The Health Benefits of Cilantro: Are They Real or Are They a Sham?
This healthy flavor booster is not all it's cracked up to be.
Love it or hate it, cilantro has become far more than a salad topper in American cuisine. We use this flavorful herb for everything from shrimp tacos to butternut squash soup, touting its potency and numerous health benefits. But is cilantro everything that health articles claim it to be? While it’s a nutritious plant containing antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, it isn’t necessarily the cure for diabetes or cancer. Below, we examine claims about cilantro that have been circulating on the internet, and determine whether they are true, somewhat true, or false.
Does cilantro reduce blood sugar?
Many online sources state that cilantro is a powerful blood-sugar reducer. Some even argue that people on diabetes medication should avoid cilantro, which could enhance the effects of the medication and cause blood sugar levels to drop too low. But on what research is this theory based?
Online sources cite a study published in 1999, which found that coriander seeds significantly reduced blood sugar in rats on a high-cholesterol diet. (In the US, the terms “coriander” and “cilantro” both refer to the same plant. Coriander refers to the seeds, and cilantro refers to the leaves.) Another study published in 2011 found that coriander seed extract improved blood sugar and insulin levels in rats that had very little physical activity and ate a high-calorie diet. In yet another study from 2009, researchers found that coriander seed extract reduced glucose levels in the pancreases of diabetic rats.
As you may have noticed, all of these studies were performed on rats. While research on rats and mice is important for making new scientific discoveries, it’s too far of a leap to suggest that these findings also apply to humans. In addition, all the above studies used coriander seeds, not cilantro — and the seeds likely have a higher concentration of plant compounds than cilantro. In effect, humans would have to eat a considerable amount of cilantro — far more than what we normally eat in a day — to try and reach the same concentration levels as the rodents.
Bottom line? Don’t rely on cilantro to reduce your blood sugar. If you have diabetes, speak to your healthcare provider before deciding whether you can eat cilantro. It may not be a problem.
Does cilantro reduce inflammation and cancer risk?
Some online sources argue that cilantro may reduce inflammation in the body because it contains terpinene, quercetin, and tocopherols — antioxidant plant compounds. Several studies have linked terpinene, quercetin, and tocopherols to a lower risk of cancer and anti-tumor growth. However, many of these studies are still in the trial phase, and no study has conclusively proven that any of these antioxidants treat human cancer.
Bottom line? Cilantro may have anti-inflammatory effects, but it’s unclear how much of it you would have to eat to reduce inflammation in the body. More research is needed to prove that it inhibits the growth of tumor cells.
Does cilantro reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s?
A few online sources state that cilantro is linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s, according to several studies. In one such study published in 2011, mice that ate fresh cilantro leaves for 45 days performed better on memory tests than mice that didn’t eat cilantro. Interestingly, cilantro-fed mice had lower cholesterol levels, which is significant because high blood cholesterol is linked to a greater risk of Alzheimer’s. The study authors therefore concluded that cilantro may be a useful remedy for the management of Alzheimer’s symptoms. However, this study does not prove that a daily dose of cilantro lowers a human’s risk of Alzheimer’s.
Bottom line: While this study was insightful, there isn’t enough human research to show that cilantro alone reduces a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s. A greater body of research suggests that an overall healthy diet is more likely to lower Alzheimer’s risk.
Does cilantro prevent foodborne illness?
Several sources state that cilantro kills Salmonella bacteria — a pathogen that causes serious foodborne illness. Is this true? Well, a study published in 2004 found that cilantro has an antibacterial plant compound — called dodecenal — that does indeed kill Salmonella. In fact, the study authors found that it was twice as potent as gentamicin, a medicinal antibiotic.
However, the study authors cautioned that people should not assume cilantro will prevent them from getting sick. “If you were eating a hot dog or hamburger, you would probably have to eat an equivalent weight of cilantro to have an optimal effect against food poisoning,” lead study author, Isao Kubo, PhD, said in a press release.
Bottom Line: Cilantro has antibacterial properties and kills Salmonella. However, you should not rely on it to prevent food poisoning.
The health benefits of cilantro have been inflated for some time, and it isn’t accurate to say that this herb reduces your risk of high blood sugar, cancer, Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s without more research. Still, it undoubtedly has some beneficial nutrients, including antioxidants and dodecenal, the antibacterial compound. Enjoy cilantro whenever you see fit, but don’t eat it in excess in the hopes that it will reduce your risk of disease.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.