The Holiday Spice that Boosts Mood, Fights Depression

The Holiday Spice that Boosts Mood, Fights Depression

Michelle Schoffro Cook    December 12, 2014

Who doesn’t love the taste of ground nutmeg over a holiday hot chocolate or latte? It’s not only the classic eggnog spice, it’s perfect in spice cookies and other holiday fare. While delicious holiday treats may be enough reason to enjoy nutmeg, research shows that it may help boost moods and help us deal with depression and sadness, which are also unfortunately common this time of year. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the fourth leading cause of disability worldwide.

In a study published in the Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine, researchers found that nutmeg (myristica fragrans) boosted mood and showed comparable antidepressant activity to the drug imipramine—a drug used to treat depression and bed-wetting.

Most of us have heard of the “fight or flight” reaction which occurs when we are severely stressed but there is a third reaction which is “freeze” during which we are so stressed that we have difficulty reacting at all. Like the term suggests our muscles can become rigid and we simply freeze up. In the study researchers found that herbal extracts of nutmeg had the ability to significantly reduce the amount of time spent in “freeze” mode and better cope with stress.


The scientists believe that nutmeg works as a natural antioxidant to reduce harmful free radicals in the body and restores the balance of hormones in the brain, known as neurotransmitters, in the same way the drug imipramine works, without the serious drug side-effects. Imipramine can cause dizziness, blurred vision, headaches, nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, weight gain or loss, increased sweating, painful breasts, mood changes (including depression, which it is used to treat), irregular menstrual periods, muscle stiffness, restlessness, ringing in the ears, trouble urinating, leg swelling, and sexual problems (changes in desire and decreased sexual ability).

Conversely, nutmeg has shown to have beneficial side-effects in multiple studies. In one study it was shown to have anti-tumor properties. Additionally, the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that nutmeg inhibited 90% of rotaviruses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhea in infants and children worldwide.

There are many ways to get more nutmeg in your daily diet, including: on your favorite latte, added to almond or coconut milk as a delicious eggnog alternative, with cinnamon and added to apple cider, in your favorite sugar cookie or spice cookie recipe, or added to savory dishes like soup or stew. Nutmeg extract is also available in many health food stores. Use as directed on the package. Be sure to consult your physician prior to use.

Up to one-half teaspoon daily is a good dose. While there are a couple of self-reported cases of nutmeg toxicity at purported doses of two to three teaspoons daily, these cases have not endured the scrutiny of proper investigation. Until there is further investigation it is best to avoid high doses of two to three teaspoons of nutmeg daily. Although considering nutmeg’s strong taste I think even lovers of nutmeg would find it nearly impossible to overdose on the spice.

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