [2,14,41] Nutmeg fights mouth inhabiting bacteria, improving dental hygiene of the gums and teeth, making it a popular ingredient in mouthwash and toothpaste products.

Current research confirms antioxidant and antibacterial powers of nutmeg. Its phytonutrients greatly inhibited the spread of six kinds of oral bacteria (three “gram-positive” cariogenic, and three “gram-negative” periodontopathic). [46] The main compounds appear to be myristicin, myristic acid and trimyristicin of the essential oil which displayed substantial antibacterial effect. [14,47]

Anti-Cancer Agent

The powerful antioxidants that eliminate free radicals, decreases oxidative stress and generate numerous other health benefits within the body, also possess anti-cancer abilities. Complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a traditional and natural approach to health. CAM is part of Integrative Medicine (IM) which is an initiative of integrating traditional knowledge and practices with the modern medicine. Spices like nutmeg have been long used as medicinal remedies and make up part of the phytotherapy used in combination with standard medical treatments. Natural herbs and spices often create protective effects, improving organ function and tissue health without health risks and side-effects which are common with pharmaceutical drugs and cancer treatment therapies. CAM is being introduced in medical schools for a more mainstream approach as spices carry numerous protective properties. [48,49]

Research identified nutmeg’s active ingredient myristicin as a cancer fighting agent. Myristincin increases activity of antioxidant enzymes such as glutathione s-transferase (GST) and quinone oxidoreductase (QR) in the liver, lungs, stomach and intestine of mice, producing greater protection against toxic and cancer causing agents. [50] Myristicin studies showed how it can induce GST while inhibiting lung and stomach cancer growth. Using myristicin treatment inhibited lung tumor by 65% and fore-stomach tumor by 31% in mice trials. [51]

Human cancers are often studied in specific tumorigenic cell cultures. Each identified cancer line is designated by a certain acronym. For instance, breast cancer is predominantly studied within MCF-7 cells and blood cancer (leukaemia) cell line is studied in K562 cells. Other studied human tumor cells include AGS (gastric), SK-N-SH (nerve tissue – neuroblastoma), HCT-116 (colon) and NCI-H460 (lung) carcinomas.

Test tube experiments shown myristicin to slow down the spread of several human cancer cell lines in blood (D562), lungs (NCI-H460), and breast (MCF-7). [52]  Myristicin slows down cancer growth by interacting and initiating a programmed cellular auto-destruct mechanism (apoptosis). Studies shown how myristicin triggered apoptosis in human nuroblastoma (SK-N-SH cells) by activating caspase-3 and increasing cytochrome c (essential part of electron transport chain in mitochondria). [54] Caspases are a family of protease enzymes which play a vital role in the programmed cell death. [53]

Safrole is another ingredient within nutmeg essential oil which shown strong anti-cancer properties in numerous human tumor cell lines. Tongue cancer studies—squamous cell line (SCC-4 cells)—found that safrole induced cell-death through mitochondria and caspase (protein-protein) signalling pathways. Safrole activated apoptosis in cancer cells by raising cytochrome C levels while activating caspase-3 and cascade-9 enzymes. [55] In lung cancer (A549) cells, safrole was even more effective in switching programmed death sequence of tumor cells by activating all three main self-destructing enzymes (caspase-3, caspase-8, and cascade-9). [56]

Eugenol is another cancer fighting phenom and is part of nutmeg essential oil. Extensive research shows eugenol as a antimutagenic, antigenotoxic and anti-inflammatory compound. [57]  As a mighty antioxidant, eugenol protects DNA against free radials. Eugenol research shown its ability to slow down numerous tumors and cell-lines by initiating apoptosis in breast, skin (melanoma), blood (leukaemia), colon, cervical, prostate, tongue (oral squamous), mouth (gingival), liver (hepatoma) and various human gland carcinomas. [57] In cervical tumor cells, eugenol effects several protein-protein messaging networks, decreasing inflammatory enzymes (COX-2), cytokines (IL1-beta), and B-cell lymphoma 2 (Bcl-2)—family of regulator proteins that initiate apoptosis at low levels. [58]

Reduces Seizures and Improves Sleep

Nutmeg’s active compounds possess anticonvulsant effects and potential relief against seizures. Though the research is limited, animal model shows that nutmeg oil can significantly reduce convulsions against fully and partially induced seizures. Furthermore, nutmeg oil reduced seizures without impairing motor skills of animals. [59] However, other studies using nutmeg’s essential oils (containing myristicin, safrole and 4-terpineol) on animals did inhibit their locomotion. [9]

The same animal study discussing animal motion impairment also found that inhaling nutmeg essential oils reduced nighttime body movement and improved sleep. Nutmeg oil has greater aromatherapeutic potency than lavender oil, creating a calming effect, reducing anxiety and improving sleep quality within small animals. Nutmeg is also a good source of magnesium, a mineral that reduces nerve excitation, stimulating serotonin release (neurotransmitter) contributing to feeling well and happy state. [9] 

