Zaatar Spice Blend Can Be Good For Your Brain
In certain parts of the Middle East, folk tradition suggests that za’atar has brain-boosting properties – The Salt recounts that Syrian children are often encouraged to sprinkle the spice mix on meals before exams.
Scientific literature on the health benefits of za’atar herbs like thyme, oregano, and sumac for human intelligence is minimal, though some researchers are beginning to speculate that the carvacrol, the phenol found in thyme and oregano, may have cognitive and mood-enhancing properties, at least in rodents.
A 2011 study found that in mice, specific doses of an oregano extract elevated levels of serotonin, a vital brain neurotransmitter involved in regulating mood, learning, sleep, and appetite, working like a low-impact version of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs that are commonly prescribed as antidepressants in humans.
Another study published last month showed that when fed to rats, steady low doses of carvacrol can boost levels of serotonin and dopamine, which is also involved in mood, learning, and feelings of reward, possibly increasing feelings of well-being and reinforcing other positive brain processes.
Finally, a 2012 study found that in rats, thymol and carvacrol helped alleviate some symptoms of dementia caused by beta-amyloid, a protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease. When dosed with the compounds before being placed in a water maze, cognitively impaired rats learned how to navigate the labyrinth more quickly than expected.
Of course, it’s not at all clear that the mood and cognition-enhancing health benefits of thyme and oregano compounds for rodents can translate to humans.
More research is necessary before anyone can recommend pouring za’atar over your meals for a brain boost, though recent studies have found strong protective effects against cognitive decline from eating aMediterranean diet rich in olive oil — which is more than compatible with za’atar, flavor-wise. Just go easy on the salt when creating your own blend.
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