Not that anyone thinks of them as being unhealthy, but rarely – if ever – do you hear people call this flower bud a superfood.
Maybe they should.
Maybe they should even start supplementing with it.
With the exception of the basic nutrition facts, the benefits of eating artichoke hearts or taking extract made from them remains very preliminary and therefore unproven. Still, what’s been published thus far is quite intriguing.
1. High antioxidant content
A recurring theme is that the earliest, youngest parts of plants tend to have the highest concentrations of antioxidants. It’s why the young tea leaves used to make matcha are more potent than those harvested later. It’s also why so many spices have high ORAC values, which is a way to measure free radical quenching activity.
We call them a vegetable but technically the French or globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus) is the flower bud of the plant, harvested prematurely before it blooms. Because of that, perhaps you won’t be so shocked at what we say next.
Even after boiling, the ORAC value of artichokes is twice that of fresh blueberries, at 9,416 versus 4,669 for the latter. That’s not an outlier, as they actually trounce many of the most hyped superfoods.
The main antioxidants in artichokes are chlorogenic acid, cynarin, luteolin 7-O-rutinoside, and luteolin 7-O-glucoside. Two of the contributing compounds – apigenin-7-rutinoside and narirutin – are completely unique and not found in any other plant. (1) (2)
2. Antibacterial and antifungal
Scientists in Beijing tested extracts of artichoke against several types of bacteria and fungus in the lab:
- Escherichia coli
- Bacillus subtilis
- Psedumonas aeruginosa
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Aspargillus niger
- Candida albicans
The identified 8 phenolic compounds in the plant that “showed activity against most of the tested organisms” with the greatest effect against the fungi, like Candida yeast.
It didn’t take much, either. The minimum inhibitory concentrations (MIC) of these compounds were between 50 and 200 microg/mL. That’s 50 to 200 parts per million. (3)
To say artichokes are natural antibiotics would be a stretch, because these were isolated compounds. Yet they suggest they have antimicrobial potential.
3. Concentrated source of amino acids
With around 5.5 grams of amino acids per 100 calories, 22% of the calories in artichokes come from protein. These leaves offer about 60% as much protein content as beef, but without the cholesterol, saturated fat, heterocyclic amines, and all the other stuff that’s bad for you. (4)
Liquid extracts of artichoke are alcohol tinctures. They’re not the same thing as essential oils, which are made from steam distillation of a plant. No tincture or essential oil will contain the protein, fiber, calories or other basic nutrients of the plant it’s made from. Artichoke supplements will but with the typical dosage of 500 mg of powder per capsule, the amount of protein you’re getting is trivial.
If you supplementing with a big scoop of pure artichoke leaf powder, then it is possible to get a respectable protein boost. Although they don’t list the amount of protein in it, you can buy the bulk powder on Amazon.
4. Contains FOS
Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are a hard word to say, yet their potential benefits for weight loss and blood sugar are easy to make sense of. FOS molecules taste sweet like sugar, yet humans can’t digest them.
So you’re tasting the sweetness, yet you’re not getting the calories of the FOS, nor the dental decay.
FOS was the reason why several years ago, Dr. Oz created a buzz on the advantages of using yacon syrup as an alternative sweetener.
Why artichokes taste sweet is because of their fructooligosaccharides. While you may not want these bulb vegetables for dessert, the FOS content might help with weight loss.
5. Supports growth of probiotics
Prebiotics are food for probiotics. They are a type of fiber that you can’t digest with stomach acid, but those beneficial microorganisms in your small intestine can. Whether you’re popping artichoke capsules or eating the boiled hearts, you will be consuming a fair amount of a prebiotic known as inulin.
There is a big difference between globe artichoke and Jerusalem artichoke. The latter is a species that is not even related (Helianthus tuberosus). In a misleading manner, the only thing it has in common is that its edible root tastes similar to regular artichokes.
Along with chicory root, you will see Jerusalem artichoke frequently listed as source of inulin on many digestive supplements and protein bars. Those are the two most well-known sources of inulin but tests have shown that globe artichokes have a spectrum of inulin which is “identical to that of chicory inulin” and lab testing has reported:
“The health-promoting prebiotic effects of artichoke inulin were demonstrated in an extensive microbiological study showing a long lasting bifidogenic effect…”
That was when it was mixed with probiotics in the lab, to see how they ate the inulin. (6)
In a double-blind and placebo-controlled study out of the UK, the long-chain inulin extracted from globe artichokes was found to have “a pronounced prebiotic effect on the human fecal microbiota composition and was well tolerated by all volunteers.” (7)
6. Stimulates production of liver bile
The digestion of fatty foods and the absorption of certain vitamins require your liver to secrete bile, which is a greenish-brown alkaline fluid that helps with their digestion.