Nutmeg has been used in ancient medicines to reduce stress and treat insomnia. It is still a common practice to add a pinch of nutmeg to warm milk before bedtime for better sleep. Its phytonutrients contain sedative properties, enhancing blood serotonin levels leading to a relaxed state and fewer insomnia symptoms. [41,60]

Relieves Pain and All-Inflammation

Inflammation is an important process for the body’s immune system. Any injuries (damaged tissue), infections (foreign agent) or metabolic disturbances (high levels of byproducts, free radicals, etc.) are detected by messaging proteins which then transmit the news inside the cell to create a response. This process has a general term called Motogen-Activated Protein Kinase (MAPK or MAP kinase) and is essential in how cells communicate. Small signal molecules (ligands) transmit these messages to cells by attaching to cell surface receptors specific to them. From there, a domino effect of enzyme-enzyme (or kinase) activation within the cell leads to a response. Most of these enzyme messaging pathways are studied in animal models and are often named as such. [61-63] Ligands can be any biological molecule which can create numerous cellular reactions like inflammation through MAPK pathways.

Nutmeg’s numerous antioxidants are also powerful anti-inflammatory compounds. Research identified sabinene, 4-terpineol, alpha-pipene, limonene, and gamma-terpinene as some of the active compounds that are able to alleviate swelling and pain. [8] These compounds decrease inflammation of muscles, joints and skin by inhibiting cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) enzyme. [8] COX-2 is one of the main regulating enzymes of the inflammatory response and high production levels of active lipids called prostaglandins. [64]. Prostaglandins trigger the cascade release of numerous inflammatory proteins (cytokines). Reduction in COX-2 enzyme lowers prostaglandin levels and overall tissue inflammation. [65-67]

Nutmeg’s main active compound myristicin has also been studied for its anti-inflammatory abilities. Myristicin has significant effect on several inflammation markers including nitrogen oxide (NO), reduction of cytokines, growth factors (such as interleukin (IL)-6, IL-10, interferon inducible protein (IP)-10, monocyte chemotactic protein (MCP)-1, MCP-3, macrophage inflammatory protein (MIP)-1alpha, MIP-1beta, leukaemia inhibitory factor (LIF)), and inhibition of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha in animal cell lines. Though the exact mechanism is still under investigation, myristicin was also shown to decrease calcium (Ca2+) levels and believed to reduce inflammation causing proteins through calcium signalling. [68]

Brain Health and Cognition

The ancient Greeks and Romans commonly used nutmeg to improve cognition and brain activity and relieve stress. The tried and tested remedies of our ancestors have also been studied and supported by science. Nutmeg studies showed that even small concentrations were able to improve memory of animals and reverse drug impairment. [69]

Nutmeg has anti-depressant benefits as well. One of the essential oil compounds trimyristin shown anxiogenic effect (reduction in anxiety). Other ingredients of this spice elevated adregenic (fight or flight neurotransmitters), dopamine and serotonin (the feel good neurotransmitters) resulting in better blood circulation and reduction of depression-like symptoms. [41,70] Greater dopamine and serotonin levels increase brain activity, focus and concentration, improving the mood while lowering the risk of neurological decay.

Combats Neurological Disorders

Neuroinflammation has been linked with the development and progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), depression, stroke, anxiety and brain cancer. Spices possess numerous phytonutrients which directly reduce oxidative stress and the risk of neurological disorder. 

Nutmeg mace is one of these spices containing an active ingredient macelignan. Macelignan is a powerful antioxidant that seeks out free radicals and lowers inflammation by inhibiting allergen and inflammatory mediating proteins (cytokines), nuclear factors (NF-kB) and enzymes (COX-2). [19]. Macelignan is also found in nutmeg seed essential oil, along wth its main ingredient myristicin. Both compounds have neuroprotective abilities by decreasing microglia cell activity in animal hippocampus (part of brain). Microglia cells are type of macrophage within the central nervous system (CNS), including the brain which act as an immune response causing neuroinflammation. [73] Macelignan studies shown improved spacial memory which is of benefit against demential and Alzheimer’s Disease. [71,72]

Skin Care

Nutmeg research shown it to be a powerful anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiseptic, and an anti-bacterial agent capable of reducing free radical damage including in skin cells and early signs of aging. [2,19,41] The ancient Unami Medicine has derived several nutmeg skin care recipes. Mixed into a paste, nutmeg reduces inflammation and irritation of the skin while promoting hydration. Such natural ointments are popular treatments against skin conditions like acne and eczema. [74]

Extensive sun damages skin is one of the contributing factors of oxidative stress and risk factor for skin cancer. Science shown that sun’s UV radiation increased the levels of matrix metalloproteinases-1 (MMP-1)—an enzyme that brakes down the extracellular matrix (structural and biological support of cells). [75] Human skin studies show that nutmeg’s active ingredients like macelignan and licarin E decrease MMP-1 levels through protein-protein messaging pathway (MAPKs), reducing the signs of skin photo-aging. [76-77]

