Chicory Root: The Coffee Substitute that Treats Diabetes, Constipation & Osteoarthritis

June 14, 2017
Chicory root - Dr. Axe

Do you love your morning of cup of coffee but worried about caffeine overdose? Chicory root just may be the answer you’re looking for.

This popular coffee substitute does more than just take the place of your favorite breakfast accompaniment, however. In addition to providing added fiber to foods, chicory root has a smooth, creamy feeling in the mouth similar to fat. That makes it a great fat replacement in ice creams, margarines and dressings.

While this sounds ideal, we cannot bypass the need for the high-quality fiber found in whole fruits, vegetables, some whole grains and other high-fiber foods that help promote overall good health. However, chicory root has some great benefits as well when used in moderation, which is why it may just become a part of your everyday routine.


Benefits of Chicory Root

1. Reduces Stress

For anyone who has issues with stress, caffeine can exacerbate that issue. Caffeine, of course, is a main ingredient found in coffee, and even small amounts are found in the decaffeinated versions. Consuming less caffeine can really help lower epinephrine and cortisol levels when sleeping and during stressful life circumstances.

A 2006 study published in Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior showed that repeated consumption of caffeine combined with stress caused a significant elevation in cortisol levels. (1) Since chicory contains no caffeine, it’s a great substitute to reduce your caffeine consumption and get cortisol levels in check, thereby reducing stress.

2. Contains Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Plant polyphenols have the ability to help combat inflammation. A study was conducted at by the Department of Pathophysiology and Gerontology at the University of Pécs Medical School in Hungary with 27 healthy volunteers who were asked to consume caffeine-free chicory coffee, a rich source of plant phenols, for one week. Significant improvements were seen in red blood cell deformability, which describes the body’s ability to respond to inflammation by restoring cells to their original condition. (2, 3)

This means chicory can reduce inflammation, which is huge. Why? Because inflammation is the root of most diseases, so when you can lower bodywide inflammation, you can stave off many health problems before they even have the chance to start.

3. Protects the Liver

The ability of chicory root extract to protect against chemical-induced free radicals and possible toxicity to the liver was reviewed in a 2015 medical review. Subjects were divided into four groups, according to treatment type, and levels of free radical damage and antioxidants were reviewed during the process. Pretreatment with chicory extract significantly reduced oxidative stress and prevented cell damage, ultimately improving liver conditions due to toxicity. (4)

Results demonstrated that chicory extract is rich in natural antioxidants and able to scavenge reactive free radicals. Therefore, it boosts the defense system of the body while also cleansing the liver.

4. May Prevent or Delay the Onset of Diabetes

Diabetes is a major issue in the U.S., but it doesn’t have to be. There are many natural ways to manage and treat diabetes, and it begins with diet. Chicory may be a good addition to a diabetic diet plan to help prevent or treat this all too common medical condition.

The extract from roasted chicory root was examined in a study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, examining its effects on blood glucose, lipid metabolism and fecal properties in 47 healthy adult participants. The level of adiponectin, a protein that regulates glucose levels as well as the fatty acid breakdown, significantly improved in those participants who had the chicory root extract. These results suggest that chicory root extract could delay or prevent the early onset of diabetes as well as improve bowel movements due to the fibrous makeup. (5)

5. Helps Manage Osteoarthritis

A clinical trial conducted by the Rheumatic Diseases Division at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center’s Department of Internal Medicine suggests that the extracts of chicory root have anti-inflammatory properties that may help with arthritic symptoms, particularly degenerative joint disease, aka osteoarthritis.

Individuals over the age of 50 with osteoarthritis of the hip or knee were treated with chicory, with researchers measuring vital signs through routine lab tests throughout the test period and at the end. Eighteen patients who completed treatment per protocol were analyzed, and at least 13 patients showed a 20 percent improvement in response to pain and stiffness, showcasing chicory’s ability to help treat this joint pain. (6)

6. Aids Gut Health

Chicory root contains oligosaccharide-enriched inulin, which is a prebiotic. The inulin in chicory root is also known as a prebiotic fiber because it’s highly fermentable by the friendly bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics can help promote the growth of helpful probiotics in your digestive system and may enhance calcium absorption. This is why you’re likely to see inulin, or chicory root fiber, in probiotic supplements. (7)

This can be good but also uncomfortable since the gut will produce more gas with more fermentation. If you ever wonder why something you ate may be upsetting your stomach, it could be due to the amount of inulin your body is trying to process possibly, causing gas, bloating and pain.

