Digestive stimulant action of spices: a myth or reality?

Indian J Med Res. 2004 May;119(5):167-79.


Spices have long been recognized for their digestive stimulant action. Several spices are also employed in medicinal preparations against digestive disorders in traditional and Indian systems of medicine. Earlier reports on the digestive stimulant action of spices are largely empirical; only in recent years, this beneficial attribute of spices has been authenticated in exhaustive animal studies. Animal studies have shown that many spices induce higher secretion of bile acids which play a vital role in fat digestion and absorption. When consumed through the diet also spices produce significant stimulation of the activities of pancreatic lipase, amylase and proteases. A few of them also have been shown to have beneficial effect on the terminal digestive enzymes of small intestinal mucosa. Concomitant with such a stimulation of either bile secretion or activity of digestive enzymes by these spices, leading to an accelerated digestion, a reduction in the food transit time in the gastrointestinal tract has also been shown. Thus, the digestive stimulant action of spices seems to be mediated through two possible modes: (i) by stimulating the liver to secrete bile rich in bile acids, components that are vital for fat digestion and absorption, and (ii) by a stimulation of enzyme activities that are responsible for digestion. This review highlights the available information on the influence of spices on the digestive secretions and enzymes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bile / metabolism
  • Digestion / physiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Transit / physiology
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Secretions / enzymology
  • Medicine, Traditional
  • Pancreas / enzymology
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Spices*