Artichokes contain a high concentration of a compound known as cynarin.
As far back as the 1970’s, cynarin has been researched for its ability to stimulate the liver to produce more bile. Another example of a similar bile stimulant is yarrow tea, which has been used historically in traditional European medicine for digestive disorders. (8) (9)
7. Fights glycation
What is glycation? It’s a reaction that happens when reducing sugars (like glucose) come in contact with proteins, fats, or nucleic acids in the body. (15)
If you look at the official list of carcinogens designated by the World Health Organization, you will see that many of them are advanced glycation end products (AGEs).
These are compounds created by glycation that mutate your DNA. It’s probably the most dangerous – yet least discussed – reason why eating refined sugars are bad for you, even if you are skinny and without disease.
In lab tests measuring the formation of AGES, extracts of artichoke stems and the outer bract (the tough, inedible leaves) were found to have an anti-glycation effect.
The aqueous extract worked best at inhibiting AGEs created from sugars (glucose and fructose) while the ethanolic extract worked best at the AGEs coming from methylglyoxal.
Since these extracts were made from parts of the plant that are not normally edible, this benefit is an advantage that artichoke supplements may offer more effectively. (18)
8. May help with IBS symptoms
With an estimated one-fifth of the population being affected by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), this disease is a major problem whose cause is not even fully understood.
Whether it’s due to the cynarin and its effects on bile production, the prebiotic content, or something else is unclear, however there has been anecdotal evidence of using artichokes for IBS over the years. This is why the University of Reading in the United Kingdom decided to put it to the test in a human clinical trial:
- 208 adults with IBS participated
- Each participant took a daily dosage of 320 or 640 mg of full-spectrum artichoke leaf extract. This aqueous extract was in a capsule form.
- The supplements were used for 2 months.
Compared to the 15 parameters measured at start, there was a significant improvement in symptoms. The best results were for those with IBA-A, which is the type marked by alternating constipation and diarrhea. Overall there was a 20% improvement in quality of life scoring, due to the fewer side effects of IBS. (10)
Here are the results before and after using the artichoke supplement for IBS:
|Bowel pattern before and after 2 months of using artichoke leaf extract|
|Category||Day 0 (before)||Day 60 (last day)|
|Alternating IBS (IBS-A)||52%||32%|
|IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D)||9%||8%|
|IBS with constipation (IBS-C)||19%||19%|
9. May reduce gastric muscle spasms
Dichloromethane and cynaropicrin are compounds from the plant that have been found to reduce gastric spasms in animal research.
Brazilian scientists tested both male and female guinea pigs. They created a situation where the ileum (a part of the small intestines) suffered from contractions due to the use of acetylcholine.
As you see from the belofe chart for the cynaropicrin compound, the amount of spasms went down in a dose-dependent manner when treated with this extract from artichokes:
The top line is the control (untreated guinea pigs) which had the worst number of spasms as expected.
As the dosage of artichoke extract went up, the number contractions went down.
Among the tested compounds extracted from this plant, they said the cynaropicrin was the most powerful:
“…having similar potency to that of papaverine, a well-known antispasmodic agent.”
Papaverine is a well-known vasodilator drug used for cardiac-related blood vessel and muscle spasms, as well as those in the digestive tract. (11)
Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune diseases that causes inflammation of the digestive tract. Although different from IBS, spasms can also be a side effect of it too.
It’s unknown if this antispasmodic action is happening in humans but if it is, that may explain why IBS sufferers claim to experience relieve, as well as many who simply have tummy pain and abdominal cramps sometimes after normal eating.
10. Liver protectant
Boosting of bile production isn’t the only thing studied about this organ. There is also research to suggest artichoke leaf extract may protect the liver through multiple methods.
