Ingredient Type: Botanical
Also Known As: Cichorium intybus, Blue sailors, Blueweed, Chickory, Coffee chicory, Radicchio, Succory, Witloof
Chicory is a perennial herbaceous plant of the dandelion family that is native to Europe originally but now also common in North America, China, and Australia. The plant flowers have been observed to be mostly bright blue but more rarely, pink, or white. The plant also contains sugars, pectin, choline, fixed oils, tannins, mineral salts, flavonoids, essential oils, phenolic acids as well as vitamins B, C, K, and P (3). The chicory root can even potentially contain up to 40% of inulin (4). Each of the plant constituents is used for a variety of applications, from medicine to the roots as food additives and even the extract obtained from the root, inulin, as an alternative sweetener or dietary digestive fiber (1).
In its native origin, Europe, the chicory root is commonly baked, roasted, and ground into a substance that similarly resembles coffee. This has been used as a coffee additive and substitutes not only in Europe but also in parts of Southeast Asia, South Africa, and the United States. Due to its wild nature, especially during economic crises such as the Great Depression and World War II, coffee is commonly comprised of a large, if not major, chicory content due to the expense and accessibility of coffee. In Germany, a mixture of chicory, sugar beet, and rye were used in East German Mischkaffee during the “East German Coffee Crisis” due to unstable commodity prices and poor harvest. Over time other cultures also adopted the idea of blending coffee and chicory, such as Greece, Turkey, Spain, Lebanon, Palestine, Turkey, and Syria (2).
Chicory, similar to other indigenous plants, is still relied on for its medicinal use as well as for nutritional/supplemental benefit. Historically different preparations of the herb have been used for a variety of ailments all over the world. South Africans have used a tea variation to treat jaundice, while in Turkey, an ointment made from the leaves has been used to aid in wound healing (6,7).
Other reported uses in various parts of the world include diarrhea, strengthening the reproductive organs, pulmonary cancer, purification of the biliary tract, liver disorders, antiseptic, cholesterol issues, cholagogue stimulant, diabetes, hepatomegaly, gout, rheumatism, malaria as well as many other hepatic and renal disorders those issues related to the gastrointestinal tract (8,9,10,11).
WHAT DOES SCIENCE TELL US?
Chicory Might Have Antimicrobial Properties:
An Arabian research group assessed the antimicrobial activity of Cichorium intybus to determine the mechanisms behind its activity on certain pathogenic microorganisms. In the study, the activity was assessed of C. intybus seed extract through the use of aqueous and organic extracts. The pathogenic microorganisms tested in this research were: Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Candida albicans, and Escherichia coli. Following the results’ analysis, it was noted that the seed extract exhibited antimicrobial activity against the tested pathogenic microorganisms. S. aureus was found to be most affected by the extract based on it, presenting the widest zone of inhibition. The results of the study support the hypothesis that Cichorium intybus is another medicinally affect plant with antimicrobial properties (13).
A similar study conducted in India was aimed at assessing the presence of secondary metabolites and antibacterial activity of the root extracts of the C. intybus plant against pathogenic microbes. The microbes studied in this study were: Bacillus subtilis, Staphylococcus aureus, Micrococcus luteus, Escherichia coli, and Salmonella typhi. The study was conducted on the bacteria by in vitro agar well diffusion. Following the completion of the study, hexane, and ethyl acetate extracts of the C. intybus root exhibited greater inhibition of growth of the pathogenic microbes than chloroform, petroleum ether, and water extracts. The strains most effected by the C. intybus extract were: Bacillus subtilis, Staphylococcus aureus, and Salmonella typhi. It was observed that C. intybus indeed is with very important antimicrobial qualities in an extracted form (14).
Another study investigated the potential biological activity of 54 plant extracts (methanol and aqueous) against multi-drug resistant Salmonella typhi. From the results, it was noted that strong antimicrobial activity was observed from the following methanol extracts: Aegle marmelos, Salmalia malabarica, Punica granatum, Myristica fragrans, Holarrhena antidysenterica, Terminalia arjuna, and Triphal. Moderate activity was also observed with: Picorhiza kurroa, Acacia catechu, Acacia nilotica, Cichorium intybus (chicory), Embelia ribes, Solanum nigrum, Carum copticum, Apium graveolens, Ocimum sanctum, Peucedanum graveolens, and monosperma (15).
The last study was also conducted to investigate the biological activity of an isolated constituent of the Cichorium intybus plant leaves, a sesquiterpenoid phytoalexin cichoralexin. Its structure was elucidated by spectroscopic methods. Upon analysis of the results, it was noted that the isolated form did exhibit significant activity against Pseudomonas cichorii (16).
