13 Possible Health Benefits Of Cilantro Or Coriander Leaves

The flavorful leaves of cilantro are a welcome addition to many savory dishes across the world, whether you sprinkle it over salads, add to a salsa or a guacamole, blend into a chimichurri sauce, or use it to garnish Indian curries. These Mediterranean leaves are from the coriander plant (Coriandrum sativum L), whose dried seeds and seed powder are used as a spice in Asia.

Cilantro is the Spanish name for coriander. In the USA, it refers to the leaves and stems of the coriander plant, while coriander itself refers to the dry seeds that are used whole or ground as a spice.

Traditionally, coriander has been used to treat numerous ailments, including measles, chicken pox, urinary tract infections, and stomach disorders. Even today, coriander is a common home remedy for stomach problems and indigestion. Though cilantro leaves and coriander seeds come from the same plant, they have some nutritional differences in terms of the variety and quantity of bioactive compounds and hence slightly different health benefits – cilantro leaves have more vitamins, water, and antioxidants, while the seeds have a higher mineral and oil content. Here’s what makes cilantro so healthy.

100 g of the herb contains:

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  • 23 Calories
  • 2.6 g dietary fiber (11% DV)
  • 6748 IU vitamin A (134% DV)
  • 27 mg vitamin C (45% DV)
  • 300 mcg vitamin K1 (375% DV)
  • 521 mg potassium (14% DV)
  • 1.77 mg iron (9% DV)1

The leaves are a good source of potent antioxidants like quercetin and vitamin C. The vitamin A in cilantro also comes from antioxidant carotenoids like beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, and lutein and zeaxanthin. The leaves also have a few important fatty acids, phytosterols (plant cholesterol), and aldehydes. Here’s a look at the health benefits of cilantro.

1. Reduces Oxidative Stress

Thanks to the antioxidants quercetin, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, and vitamin C, cilantro can contribute to fighting free radicals in your body. Free radicals are reactive molecules generated in your body through metabolic processes as well as exposure to external toxins. These damage cells and trigger chronic inflammation. When the body’s antioxidants, which are part of its immune system, cannot cope with the damage, it leads to oxidative stress. In the long term, oxidative stress leads to premature aging as well as chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. Cilantro has a high antioxidative capacity, with an ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) value of 5141 μ mol TE/100g.2 To put that into perspective, cilantro is an even better antioxidant than red raspberries. In a lab study on human skin cells under oxidative stress, a standardized extract of cilantro leaves could bring down levels of oxidation.3

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2. Can Reduce Inflammation

Since cilantro can reduce oxidative stress in the body, it can possibly prevent inflammation too. While cilantro’s effect on inflammation has not been studied, a study has found that at a very high dose, coriander seeds could reduce swelling and inflammation in patients of rheumatoid arthritis, thanks to beta-sitosterol and beta-sitosterolin.4 Cilantro also has these compounds, though in a lower quantity. However, cilantro has more antioxidants to counter the inflammation, and is usually had in larger quantities than the seed powder. Further research will help firm up the anti-inflammatory benefit of cilantro.

3. Can Manage Diabetes

Consider adding more cilantro to your salads and salsa if you have been diagnosed with diabetes. In a study on diabetic rats, cilantro leaf extract could reduce blood glucose levels. In addition, it reduced the total cholesterol, LDL and VLDL cholesterol, and triglycerides and increased the HDL cholesterol levels. This is indeed promising because an imbalance in lipid levels is usually a comorbidity in diabetic patients and increases the risk of damaging organs like the heart, liver, and kidney.5 Nondiabetics, however, may rest assured. Coriander seed extract was found to have a much less significant effect on blood glucose or lipid levels in healthy rats in another animal study.6

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4. Can Protect The Liver

There’s a reason cilantro is oft-used in detox juices and smoothies, and it isn’t just to enhance flavor or mask the odor of other veggies. Detox juices aim at cleansing the liver, which essentially means boosting the antioxidant capacity of the liver. In the process of transforming food into non-toxic byproducts, the liver itself comes under free radical damage. Dietary antioxidants help boost the natural antioxidant stores in the body and help the liver function optimally. In the study on diabetic rats, it was seen that cilantro enhanced the activity of antioxidant enzymes like catalase, superoxide dismutase, and glutathione peroxidase in the liver. In another study, rats injected with a liver toxin also showed better liver function after they were given a coriander leaf and seed extract.7 8 This shows that cilantro can not only protect your liver but also reverse damage. Time to add cilantro to your list of liver-cleansing foods.

5. Can Protect The Heart

Cilantro has many compounds in it that are known to directly benefit the heart. A healthy potassium-sodium ratio in the leaves keeps blood pressure steady, while the polyphenols prevent atherosclerosis by keeping the lipid levels normal and fighting free radical damage. In a study on rats that were pretreated with coriander seed extract and then given a drug known to induce heart damage, it was seen that the seed extract could prevent heart attack by scavenging free radicals.9 In another study, the fruit extract could lower blood pressure by increasing urine output as well as by dilating blood vessels.10 Coriander has also been found to regulate blood pressure in two ways: by inducing contractions through a cholinergic mechanism, that is involving the neurotransmitter acetylcholine; and by relaxing and dilating blood vessels by blocking calcium from entering the heart and blood vessel cells.11 While the studies used the seed and fruit extracts, the leaves too can have a beneficial effect on the heart because of a similar if not higher polyphenolic content.

