Health Benefits of Vanilla Bean

The vanilla plant belongs to the orchid family. Before the raw vanilla beans are processed, they smell neutral, but after processing, they smell uniquely sweet. The vanilla bean has a distinct sweet smell that makes it possible to use less sugar when adding it to recipes. The sweetness isn't like the smell of sugar; it's more of an inviting, soft sweetness. This unique smell earned vanilla its important role as a popular ingredient in desserts. (1-4)

Several cheap alternatives to real vanilla exist, and they include the plant Vanilla pompona. Vaneilla planifola, on the other hand, is considered one of the most expensive spices in the world and tends to be the richest-smelling vanilla plant. (5)

Health Benefits of Vanilla Bean

Medicinal Uses of Vanilla Bean

People often think of vanilla as the flavouring for ice cream, but the most vanilla flavouring is synthetic. On the other hand, real vanilla has many traditional medicinal uses and has been demonstrated to have a positive effect on several chronic diseases (long-term illnesses).

To name a few of its benefits, real vanilla has some anti-inflammatory properties and has been used to help with weight loss by making them crave less sugar. This is because the smell of vanilla makes food smell sweeter. Studies suggest that vanilla possesses some blood-sugar and insulin-regulating properties. (6)

Pure vanilla extract and vanilla oil are added to topical treatments not only to make them smell better but also because vanilla pods are a natural source of the ingredient vanillic acid. Vanillic acid is added to beauty products because it is a strong antioxidant that can be put on the skin and has been shown to penetrate the skin and improve the condition of ageing skin. Studies show that vanillic acid might help naturally smooth fine lines. Vanilla extract also has antibacterial properties that could give the skin an extra layer of protection (7-8).

Animal studies demonstrate the following possible benefits of vanillin:

  • Emotional stress reliever 
  • Effective pain reliever
  • High blood pressure support
  • Supportive of healthy cholesterol levels
  • High blood glucose support 
  • Antibacterial benefits
  • Supported of sexual desire (men)
  • Improver of heart health
  • Supporter of good health (1-2)
Science-Verified Benefits of Vanillin

Are All Natural Vanilla Extracts the Same?

Vanilla planifolia or Vanilla fragrans (family Orchidaceae) usually come from Mexico. They are grown in many places in the world, but Indonesia and Madagascar are two of the biggest producers. Additionally, Vanilla tahitensis and Vanilla pompona are also essential species for vanilla production. The quality and use of vanilla products made from these species vary. For example, the Vanilla pompona bean isn't as high in quality and is mostly used in perfumes. The smell of Vanilla planifolia and Vanilla tahitensis, on the other hand, is stronger and more pleasant. Cheaper ingredients are used to make synthetic vanilla extract. (1,10)

Does Vanilla Cross Into The Blood Stream?

Vanillic acid can be found in the serum 5 minutes after exposure. This demonstrates that at least some of the constituents of Vanilla do cross into the bloodstream.

Vanilla is more than a flavouring agent

Top 6 Impressive Health Benefits of Vanilla Bean

Mood Enhancement

Exposure to the aroma of vanilla before and during regular blood draws calmed signs of distress in preterm and full-term human infants without changing heart rate or blood oxygen saturation. In a similar way, the calming effect of vanillin was seen to make newborns calmer. (11)

There are also adult studies that demonstrate the positive effects of the aroma of vanilla on mental health. Most of the studies point towards the calming, anti-anxiety effects of the plant. (12)

Sleep Apnea Support

Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing is disrupted during sleep and is common in premature babies. Exposure to vanillin as an olfactory stimulant decreased the number of apneas and kept the heart rate from slowing down (slow heart rate). Vanilla's health effects are directly linked to how sweet it smells. Scientists hypothesize that the smell of vanilla stimulates the olfactory nerve (the nerve responsible for the sense of smell) and increases blood flow to the orbitofrontal cortex. (11-12)

Adults can also develop sleep apnea for different reasons than babies do. Researchers found that the smell of vanillin changed how healthy adults breathed while they slept. The change in sleeping patterns could mean that vanilla essence could also be a good way to support adults with sleep apnea. (13)

Aromatherapy benefits of vanilla essential oil

Pain Relief & Anti-Inflammation

In animal models of pain, doses of vanilla decreased inflammation and pain significantly. The pathway to pain relief seemed to be directly linked to the activation of opioid receptors.

