Natural bitter substances have a long history. Even in the representations of Hildegard von Bingen herbs of this kind play a major role. Not only because bitter substances stimulate digestion, but also because vegetables in past times contained much more bitter substances. Unfortunately, this was a thorn in the side of industry. And so our food evolved to sweeten. Natural bitter substances gradually disappeared.
The famous doctor Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus, would turn around in the grave. For almost four centuries after Hildegard von Bingen, he said: “Death sits in the intestines!” He then tinkered with a wondrous elixir with bitter roots. A component of the well-known Swedish bitter.
Today we know even more about these fascinating substances. Bitter substance plants and their extracts are suitable for gastrointestinal discomfort as well as loss of appetite and are still attributed beneficial effects in plant medicine for fatigue, stress and exhaustion. What bitter substances are, how exactly they work and whether Paracelsus was right – we show you this in this article. Disclaimer: The article is intended as initial information for you. This does not replace medical advice from a doctor.
What are bitter substances
Through bitter substances get products, you have already guessed it – a bitter taste. So far nothing new. This was already known by Adriaen Brouwer in 1636, who recorded from today’s point of view the funny reaction of a man to bitter medicine in the painting called “The Bitter Potion”. And even if we still prefer a little of the face today in a healthy but harsh medicine – that is natural and is part of it.
Speaking of “natural”. 250 plants are known to contain natural bitter substances and are medically usable. These include, for example, the devil’s claw, wormwood and yarrow. These medicinal plants contain a different bitter value. This value serves as a delimitation as well as a measure and is determined in a standardized procedure. Imagine this as the gram, decagram and kilogram data. Here, too, we know by value what is lighter or heavier. By comparison, wormwood has a bitter value of 10,000, yarrow of about 3,000. Much more interesting than value is the effect of this natural medicine. By the way, it is always compared with quinine hydrochloride. This chemical compound has a bitter value of 200,000. Chinin itself is present in the China bark and is used for malaria treatment. But back to the bitter substances. What effect do they have on our health?
3 Health-promoting effects of bitter substances
That sounds a bit paradoxical at the moment, doesn’t it? Just eat bitterly, and everything is good? In fact, there are many bitter substance receptors in our body, so-called “T2Rs”. These receptors are activated by the bitter substances.
We have these receptors so that our body can detect dangerous substances and we can react to them. There is a simple reason for this: poison often tastes bitter.
For us, this is a win-win situation. On the one hand, the receptors help us to recognize hazards, on the other hand they can also trigger the release of hormones that control appetite regulation and insulin sensitivity. This makes them useful for our diet.
What sounds so technical means that our stomach acid, bile and enzymes are promoted to better break down our food. Let us look at three concrete effects.
1. Natural bitter substances are digestive
The bitter substances ensure that our digestive system remains clean, elastic and in maximum shape. Vitamins are better absorbed.
2. A Friend of the Liver
What do bitter substances do in the liver? Some bitter substances help our body’s detoxification centre to remove toxins. For example, that of the artichoke. In a laboratory experiment, scientists found that the extract of artichoke has a protective effect on the liver and may even support regeneration (Ben Salem M. et. al., Pharmacological Studies of Artichoke Leaf Extract and Their Health Benefits, 2015).
3. A help with losing weight?
It is often read that bitter substances can also help with weight loss. How does it work? The theory is this: If you’re hungry for sweets, eat something bitter beforehand. This will reduce your appetite. “Eat times bitter” is easier said than done. In addition, foods would often contain too little bitter substances to reduce cravings. This is why supplements are usually used. But what are the actual experiences?
Losing with bitter substances – Experiences:
The health portal of the German pharmacists did the check and interviewed experts. Dr Wolfgang Meyerhofer, for example, says that there are no recognised studies showing that bitter substances – in the words of “bitter taste” – reduce appetite. In fact, the opposite is true: our appetite is stimulated. The weight loss debate was mainly stimulated by Dr. Anne Fleck, who spoke about the positive experiences in the NDR. If the craving in her patients does not stop, she has achieved pleasing effects with bitter syitu extracts. However, a general tip is still: do without sugar, change diet and become active. If one reads through experiences on the Internet, both the appetizing effects and those against the craving for sweets are an issue.
Where are natural bitter substances contained?
The artichoke is your very personal health helper. It occurs as a vegetable as well as a plant, helps with stomach and intestinal problems and stimulates intestinal mobility.
By promoting bile and liver flow, blood fat levels are reduced. In addition, cholesterol levels decrease and digestion is stimulated. Overall, artichokes have a good effect on the digestive and liver. So if you suffer more often from bloating, heartburn or nausea, you can count on artichokes.
Depending on the source, artichokes contain no more than four to six percent of bitter substances. Especially due to the bitter substance “cynaropikrin” gastric acid forms and stimulates your appetite.
It should be noted that artichokes should not be eaten in gallstones or allergies to corblegers. If you have just had a baby, you should also do without it, as milk formation is inhibited.