Schistosomiasis is a parasitic infection that kills over 300,000 people annually. In a study with mice infected with schistosomiasis, the groups that received the leaf extract had healthier liver function and less liver fibrosis. It appeared to reduce the side effects of liver damage that are caused by the parasite. (12)
Diabetic rats had healthier liver function and it was believed to be due to the anti-hyperglycemic properties and antioxidant activities of the artichoke leaves. (13)
Some animal research even infers artichokes might regenerate liver cells to a degree. (8)
In a double-blind and randomized clinical trial out of Italy, participants were given a supplement that contained artichoke as well as red rice yeast, banaba leaf (Pride of India plant) and CoQ10. Liver transaminases and C-reactive protein levels improved, both of which are signs of a healthier liver. Though being a formula, you can’t read too far into this. (14)
11. Weight loss
Although it hasn’t really caught on in the United States, in Latin America the alcachofa diet is relatively popular. ‘Alcachofa’ is the Spanish word for artichoke and the diet involves consuming capsules and teas made from them. In Brazil it’s one of the most popular herbal weight loss remedies. (25)
It’s also popular in Spain and several European countries. (26)
The problem with the “alcachofa” diet and using artichoke extract for weight loss is that clinical evidence is lacking. No human studies have been conducted to find out if this superfood will really result in a dropped pounds and less belly fat.
There are several reasons why using artichoke extract for weight loss may work:
- High fiber content, which can increase satisifaction after eating and in turn, decrease the amount of food consumed.
- Fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which have been linked to weight loss in other studies, such as for yacon syrup.
- Prebiotics, which support healthy digestion.
In a small pilot study out of Budapest, 34 obese students (both boys and girls) were split into two groups; low calorie diets with and without Jerusalem artichoke. After 12 weeks of this, it was reported that the students getting the supplement had a significant decrease in body mass index (BMI) and body fat percentage. (27)
Of course, Jerusalem artichoke is a totally unrelated plant to the French artichokes we eat. This study may be related though, because it was specifically the FOS believed to be responsible. As mentioned above in benefit #4, the FOS in regular artichokes is comparable to that which is found in Jerusalem artichoke root.
12. May lower LDL cholesterol
This has been reported in several studies and it’s not unexpected, considering the fact that our liver bile helps remove cholesterol from the body.
Additionally, there might be other ways that artichoke extract lowers cholesterol.
The biggest reason we have high cholesterol is because we eat too many animal-based foods (all plants are cholesterol-free).
Additionally, albeit a lesser problem, we internally produce some cholesterol. In cultured liver rat cells, it was found that a compound in the plant called luteolin “efficiently blocked the insulin effect on cholesterol biosynthesis.” In other words, it reduced the internal formation of cholesterol. (19)
There have been several human clinical trials out of France which have reported a lowering of LDL cholesterol after using artichoke supplements, however their relevancy is limited since other herbs were included in the tested formula. (20) (21)
There are two clinical trials that have reported lower LDL cholesterol following supplementation with just artichoke alone.
A trial out of Germany with 143 people who had high cholesterol reported a decrease of 22.9% in LDL, compared to 6.3% with placebo. The dosage used was 1,800 mg daily of artichoke dry extract. It was taken for 6 weeks. (22)
A trial out of the UK involved 131 people who experienced an average drop in total cholesterol of 4.2% compared to an increase in the placebo group of 1.9%. The artichoke supplement dose was 1,280 mg daily of standardized leaf extract, taken for 12 weeks. (23)
13. May increase HDL cholesterol
The lowering of bad cholesterol (LDL) would be less impressive if the same was happening with good cholesterol (HDL). Research suggests it’s not.
A university in Italy conducted an 8-week double-blind and placebo controlled clinical trial with 46 overweight middle-aged adults. For the group using a 250 mg twice daily dosage of artichoke leaf extract, there was a favorable increase in HDL, while at the same time total cholesterol and LDL were lowered. (24)
Studies on heart attacks, strokes, heart disease, and congestive heart failure haven’t taken place, though given these preliminary findings, it would certainly be interesting in seeing if there is a difference in risk among those who eat this vegetable frequently vs. those who do not.
This plant is a popular – albeit an unproven supplement – among diabetics in Brazil. (28)
There is insufficient human clinical data to know whether or not it helps humans, though several pieces of research suggest it might.
Cardiovascular side effects are a major problem with diabetes. In a rat model of the disease, the water-based leaf extract of artichokes was studied. Using a dosage of 0.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight, the Belgium scientists reported that oxidative stress decreased significantly, which may offer preventive effects against the disease, for symptoms such as diabetic retinopathy. They believe the chlorogenic acid and cynarin content was at least partly responsible. (29)
Another later study reported similar findings. (30)
In 2017, another using 40 male rats with diabetes found that the ethanol extract of artichoke leaves had “anti-hyperglycemic properties” meaning it had blood sugar lowering effects. (31)
This chart shows the blood glucose levels for the untreated rats (top red line) and two dosages of artichoke leaf extract used for their diabetes; 200 mg and 400 mg/kg of body weight daily.