Opioid receptors are a type of protein that can be found in the brain, spinal cord, and gut. Opioids, which are a type of drug that includes both natural and man-made substances, work through these receptors to have their effects. When opioids attach to these receptors, they stimulate the nervous system. This makes the pain reduce in intensity and inflammation go down. Opioid receptors also help control how we feel and are thought to be involved in addiction. (14,15)

The Effects of Vanilla’s Active Compounds on Pain: (16)

  • Activating opioid receptors
  • Anti-oxidant action
  • Reduction of cytokines (body signals of inflammation)
  • Direct alterations in the serotonin and adrenaline pathways

Anxiety & Depression

Vanilla has a strong effect on the nervous system. It is also shown to have few side effects while showing effectiveness as directly impacting the function of neurotransmitters. Scientists also speculate that vanillin's ability to fight free radicals may play a direct role in keeping this effect going. (17)

Animal models showed that treating animals with vanillin decreased depressive symptoms. When higher doses of vanillin were compared to standard drugs, they were found to offer efficacy comparable to fluoxetine. (18)

The active constituents of vanilla are speculated to be vanillin and venlafaxine. Several experiments demonstrate that both vanillin and venlafaxine significantly calm the brains of stressed animals. Higher levels of glutathione, nitric oxide, and serotonin were observed in the animals exposed to vanillin. The changes resulted in less stressed and less depressed animals. (19)

Feel good with the smell of Vanilla

Heart Support

An animal study found that vanillin consumption was linked to less ischemia, a condition in which the heart doesn't get enough blood. Inflammation and oxidative stress were also found to be lessened by vanillin. The phenolic acid (type of chemical) in vanillin is thought to be responsible for these effects. Even though more research needs to be done on humans to confirm these results, the results of this study suggest that vanillin may be an ingredient that helps keep the heart healthy.

Libido, Hormones and Sexual Desire

Rumours have long circulated about the aphrodisiac effect of vanillin. In one study, men were asked to rate how attractive women with different scents were. Men were found to be more sexually attracted to women who used vanilla-scented perfumes. Another study found that when men were exposed to the smell of vanilla, blood flow to their genital areas increased. This increase in blood flow is thought to be the reason why the vanilla bean makes people feel more sexually aroused. (20-22)

Researchers have also found that vanilla extract can help raise the male sex hormone testosterone. Though testosterone is best known for how it affects sex drive, it also has a big impact on health as a whole. Low levels of testosterone have been linked to a number of health problems, such as tiredness, depression, and muscle loss. Even though more research needs to be done to confirm these results, the vanilla extract may be a simple and natural way to help boost testosterone levels and improve overall health. (22)

Vanilla for Libido

Other Unexpected Benefits Linked to Vanillin

  • Some preliminary studies demonstrate the capacity of vanillin to prevent the blood-brain barrier from breaking down (23)

  • The levels of the inflammatory cytokines interleukin 6 and tumour necrosis factor in the mice's plasma and liver also went down after they consumed vanillin (23) 

  • Data suggests that vanillin may also alter the populations of gut microbiota that are linked to obesity (24)

  • Animal study models show that the animals who were given vanillic acid had lower blood sugar, insulin, triglycerides, and free fatty acids than the control group. They also had less insulin resistance and lower blood pressure (24)

  • In mouse and rat models, both vanillin and vanillic acid were shown to stop chemically and mechanically caused tissue damage (25)
Advanced Medicinal Uses of Vanilla