In summary, the following can be said about the artichoke:
- Used for gastrointestinal discomfort
- Acts as liver protection
- An appetite stimuour
- Lowers cholesterol levels
2. Milk thistle
The milk thistle is not a particularly beautiful sight due to its violet flowers and the knotty growth. But the appearance is deceptive, because milk thistle is the best-researched plant for the treatment of liver disease, according to the publication “Milk thistle in liver diseases: past, present, future”.
The active substance in the milk thistle is called silymarin, the main active ingredient of which is silybine. Silymarin can be used for liver problems (Aller R. et. al. Effect of silymarin plus vitamin E in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. A randomized clinical pilot study. 2015).
However, there are also mixed results that have not always had a positive effect. Especially with an unhealthy lifestyle, there is still too little evidence that you are preventing liver disease by just taking it.
However, a 2017 study attributed antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-fibrotic effects to the active substance (Federico A. et. al., Silymarin/Silybin and Chronic Liver Disease: A Marriage of Many Years, 2017).
Milk thistle could also help with Alzheimer’s. Studies have shown that a decrease in brain function could be prevented. A laboratory study showed that silymarin is a promising remedy for alzheimer’s (Mutana N. et. al., Silymarin attenuated the amyloid plaque burden and improved behavioral abnormalities in an Alzheimer’s disease mouse model, 2010). It is important to know that this effect has not yet been studied in humans.
Even with acne, the milk thistle could help you, as a study within 8 weeks resulted in a 53-year decrease in acne (Ahmed Salih Sahib et. al., Effects of Oral Antioxidants on Lesion Counts Associated with Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Patients with Papulopustular Acne, 2012).
Overall, the active substance of milk thistles is promising, because in addition to the listed studies, research has already been carried out to reduce blood sugar and strengthen bone structure. However, it takes more work to get to know the effect of this exciting plant.
The gentian also has a long history as a medicinal herb. For the Romans, the plant was a medical remedy for digestive problems. In the Middle Ages, gentian was considered a medicine for “everything”. Today we know the gentian not only as a plant, but also as a brandy.
The ancient Romans were right. The gentian actually has a digestive effect due to its natural bitter substances. As with artichoke, it can help with both loss of appetite and fatigue. The gentian stimulates gastric juice production, which has an appetizing effect on us. It is also antioxidant and antimicrobial. This means counteracting stress and inhibiting the growth of microorganisms such as bacteria.
Gentian should not be used in a gastric or duodenum ulcer. Women during pregnancy and persons under 18 years of age should refrain from the plant and its active ingredients as there is no studies on the effect.
In which foods are bitter substances contained? A list.
You can incorporate bitter substances into your daily diet with the following foods:
- Endive salad
As you have probably noticed, the foods can be divided into vegetables, fruits, cereals, spices and herbs.
Especially vegetables such as rocket, broccoli and Brussels sprouts contain so-called glucosinolates. These are sulfur-containing compounds.
The cruciferous plants are often associated with cancer prevention. However, the study situation here was inconsistent in 2007. Scientists came to different results. (Jane V. Higdon et. al., Cruciferous Vegetables and Human Cancer Risk: Epidemiologic Evidence and Mechanistic Basis, 2007).
You drink a well-known watchmaker every day? Good for you, because in addition to the listed foods, coffee also contains bitter substances. These are created during roasting. Fist formula: The darker roasted, the more bitter the coffee tastes. As the Austrian newspaper “DER STANDARD” writes in 2017, a study by the University of Vienna has caused a stir. For the author Marc Guner has statistically determined that drinking coffee – popular science – could prolong your lifespan. The researcher describes it this way: “Coffee drinking was associated with a reduced risk of death for various reasons.” (Gunter MJ. et. al., Coffee Drinking and Mortality in 10 European Countries: A Multinational Cohort Study, 2017).
Where can you buy bitter substances and what should you consider?
According to Dr. Anne Fleck, when buying the funds, it is important to ensure that the products do not contain preservatives and alcohol. But where can you buy bitter substances? In the pharmacy, but also on the Internet. For example, a product from us contains milk thistle and artichoke, i.e. plants with natural bitter substances.
Paracelsus, the intestine and bitter substances
Was Paracelsus right with his saying: “Death is in the gut!” Yes, there is something true about it. Quite literally, however, we should not take the good bombastus. A young medical doctor has described this much more gratifyingly at the moment. As we describe in our article “Lactic acid bacteria in the gut: how they affect your health”, the intestine is an underestimated organ that has an incredible number of functions. So let’s rewrite the quote: “Health is in the gut!” And what does this have to do with bitter substances? Bitter substances disperse enzymes and improve the absorption of various nutrients. By releasing digestive juices, our organs are immediately prepared for their work. Overall, medicinal herbs with bitter substances act as a turbo for our digestive system.
An old saying says: “What is bitter in the mouth is healthy for the stomach.” What was observable at that time, we can now investigate in detail. The presented studies show that there is something true about the saying.