Tied with those artichoke treatments is the line for treatment with acarbose, which is the anti-diabetic medication sold under the brand Precose.
Just a hair below those treated groups is the blue “NC” line for normal rats without diabetes.
So-called “brain boosters” or nootropics are supplements believed to improve cognition, memory, or another aspect of mental performance. Artichoke extract and forskolin is a popular combination used in many nootropic stacks.
Does it work?
With zero clinical data or even animal studies on being a purported nootropic, this potential health benefit of artichoke extract is by far the weakest. That said, there is evidence that it may be affecting the brain or at least nerves in some capacity.
In a double-blind and placebo-controlled clinical trial out of Italy, daily supplementation with artichoke extract and ginger significantly reduced symptoms of functional dyspepsia, particularly with feelings of fullness and upper abdominal pain. (35)
It’s unknown as to whether one or both of those ingredients was responsible and if so, whether their mechanism of action was through the central nervous system or through the digestion tract.
Forskolin is a member of the mint family. Even if it, along with artichoke leaf extract, helps boost cognitive ability as so many reviews claim, how do we know whether one or both are responsible?
16. Cancer research
Most people only know of mesothelioma from those lawyer ads for asbestos exposure. It’s definitely not a disease you want to know first-hand. This form of lung cancer is aggressive. Research out of Italy claims:
“…the leaf extract of Cynara scolymus exerts broad antitumoral effects both in vitro and in vivo on mesothelioma cell lines.”
It’s important to point out that this research did not involve humans, only cultured cells and xenograft animal models (human-derived cancer cells growing on mice with altered immune systems). (32)
Using a triple negative and highly aggressive breast cancer cell line, low dosages of artichoke extract were said to…
“…exert anticancer activity through induction of premature senescence.”
In plain English, senescence is the ability for the loss of a cell to divide and grow. Healthy cells were not found to be damaged when using the same dosage. (33)
In research using cultured human leukemia cells, the leaf extract was reported to inhibit their activity. (34)
As a dietary supplement, artichoke extract is generally considered to be safe. Potential adverse reactions include:
Because of the possible effect on bile production, gallstones may also be at risk of worsening.
Bile duct obstruction
Since consumption of this vegetable in any form is believed to spur the liver to produce more bile, it’s potentially dangerous to anyone who has or is at risk of a bile duct obstruction.
Gas and bloating
Alcohol tinctures won’t cause this but the whole leaf powder might, because it contains the inulin and fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Since these ferment in the small intestine, they can create gas and bloating.
Small amounts of a capsule or two daily are very low risk but using large scoops of the bulk artichoke leaf powder will greatly increase the odds.
For this reason, artichoke hearts and leaf powder supplements are not eligible for a low FODMAP diet.
Allergy to artichokes is possible but rare
In medical case literature there is not documentation of an allergic reaction from eating artichokes, though skin reactions from physical contact have been reported. (8)
Unknown safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding
While there is no evidence to suggest artichokes are dangerous to pregnant women, without clinical studies to specifically evaluate the effects on the developing baby, as with most foods its safety can’t be guaranteed.
Drug interactions with statins
While not conclusively proven, since there is evidence that artichokes may lower cholesterol, you should consult your doctor prior to using if you are taking a statin. Otherwise, the combined effects may have too much of a lowering effect.
Be wary of reviews of artichoke pills for weight loss. Some we have read are obviously fake or seem to be embellished to sell something.
Whether it’s dieting, lowering of cholesterol, relief from IBS, anti-glycation, or another purported benefit, remember that all remain unproven and therefore, artichoke supplements should not be used as preventative measure or treatment for any disease.
Even setting those aside, you still have the advantages of antioxidants and with the capsules and powdered forms, the prebiotic content. Those things, compounded with the low risk of side effects for most people, make it a worthy of consideration regardless.
The manufacturing of artichoke essential oil is currently not something that anyone is doing, however the alcoholic tinctures should contain the same volatile organic compounds in a fairly concentrated form.
Here are a few supplements that get good reviews from us that you can buy on Amazon:
- Jarrow Formulas 500 mg leaf extract capsules
- Herb Pharm certified organic liquid tincture
- BulkSupplements powdered leaf extract
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.