Article References

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2. Sinha AK, Sharma UK, Sharma N. A comprehensive review on vanilla flavor: extraction, isolation and quantification of vanillin and others constituents. International journal of food sciences and nutrition. 2008 Jan 1;59(4):299-326.
3. Anuradha K, Shyamala BN, Naidu MM. Vanilla-its science of cultivation, curing, chemistry, and nutraceutical properties. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. 2013 Jan 1;53(12):1250-76.
4. Bythrow JD. Vanilla as a medicinal plant. InSeminars in integrative medicine 2005 Dec 1 (Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 129-131). WB Saunders.
5. Fouché JG, Jouve L. Vanilla planifolia: history, botany and culture in Reunion island. Agronomie. 1999;19(8):689-703.
6. Sarak AS, Dawane JS, Pandit VA. Experimental evaluation of anti-inflammatory effect of ethanolic extract of Vanilla planifolia seeds in Wistar rats. National Journal of Physiology, Pharmacy and Pharmacology. 2021 Dec 19;12(7):0-.
7. Shyamala BN, Naidu MM, Sulochanamma G, Srinivas P. Studies on the antioxidant activities of natural vanilla extract and its constituent compounds through in vitro models. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry. 2007 Sep 19;55(19):7738-43.
8 Kim SJ, Kim MC, Um JY, Hong SH. The beneficial effect of vanillic acid on ulcerative colitis. Molecules. 2010 Oct 19;15(10):7208-17.
9. Brimson JM, Onlamoon N, Tencomnao T, Thitilertdecha P. Clerodendrum petasites S. Moore: The therapeutic potential of phytochemicals, hispidulin, vanillic acid, verbascoside, and apigenin. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 2019 Oct 1;118:109319.
10. Osterhoudt SR. Vanilla Landscapes: Meaning, memory, and the cultivation of place in Madagascar. New York: New York Botanical Garden; 2017.
11. Marlier L, Gaugler C, Messer J. Olfactory stimulation prevents apnea in premature newborns. Pediatrics. 2005 Jan;115(1):83-8.
12. Mitra E, Hajar P, Marzie K, Narjes P, Najaf Z, Hashem M. Olfactory stimulation by vanillin prevents apnea in premature newborn infants.
13. Miltner W, Matjak M, Braun C, Diekmann H, Brody S. Emotional qualities of odors and their influence on the startle reflex in humans.
14. Park SH, Sim YB, Choi SM, Seo YJ, Kwon MS, Lee JK, Suh HW. Antinociceptive profiles and mechanisms of orally administered vanillin in the mice. Archives of pharmacal research. 2009 Nov;32(11):1643-9.
15. Ueno H, Shimada A, Suemitsu S, Murakami S, Kitamura N, Wani K, Takahashi Y, Matsumoto Y, Okamoto M, Fujiwara Y, Ishihara T. Comprehensive behavioral study of the effects of vanillin inhalation in mice. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 2019 Jul 1;115:108879.
16. de los Angeles Yrbas M, Morucci F, Alonso R, Gorzalczany S. Pharmacological mechanism underlying the antinociceptive activity of vanillic acid. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior. 2015 May 1;132:88-95.
17. Wang X, Chen Y, Wang Q, Sun L, Li G, Zhang C, Huang J, Chen L, Zhai H. Support for natural small-molecule phenols as anxiolytics. Molecules. 2017 Dec 6;22(12):2138.
18. Shoeb A, Chowta M, Pallempati G, Rai A, Singh A. Evaluation of antidepressant activity of vanillin in mice. Indian journal of pharmacology. 2013 Mar;45(2):141.
19. Xu J, Xu H, Liu Y, He H, Li G. Vanillin-induced amelioration of depression-like behaviors in rats by modulating monoamine neurotransmitters in the brain. Psychiatry research. 2015 Feb 28;225(3):509-14.
20. Lan XB, Wang Q, Yang JM, Ma L, Zhang WJ, Zheng P, Sun T, Niu JG, Liu N, Yu JQ. Neuroprotective effect of Vanillin on hypoxic-ischemic brain damage in neonatal rats. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 2019 Oct 1;118:109196.
21. Maskeri R, Ullal SD, Belagali Y, Shoeb A, Bhagwat V. Evaluation of aphrodisiac effect of vanillin in male wistar rats. Pharmacognosy Journal. 2012 Nov 1;4(32):61-4.
22. Goetz P. Traitement des troubles de la libido masculine. Phytothérapie. 2006 Apr;4(1):9-14.
23. Kim ME, Na JY, Park YD, Lee JS. Anti-neuroinflammatory effects of vanillin through the regulation of inflammatory factors and NF-κB signaling in LPS-stimulated microglia. Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology. 2019 Mar;187(3):884-93.
24. Guo J, Han X, Zhan J, You Y, Huang W. Vanillin alleviates high fat diet-induced obesity and improves the gut microbiota composition. Frontiers in microbiology. 2018 Nov 13;9:2733.
25. Salau VF, Erukainure OL, Ibeji CU, Olasehinde TA, Koorbanally NA, Islam M. Vanillin and vanillic acid modulate antioxidant defense system via amelioration of metabolic complications linked to Fe2+-induced brain tissues damage. Metabolic Brain Disease. 2020 Jun;35(5):727-38.

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