A trial currently underway at the university is being led by Dr Patrick O’Connor, a professor in the department of kinesiology and co-director of its exercise psychology laboratory.
Results will be due next year, he told NutraIngredients USA: “The purpose of the investigation is to determine whether mental energy is altered, compared to capsule placebo, after consuming 2 grams (in capsule form) of either black pepper or rosemary.
“We are measuring self-reported energy symptoms and vigilance performance - a measure of sustained attention through identifying numbers changing on a computer screen -before, during and after the treatments or placebo.
“This is a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled experiment conducted with 20 volunteers [students of both sexes that are “fasted and well-rested”] in each treatment group who report average or lower than average symptoms of energy during the week prior to participation.”
Alternative and traditional medicine
The spices have been provided by the McCormick Science Institute (MSI), he said. “It is the raw spices, ground up and placed into capsules. Other investigators could get these same spices from MSI.”
He added: “I have funding to do the experiment once. Participants are tested multiple times - before and three-to four times after - and that information can demonstrate reliability.”
The ability of spices to combat fatigue has been “frequently claimed by practitioners of alternative and traditional medicine”, said O’Connor.
“[But] to date, the acute effect of consuming single spices on mental energy appears to have not been studied scientifically.”
Rosemary and speed of memory
A randomized controlled trial funded by the MSI and recently published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, looked at the effects of culinary doses of dried rosemary leaf powder on cognition and memory in 28 elderly people (average age 75).
This found a dose-dependent effect in measures of speed of memory, with the lowest dose (750 mg) having a statistically significant beneficial effect compared with placebo, whereas the highest dose (6,000 mg) had a detrimental effect.
The McCormick Science Institute
The McCormick Science Institute was set up five years ago by herbs and spices giant to McCormick & Co to disseminate information on the health benefits of culinary herbs and spices.
Led by nutrition scientists and guided by a scientific advisory council, the institute sponsors research at several universities and research institutions covering everything from the antioxidant properties of herbs and spices to their impact on inflammation and weight management.
All researchers funded by the MSI are required to submit their findings to reputable scientific journals for publication. MSI does not support research on spice blends proprietary to McCormick & Co.
Over the past five years, MSI has supported 17 studies investigating the health benefits of spices and herbs, including those looking at red pepper’s positive impact on weight management; ginger’s reduction of muscle pain after exercise; high antioxidant spices and heart health measures including improved arterial function and lower blood triglycerides; and antioxidant-rich spices and total antioxidant capacity of the blood.