Artichokes are part of the thistle family, and they are commonly grown in the Mediterranean, the Americas, and South Africa. Known as French artichokes or green artichokes in the United States, the edible portion of the artichoke consists of the flower buds themselves, and these are harvested just before the flower blooms. Artichokes were mentioned by Homer and Hesiod in the eighth century B.C., and they were eaten throughout ancient Greece and Rome. Popular cooking preparation techniques for artichokes include roasting, steaming, and frying. In recent years, artichokes have become known for their health benefits.
Regulate Blood Pressure
Artichokes contain high levels of potassium, a mineral that plays a major role in the regulation of blood pressure and counteracts the negative effects of excessive sodium consumption. In fact, just one medium-sized raw artichoke contains fourteen percent of the recommended daily intake of potassium. Both test-tube and animal studies suggest artichoke extract may regulate blood pressure through eNOS, an enzyme that helps blood vessels widen. A three-month study of roughly one hundred male volunteers found consuming artichoke extract on a daily basis was associated with a 2.85mmHg reduction in systolic blood pressure readings and a 2.76mmHg reduction in diastolic blood pressure readings.
Lower Blood Sugar
Studies suggest artichokes may lower blood sugar through several mechanisms. An eight-week study of thirty-nine adults who were overweight found the daily intake of artichoke and kidney bean extracts reduced fasting blood glucose readings when compared to a group that did not use the extracts. Another study looked at the effects of whole artichokes in individuals without metabolic syndrome. It demonstrated eating a boiled artichoke at mealtimes reduced both blood glucose and insulin readings within thirty minutes after finishing the meal. Additional research suggests artichoke extract slows down the activity of an enzyme called alpha-glucosidase. This enzyme is responsible for converting starches into glucose, and scientists believe it likely plays a role in blood glucose regulation.
Research has shown consuming whole artichokes and artichoke extract benefits cholesterol. A large study of more than seven hundred subjects who were followed over a period of five to thirteen weeks found the daily use of an artichoke leaf extract reduced both total cholesterol and levels of low-density lipoprotein (bad) cholesterol. A German study of 143 patients with high cholesterol demonstrated artichoke extract was significantly more effective than a placebo in achieving cholesterol reduction.
In fact, the study showed the daily consumption of artichoke leaf extract for a period of six weeks was associated with a 22.9 percent reduction of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and an 18.5 percent decrease in total cholesterol. An animal study of artichoke benefits found artichoke extract reduced triglycerides by twenty-two percent, and the same study also reported the extract was linked to a thirty percent reduction in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.
May Protect From Liver Damage
Studies suggest artichokes may protect from liver damage. In addition to protecting the liver from damage, artichoke leaf extract is believed to help the liver in growing new tissue. The extract may also increase the amount of bile produced by the body; bile supports the removal of dangerous toxins from the liver. An animal study conducted on rats given a drug overdose discovered the rats that had consumed artichoke extract had less liver damage, improved liver function, and increased levels of antioxidants as compared to the rats that had not received the artichoke extract.
Human studies have shown similar benefits. For example, research done on a group of ninety individuals who had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease discovered their liver function improved after consuming six hundred milligrams of artichoke extract every day for eight weeks. Additional research on obese adults with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease reported the daily use of artichoke extract across a two-month period was associated with a reduction in fat deposits in the liver and reduced inflammation in the organ as compared to a control group that did not use the extract. Although further research is needed, scientists believe cynarin and silymarin, two of the antioxidants found in artichokes, are likely responsible for the food's beneficial effects on the liver.
Ease Symptoms Of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Research has suggested artichokes could ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and promote improved digestive health overall. One medium-sized boiled artichoke contains 6.8 grams of fiber, a nutrient that has been shown to reduce the risk of some types of bowel cancer and encourage the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. In addition, fiber is known to help alleviate both constipation and diarrhea, two of the major symptoms individuals with irritable bowel syndrome could experience. Artichokes contain a type of prebiotic fiber known as inulin. A small study of twelve patients who consumed artichoke extract daily for three weeks found these subjects experienced improvements in the balance of their gut bacteria. A larger study of 247 individuals who were experiencing indigestion reported the daily use of artichoke extract across a span of six weeks led to a reduction in symptoms such as flatulence and bloating as compared to a control group.
Scientists believe cynarin, a powerful antioxidant found in artichokes, helps promote digestive health by increasing the speed of gut movement, stimulating the production of bile, and improving the digestion of fats. In addition to these benefits, artichokes are particularly useful in protecting the gallbladder, a key organ in the digestive system. Studies have shown artichokes can prevent the accumulation of minerals within the gallbladder itself. By extension, this prevention of buildup also prevents the formation of painful gallstones, keeping the digestive system running as smoothly as possible.