The seeds of fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) are an oft-used digestive aid. They protect the stomach lining from corrosive acids and scavenge harmful cell-damaging molecules. Fennel may be especially kind to postmenopausal women who have low estrogen since it has an estrogen mimic called anethole which can sit on GABA A receptors and exert a similar calming effect. Fennel also gives your internal antioxidant stores a refill, helping the liver fight free radicals during the detox process.
The fresh burst of flavor typically delivered by fennel seeds can be accredited to a compound called anethole – also found in anise and licorice. Anethole is health promoting and, together with other compounds, brings a range of benefits to the table, quite literally.
The seeds render most of the benefits, so they’re what you should stock up on.
Why It’s So Great
1. Promotes Digestive Health
Fennel has long been used as a digestive aid, whether added to meals or had separately. It helps your body maintain the integrity of the mucous lining in the stomach. The lining protects the stomach cells from erosion by stomach acid and destructive free radicals. Fennel’s phenolic acids and flavonoids double as antioxidants and clear out the surplus free radicals.
2. Helps Improve Mood
Estrogen, the female hormone, has tailor-made seats (receptors) in the brain’s emotion center (amygdala). No surprise then that it has such a big influence on your mood. It can even interact with more widely distributed brain receptors like the GABA A receptor involved in calming your nerves. Following the logic, estrogen highs mean mood highs as well and vice-versa.
Postmenopausal women experience a dip in estrogen and tend to feel anxious more often. Even younger woman may have untimely lows in the hormone like when exercising too much or dieting unhealthily.
- The good news is that fennel seeds have an estrogen lookalike, anethole. It can trick your brain into believing it is the real deal, improving your mood while doing so.
As a woman, it only makes sense to make fennel seeds a regular part of your meals.
3. Enhances Memory
Though you may not be proactively trying to expand your brain’s internal memory, this is a perk that fennel seeds volunteer nonetheless. We’ve already established that fennel compounds make their way into your brain’s pool of chemicals. In this case, they seek out an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase.
Acetylcholinesterase breaks down excess acetylcholine, a brain chemical that carries messages from one brain cell to another. This breakdown is the brain’s way of keeping over-stimulation in check, while also recycling the brain’s resources.
- Fennel suppresses acetylcholinesterase so that individual acetylcholine molecules survive longer. This buys you extra time to create stronger memories.
4. Protects the Liver
The liver is the body’s garbage processor, which means it’s a soft target for alcohol, caffeine, refined sugar, tobacco, and processed foods. One way or another, all of these cause an increase in free radicals which then do what they do best – destroy cells and cause inflammation.
- A number of fennel compounds, like limonene and myrcene, can support your internal antioxidant system. This improves the free radical situation and strengthens your liver’s resistance.
- The compound anethole inhibits a pro-inflammatory chemical called TNF (tumor necrosis factor) that can worsen the situation if left unchecked.
The best part about fennel is its versatility. The seeds lend flavor and aroma to a range of dishes, so it’s easy to make them a habit. Strew them over your salads and snacks, blend them in smoothies, or bake or boil them in more extravagant dishes – experiment! Opt for either whole seeds (roasted or unroasted) or powdered seeds.
Fennel tea is another convenient way to have more fennel. Simply add half a teaspoon of the seeds to half a cup of boiling water, allow it to steep for 10 minutes, and drink up.