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6. May Improve Digestion And Relieve Flatulence

The traditional use of coriander as a carminative – a substance that can expel gas and relieve flatulence – is well known and justified. In animal studies, the seed extract could stimulate the secretion of gastric acids and contractions by enhancing the function of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. So it can effectively treat digestion disorders caused by a delay in the passage of food in the gastrointestinal tract – such as flatulence, indigestion, vomiting, and anorexia.12 While no study has been conducted to verify this benefit, it is possible cilantro could also help.

7. May Treat Diarrhea

Cilantro might also help treat conditions like diarrhea and abdominal spasms. The coriander seed extract was seen to behave in the same way as standard drugs for these conditions, that is by blocking calcium channels that induce smooth muscle contractions in the gut.13

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8. Prevents Microbial Infections And Food Poisoning

A recent study has found that essential oil extracted from the stem of cilantro can kill the larvae of Aedes aegypti, a mosquito that can transmit dengue, chikungunya, zika, and yellow fever.14

Did you know a simple chimichurri sauce could protect you from a bad case of food poisoning? Essential oil extracted from the leaves has been found to have potent effect against Listeria monocytogenes, a pathogenic food-borne bacteria that causes a severe infection called listeriosis. The researchers attributed the benefits to long-chain alcohols and aldehydes. Cilantro essential oil was more beneficial in this case than the seed essential oil.15 It could also protect you from Salmonella enterica, thanks to an antibacterial aldehyde known as dodecanal, and a number of pathogenic bacteria including Staphylococcus aureusBacillus spp, and Escherichia coli as well as the yeast Candida albicans that causes opportunistic infections.16 17

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But here’s the catch, the FDA has found that imported cilantro may itself contain several strains of bacteria and washing alone cannot ensure complete removal. So look for home grown or local produce.

9. May Treat Urinary Tract Infections

In Palestine, the fruits of coriander are used in folk medicine to treat urinary infections. However, the evidence is limited. A 2014 lab study finds that a methanolic extract of the seeds is effective against a number of UTI-causing drug-resistant pathogens, but only further research can tell us if cilantro leaves too could have a similar effect inside the body.18

10. May Remove Heavy Metals From The Body

The foods you eat, the water you drink, and the antibiotics you may occasionally consume can all deposit harmful heavy metals like lead, arsenic, aluminum, mercury, and cadmium in your body. These trigger a number of problems including kidney damage, heart disease, and brain and nerve damage. Sometimes, these heavy metal deposits in the body can also be utilized by harmful microorganisms to render antibiotics ineffective. In one study, it was found that lead and mercury deposits in the body were responsible for frequent relapses of Chlamydia trachomatis infections and Herpes simplex 1 and 2 infections in patients despite several antibiotic courses. Quite accidentally, it was then discovered that cilantro leaves could speed up the excretion of heavy metals like lead and mercury from the body and improve the effectiveness of antibiotics.19 This led to the observation that cilantro helps remove heavy metals from the body. But while this study is promising, further follow-up studies are required to firm up the theory. However, there’s some evidence that coriander can fight against the oxidative damage caused by heavy metals. In a study on mice exposed to lead, a coriander extract could prevent oxidative stress to a large extent.20

11. Protects The Eye

Thanks to a very high amount of vitamin A, cilantro can keep your eyes healthy well into old age and ward off night blindness. What’s better is that the vitamin comes from carotenoids, a group of antioxidants. While excess vitamin A, in the form of retinol, derived from animal sources has toxic effects on the body, vitamin A from vegetarian sources does not. Vitamin A also plays a role in reproduction, immune health, normal lung, kidney, and heart function.

12. Improves Memory And May Prevent Alzheimer’s

Cilantro could improve your memory and keep neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s at bay. In a study, both young and old rats were given a specially prepared diet comprising cilantro leaves which made up 5%, 10%, and 15% of their diet. They showed an improvement in memory in a dose-dependent manner. Then the rats were given an amnesia-inducing drug. But cilantro could reverse the memory deficits. The researchers found that it reduces cholesterol in the brain and blocks the function of an enzyme called cholinesterase, which breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Since Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the deficiency of acetylcholine, the researchers felt that cilantro could act as a preventive.21 While it’s impossible to consume a huge amount of cilantro, you could always combine it with other brain-enhancing herbs and foods.

13. Has Anti-Cancer Activity

Cilantro may have good news for those of you who love having grilled meat. Grilling or charring muscle meat leads to the formation of a type of compounds known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which have the ability to trigger changes in the DNA and cause cancer. This property of these amines is known as mutagenicity. In a lab study, coriander juice showed the ability to reduce the mutagenicity of a number of amines – up to 92.43% for one particular amine. And the higher the chlorophyll content in the juice, the higher the antimutagenic activity.22 While clinical trials are needed, pairing grilled meat with a fresh cilantro sauce or chutney may still be a welcome move.

That apart, lab studies have shown that different parts of the coriander plant (in different extracts) show anticancer activity against oral cancer, gastric cancer, and breast cancer. Coriander seems to function in a number of ways like preventing DNA damage and cancer cell migration and inducing cell death.23 24 25 However, whether intake of cilantro in dietary amounts can prevent or treat cancer can only be understood after large-scale clinical trials.

Some people may be allergic to cilantro, but apart from that there seems to be no other contraindication at present. The leaves are not known to interact with drugs, except, possibly blood thinners due to its high K content. If you are on blood thinners, have a word with your doctor to find your ideal intake.

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