Being one of the fourth most cultivated vegetable in the world, cucumbers have become a popular staple in the fridges of many families. They find their way into almost every salad and are a refreshing treat on a hot summers day. I was interested to find out that cucumbers provide us with a diverse array of nutrients, and benefit our health in numerous ways. Read more to find out how the cucumber can guide you on the road to health and wellness.
1. Relief of joint pain (such as arthritis and gout)
Cucumbers are high in silica. Silica plays an important role in bone growth and calcification, and forming collagen and connective tissues. This is the main reason it helps individuals with arthritis and gout (diseases that affect the cartilage in our joints), because the silica promotes collagen production. It has also been shown that cucumber extracts inhibit cyclo-oxygenase 2 (COX-2) activity (a pro-inflammatory enzyme), and thus reduce inflammation in the body (1).
2. Reduces cholesterol
Cucumbers contain plant sterols which may help reduce LDL cholesterol levels (aka. the “bad” cholesterol; 2). Fibre helps to lower LDL cholesterol as well (3), and cucumbers (given you leave the skin on) are a great source of fibre (1.5g of fibre per one cucumber). In the intestine, fibre reduces the absorption of dietary cholesterol. Fibre also attaches itself to bile which is made of cholesterol and thus helps the body excrete extra cholesterol in bowel movements.
3. Aids in weight-loss
Cucumbers are low in calories and high in water content. They also contain a lot of fibre which helps keep us fuller longer, and helps flush out toxins from the digestive tract that may be impeding our weight loss goals. Make sure to keep the peel on the cucumber this is where most of the fibre resides.
4. Promotes digestion
Again, being high in fibre, the cucumber is extremely effective at aiding our digestive tract and can be used as a remedy for chronic constipation. The more fibrous your diet, the least likely you are to develop diseases of the intestinal tract such as IBS and colon cancer.
5. Prevents headaches
Cucumbers contain B vitamins and electrolytes (such as potassium) that help nourish the nerves in our body, and decrease the likelihood of developing headaches.
6. Fights cancer
Cucurbitacins in cucumbers are currently being studied by pharmaceutical companies in hopes of developing new anti-cancer drugs. Signalling pathways required for cancer development such as JAK-STAT and MAPK pathways have been shown to be inhibited by cucurbitacins found in cucumbers (4). Cucumbers also contain lignans (lariciresinol, pinoresinol, and secoisolariciresinol) which have been shown to be linked with reduced risks of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, uterine cancer and prostate cancer (5, 6, 7).
How do cucumber lignans work in the body? It mainly has to do with their role in the digestive tract and the bacteria that lines it. Bacteria take the plant lignans we consume (such as those from a cucumber) and convert them into enterolignans. Enterolignans can have either or both pro-estogenic and anti-estrogenic effects by binding onto estrogen receptors. Estrogen-related cancers such as those listed above are reduced when we consume plant foods high in lignans.
7. Rehydrates & Remineralizes the body
We all know the cucumber is incredibly high in water (up to 95%!), and it therefore helps to refresh and rehydrate all the cells in our body. Cucumbers also have most of the vitamins we need in a day – given you leave the nutrient-rich peel on the cucumber. For a refreshing drink try adding cucumber to a glass of water and spritz some lemon or lime juice in there too! Let this sit for an hour before drinking.
8. High silica content for silky hair
Cucumbers are high in the compound called silica. It is a trace mineral not found in many foods but is high in the skin of cucumbers. Silica, as explained above, helps to maintain connective tissues in your body such as collagen and elastin. Silica is also great for the skin, helping to give it elasticity and keeps hair lustrous and nails strong. Some natural shampoos such as “Prairie Naturals” has a great shampoo with silica called “Harvest Moon – Silica Strengthening shampoo” (they also have a conditioner) – this shampoo is made without the use of harmful chemicals and makes your hair feel incredibly soft, shiny and lustrous! It is my go-to shampoo! You can find it here: http://www.prairienaturals.ca/?product_id=117
9. Cures diabetes
Cucumbers contain a hormone needed by cells of the pancreas (beta cells) to produce insulin (beta cells in the pancreas produce the hormone insulin). A study found that rats who were given an aqueous extract of cucumbers had significant increases in body weight, liver glycogen and serum insulin levels and decreases in blood glucose, glycosylated hemoglobin levels, total cholesterol and serum triglycerides. In addition, the cucumber extract resulted in HDL cholesterol being significantly increased (8).
10. Controls blood pressure
Cucumber, a natural diuretic, helps to lower blood pressure in our arteries. Foods that are high in potassium, magnesium and fibre can help reduce blood pressure, and these minerals are most readily found in the cucumber. Cucumbers also contain Vitamins A and K, caffein acid, folate, Vitamin C (powerful antioxidant that can help lower blood pressure), and silica. All of these compounds have been found to significantly reduce and regulate blood pressure, and thus makes cucumbers great for treating both low and high blood pressure.
(1) Ghebretinsae, A., Thulin, M., & Barber, J. (2007). Relationships of cucumbers and melons unraveled: molecular phylogenetics of Cucumis and related genera (Benincaseae, Cucurbitaceae). American Journal of Botany, 94, 1256-1266s.
(2) Katan, M., Grundy, S., Jones, P., Law, M., Miettinen, T., & Paoletti, R. (2003). Efficacy and safety of plant stannous and sterols in the management of blood cholesterol levels. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 78, 965-978.
(3) Brown, L., Rosner, B., Willett, W., & Sacks, F. (1999). Cholesterol-lowering effects of dietary fibber: a meta-analysis. American Society for Clinical Nutrition, 69, 30-42.
(4) Lee, D., Iwanski, G., & Theonnissen, N. (2010). Cucurbitacin: ancient compound shedding new light on cancer treatment. Scientific World Journal, 10, 413-418.
(5) McCann, S., Freudenheim, J., Marshall, J., & Graham, S. (2003). RIsk of human ovarian cancer is related to dietary intake of selected nutrients, phytochemicals and food groups. The American Society for Nutritional Sciences, 133, 1937-1942.
(6) Shannon, J., Ray, R., Wu, C., Nelson, Z., Gao, D., Li, W., Hu, W., Lampe, J., Horner, N., Satia, J., Patterson, R., Fitzgibbons, D., Porter, P., & Thomas, D. (2005). Food and botanical groupings and risk of breast cancer: a case-control study in Shanghai, China. Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, 14, 81.
(7) Wang, L. (2002). Mammalian phytoestrogens: enterodiol and enterolactone. Journal of Chromatography B, 777, 289-309.
(8) Salahuddin, M., & Jalalpure, S. (2010). Antidiabetic activity of aqueous fruit extract of Cucumis trigonus Roxb. in streptozotocin=induced-diabetic rats. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 127, 565-567.