Chicory Possibly Supports Liver Health:
In a study, researchers assessed the efficacy of the herbal medicine, Liv-52 (Mandur basma, Tamarix gallica, and herb extracts of Capparis spinosa, Cichorium intybus (chicory), Solanum nigrum, Terminalia arjuna, and Achillea millefolium) on liver cirrhosis compared to a placebo. Over a 6-month duration, 36 cirrhotic patients were randomly assigned to receive either the placebo or Liv-52. The following markers were assessed to determine effectiveness: child-pugh score, ascites, serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT), aspartate aminotransferase (AST), total bilirubin, albumin, prothrombin time, platelet and white blood cell counts. These markers were measured before and after the study. The results indicated that the patients treated with LIV-52 had significantly better child-pugh scores, decreased ascites and serum ALT and AST levels. Those patients in the placebo group had scores that were not significantly different than their initial baseline readings. It was concluded from this study that Liv-52 possesses hepatoprotective qualities, which may be attributed to the diuretic, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and immunomodulating properties of the constituent herbs contained in the herbal medicine (17).
In a recent study, the effects of enriched chicory inulin supplementation were investigated on liver enzymes, serum calcium and phosphorus concentrations, and other hematological parameters in patients with T2DM. Forty-six diabetic females participated in this study for two months. The following parameters were measured to assess the activity of the control vs. the intervention group: serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT), aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alkaline phosphatase (ALP), calcium and phosphorous as well as creatine concentrations, glomerular filtration rate, and blood pressure. These levels were assessed at the beginning of the trial to set a baseline as well as following the treatment to determine any changes from baseline. From the assessment of the results, it was noted that there were significant reductions in fasting serum glucose, HbA1C, AST, and ALP concentrations in the chicory-treated group. It was additionally noted that systolic and diastolic blood pressures were reduced in the chicory-treated group. Serum calcium significantly increased following chicory supplementation as well when compared to the control patient group. Serum insulin, creatinine, and glomerular filtration rate were not noted to have changed significantly. From the results of the study, it was concluded that oligofructose-enriched chicory presents beneficial effects on glucose and calcium homeostasis, liver function, blood pressure, and reduction in hematologic risk factors in female patients with T2DM (18).
Another study was conducted to assess the effects of diets containing chicory extract or inulin on the hepatic health of rats. In this study, 32 subjects were fed diets either without fiber or with 1 or 5% chicory extract of 5% inulin for a 4-week duration. The results noted that the test group fed the inulin and chicory extract diets experienced significantly higher serum high-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations along with lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations than the control group. The serum apolipoprotein B/A-1 ratio was significantly lower in the test vs. the control group. In the test group, it was also noted that rats experienced greater fecal lipid, cholesterol, and bile acid excretions suggesting that there was improved lipid metabolism observed in the test group fed chicory extract or inulin; which likely was in response to an alteration in the absorption and/or synthesis of cholesterol in the subjects. It was assessed that chicory extract, more specifically, the inulin constituent from the chicory root, has cholesterol balancing qualities (19).
Chicory Possibly Supports Healthy Blood Sugar Levels:
A study was conducted to investigate the hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic properties of an ethanolic extract of Cichorium intybus (CIE), which is widely used in India as a treatment for diabetes. In this study, male Sprague-Dawley rats were administered streptozotocin to induce an experimental form of diabetes. Hypoglycemic effects of the CIE were observed from the oral glucose tolerance test. The most effective dosage was noted as 125 mg/kg of the plant extract. A 14-day trial of this particular dosage attenuated the serum glucose by 20%, the cholesterol by 16%, and the triglycerides by 91%. There, however, was no noted change in the serum insulin levels. Lastly, it was noted in the test group receiving the CIE that there was a reduction in the hepatic glucose-6-phosphatase activity, which explains the lower concentrations of blood glucose due to a decrease in hepatic glucose production in response to the CIE. It was concluded from the results that the diabetic state could be improved through supplementation with a dose-dependent extract of Cichorium intybus (CIE) (20).
In another study, a novel form of chicory, chicoric acid (CRA), which is a dicaffeoyl ester purified from Cichorium intybus, was tested on subjects to assess glucose uptake and insulin secretion. The results noted that the CRA and comparable mono-caffeoyl ester, caffeic and chlorogenic acid (CGA)increased glucose uptake in the L6 muscular cells. It was also noted that both the CRA and CGA were able to stimulate insulin secretion from the INS-1E insulin-secreting cell lines and islets of Langerhans. From this study, it was concluded that chicoric acid has the potential to be an alternative antidiabetic agent capable of inducing insulin sensitization and the promotion of insulin secretion within the subject (21).
Chicory Possibly has Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Properties:
A study was conducted to test the water-soluble antioxidant capabilities of the Cichorium intybus (Chicory) plant. The antioxidant properties were evaluated in vitro based on its antioxidant activity (AA) while ex vivo based on its protective activity (PA) against hepatic rat cell microsome lipid peroxidation through measuring the levels of peroxide degradation. The vegetable juices that were used in this study were all centrifuged, filtered, cooked, stored, and analyzed for consistency. According to the results, each of the vegetable juices showed high but variable AA (> 83%) and PA (64%) levels of activation. Upon further analysis of the vegetable juices along with the respective results, it was noted that the vegetable juices contained both antioxidant and prooxidant compounds. The prooxidants measured in with significantly less activity (MW < 3000) than the very active antioxidants (PA had MW > 15,000). The results from the study, as well as analysis of C. intybus reveal that it has significantly high antioxidant activity (12).