Micronutrient Profile

Nutmeg is packed with powerful ingredients. This spice comes with a few more calories compared to others, but the micronutrients within boost digestion, internal organ health while keeping metabolic-type diseases at bay. Just one tablespoon (7 grams) of ground nutmeg contains: [78]

  • about 37 Calories
  • 0.4 grams of Protein
  • 3.5 grams of Carbohydrates, of which 1.5 grams is fiber
  • 2.5 grams of Fats

Here’s additional list of micro and phytonutrients [41,78]:

  • choine (precursor for acetylcholine – neurotransmitter for memory and muscle control)
  • phytosterols
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin B1 (thiamin)
  • vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • vitamin B3 (niacin)
  • vitamin B6
  • vitamin B9 (folate)
  • vitamin B12
  • vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid)
  • calcium (Ca)
  • copper (Cu)
  • potassium (K)
  • phosphorus (P)
  • manganese (Mn)
  • magnesium (Mg)
  • sodium (Na)
  • zinc (Zn)
  • selenium (Se)
  • iron (Fe)

Besides specific phytonutrients discussed in this article, nutmeg is a good source of many other health benefiting compounds including dietary fiber, manganese, magnesium, iron, copper, along with vitamins B-complex, A, C and E. Vitamin A and its various beta-carotene forms are great in boosting immunity and preventing eye related conditions. Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant, infection fighter and immunity booster. Vitamin E is another strong antioxidant, which raises immunity, speeds up recovery and maintains nerve tissue health. [41]

Cautions and Drawbacks

Nutmeg seeds, mace and essential oils have been part of many culinary dishes and traditional healing remedies for thousands of years across the globe. Centuries old practices made nutmeg the popular spice it is today and deemed it safe to consume. However, regardless of extensive benefits, a word of caution is warranted when using nutmeg long term or in large quantities.

One of nutmeg’s historical uses was to induce miscarriages. Though this old-folks tale has since been denounced and no known miscarriage cases ever linked to nutmeg, women who are expecting or breast feeding are warned to keep their nutmeg intake low. The recommended doses, through not established have been suggested to be small amounts used in food preparation.

Large doses (30 grams or about 6 tablespoons daily) can be toxic to the body as active ingredients within nutmeg can complicate bodily processes. The exact biochemical process of myristicin and other phytonutrients are not known and the reported side effects may vary based on person’s physiology including thirst, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, double vision, convulsions and increased risk of seizures and in very rare cases death. The death part, is again complicated, as few cases involving nutmeg use also found other strong drugs and chemicals in deceased blood serum, making it very difficult to conclude the responsible ingredient. Excessive nutmeg consumption can have psychotropic, hallucinatory, or narcotic effects. Such nutmeg abuse have been reported by people who tried to duplicate these effects for recreational high. [79]

Now, before we panic and label nutmeg as dangerous, keep in mind that too much of anything can cause us harm. The active ingredients of nutmeg and essential oils have numerous health benefits which interact with cells, effect organ function and our nervous system. So it makes sense when we flood our body with these potent phytonutrients, that some of the positive effects are amplified to the toxic and dangerous extents.

For example, myristicin has a fairly low oral toxicity. Here’s a quick reference: in rats, the median lethal dose for myristicin (LD50) is 4260 mg/kg. [80] Compare that to LD50 for caffeine in rats is 367 mg/kg. [81] These numbers vary based on animals and experiments, but on average, myristicin through oral consumption is about 11.5 times less toxic than caffeine. Similar results should be expected in the human body. So in conclusion, moderation is key.

Final Thoughts

Originally from the Spice Islands, nutmeg emerged as a rare spice which wowed anyone who tried it. Introduced to the world by the Arab sailors and distributed by Byzantine traders, nutmeg steadily grew into a sought-after ingredient of many culinary creations and curative remedies.  As with all high commodities, many countries fought for control of nutmeg, resulting in several Spice Wars among European nations. The nutmeg cultivations eventually spread across the globe serving the ever-growing demand for this spice.

Nutmeg contains many powerful phytonutrients which produce an incredible array of nutritional benefits. Myristicin along with other active compounds found in nutmeg’s volatile and essential oils soothe body aches and pains, stimulate the brain, help fight infections and enhance internal organ health.

You can experience the taste along with the host of health benefits of this powerful spice in our Elevate Blend. Elevate is a potent blend of premium black loose leaf tea (Barroti Assam) base and a powerful spice blend which includes: ginger, cinnamon, cardamon, nutmeg and star anise.

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutmeg
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814605009660?via%3Dihub
  3. https://www.washington.edu/news/2018/10/03/3500-year-old-pumpkin-spice-archaeologists-find-earliest-use-of-nutmeg-as-a-food/
  4. https://history.howstuffworks.com/history-vs-myth/nutmeg-new-netherland.htm
  5. https://psychonautwiki.org/wiki/Myristicin
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