Another study investigated the potential anti-inflammatory effects of chicory on the premise that its fructans have reported prebiotic-bifidogenic properties. An ethyl acetate chicory root extract was used and noted to produce a significant anti-inflammatory response through the inhibition of prostaglandin E (2) production in human colon carcinoma HT29 cells treated with the pro-inflammatory agent, TNF-alpha. From the research, it was noted that the major sesquiterpene lactone of chicory root, guaianolide 8-deoxylactucin, was identified as one of the key contributors to its anti-inflammatory property. The data suggest that chicory root has promising qualities as both a prebiotic fiber as well as an anti-inflammatory compound (21).
With various research studies in vitro along with animal studies pointing to the anti-inflammatory qualities of chicory root extracts, this study aimed to investigate a placebo-controlled, double-blind, dose-escalating trial to ascertain the safety and tolerability of a proprietary bioactive extract of chicory root in patients with osteoarthritis (OA). A total of 40 participants enrolled in 3 cohorts with ages greater than 50 years old. Participants were assigned escalating dosages of the chicory extract for one month (600 mg/day, 1200 mg/day, 1800 mg/day). The safety parameters measured included vitals, routine lab tests before and following the conclusion of the study. Results demonstrated that there was at least a 20% improvement in the domains of pain and stiffness for those that completed the treatment protocol. Only one patient treated with the highest dosage had to discontinue treatment due to an adverse event. From this clinical trial, it was suggested that the proprietary bioactive extract of chicory root has potentially supportive anti-inflammatory qualities in the management of OA but warrants further research to ascertain conclusive results (22).
Another study was conducted to investigate whether chicory coffee consumption would confer any cardiovascular benefits in 27 healthy individuals who consumed 300 mL of chicory coffee daily for seven days. The results indicated a significant decrease in whole blood and plasma viscosity along with significant improvements in red blood cell deformability. There were, however, no changes in hematocrit, fibrinogen levels, or red blood cell counts. With the widely acknowledged cardioprotective effects of plant polyphenol intake, it was concluded that chicory also has such anti-inflammatory effects of known phenolic plant compounds. Although the lack of research warrants further analysis, chicory has the potential to be an alternative anti-inflammatory compound (23).
Chicory Possibly Supports Gastrointestinal Health:
A 36-day experiment was carried out on 24, 54-day-old rabbits to assess the physiological properties of diets supplemented with chicory root flour. The rabbits were administered three treatments in which they were fed their base diet with chicory flour at 0 g/kg, 25 g/kg, and 50 g/kg. From the results, it was noted that the highest dose experienced lowered ileal pH and viscosity while evoking increased hydration of ileal-caecal digest compared to the control group. Additionally, when compared to the control group, the two test-groups which received the chicory root flour experienced significantly diminished activity of the potentially harmful bacteria enzymes, B-glucosidase and B-glucuronidase in the caecal and colonic digest. Lastly, the group supplemented with the highest dosage yielded the lowest level of triglycerides and total cholesterol while exhibiting the highest proportion of high-density lipoprotein fraction in the HDL/total cholesterol profile. Following this study’s conclusion, it was ascertained that the inulin-rich chicory flour exerts positive effects on the gastrointestinal tract physiology (24).
The majority of chicory research has been conducted as animal studies with limited clinical trials or studies on human subjects. However, from the available human research studies, it was noted that chicory seemed to be well tolerated by most people when consumed in medicinal dosages or those commonly found in food or beverages. Being that there is limited safety and toxicity information available for chicory, it is considered safe.
For those who have or suspect to have allergies to ragweed or related plants, it is best to avoid handling, and the consumption of chicory derived plant constituents as an allergic reaction may ensue. Some of the plants related to chicory include ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, daisies, amongst many others. It is best to consult your healthcare provider before handling or consuming chicory. Potential side effects include itchiness or erythema.
Consumption and supplementation of chicory are generally recognized as safe by the FDA. Being that the compound is with limited conducted human research studies or trials, there is no conclusive safety and toxicity tolerance report available. If you are taking any medications, it is advised to consult your healthcare provider to discuss your options along with a plan of action before supplementing with or consuming chicory in any of its forms, as mentioned above.
For those with any hepatobiliary-related conditions, it is advised to first consult one’s healthcare provider before consuming chicory as it has the potential to stimulate the production of bile, which may be problematic with individuals who have a history or present case of gallstones.
If you are or think you may be pregnant, it is best to avoid chicory until best advised by your healthcare provider as consumption of chicory may stimulate and increase menstruation, which can potentially lead to a miscarriage. Additionally, there is not sufficient enough evidence to warrant extra-medicinal dosages while breastfeeding for the potential transfer of chicory’s constituents between the mother and baby is currently unknown.
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