7. Relieves Constipation

Chicory root has been shown to relieve constipation thanks in large part to its inulin role. Research published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition examined the impact of daily consumption of 15 grams of chicory on elderly constipated volunteers. The double-blind, placebo-controlled study took place over 28 days.

The study revealed that “volunteers in the inulin group reported increased satisfaction about digestion and reduced defecation difficulties during the supplementation. … Daily supplementation with 15 grams inulin improves constipation and quality of life in an elderly population with constipation.” (8)

 

Chicory root vs. psyllium husk - Dr. Axe

 


Chicory Root Nutrition

One raw chicory root, which is about 60 grams, contains approximately: (9)

  • 44 calories
  • 10.5 grams carbohydrates
  • 0.8 gram protein
  • 0.1 gram fat
  • 0.9 gram fiber
  • 0.1 milligram vitamin B6 (7 percent DV)
  • 0.1 milligram manganese (7 percent DV)
  • 3.0 milligrams vitamin C (5 percent DV)
  • 74 milligrams potassium (5 percent DV)

Chicory Root Uses

Chicory root is an inulin, a type of plant-based carbohydrate that cannot be broken down by human digestive enzymes, and it’s often used in high-fiber and gluten-free products. This is is done by pulling the inulin from the roots of chicory plants, producing chicory root extract.

What is inulin? Inulin is classified as soluble and as a prebiotic. Soluble fibers can hold water and thicken or gel up, which can add bulk to foods. It’s one of these reasons it’s widely used, along with its ability to provide moisture and a creamy texture.

Inulin is frequently seen in low-fat or dairy-free yogurt, ice cream and ready-to-drink protein shakes. Breads and baked goods may contain inulin to replace gluten as well. Since there are so many gluten sensitivities, food producers had to find a replacement — which is where inulin made way to the stage. Soluble fibers also help slow down the time it takes for food to travel through the body, which can help you feel full and can have a positive effect on blood sugar.

Ice cream, yogurt, protein shakes, high-fiber/low-carb bars, energy bars, cereals, breads and granola products often contain chicory root. While chicory root provides that bulk and creamy texture, it also makes products appear healthier by boosting their fiber content without the calories. In addition, it’s cheap to manufacture and has a naturally sweet taste. This is yet another attractive characteristic for food manufacturers of low-carb products allowing them to use inulin to provide some sweetness without added sugar, calories or carbs.

Inulin’s pleasant taste and low cost are reasons why it’s been used in combination with coffee during times of shortages. In fact, that discovery led to what is still known today as New Orleans-style coffee or chicory root coffee, which is a blend of regular or decaffeinated coffee and chicory root powder. (10, 11)


Chicory Root vs. Psyllium Husk

Chicory root and psyllium husk contain many similar fibrous characteristics, as both are useful for diabetics, constipation and are prebiotics. Psyllium husk comes from a shrub-like herb called Plantago ovata, which grows worldwide but is most common in India and is in the form of a seed. Meanwhile, chicory root is the root of the chicory plant and has a pleasantly,sweet taste. Both can be taken as supplements or ground and added to smoothies, for example.

Here’s how the two stack up: (12)

Chicory Root

  • Natural, plant-based starch
  • Treats diabetes
  • Relieves constipation
  • High in triglycerides
  • Improves cholesterol levels
  • Prebiotic
  • High-fiber
  • Remedies IBS
  • Treats diarrhea
  • Treats eczema
  • Relieves gas and bloating

Psyllium Husk

  • Natural, plant-based starch
  • Treats diabetes
  • Relieves constipation
  • High in triglycerides
  • Improves cholesterol levels
  • Prebiotic
  • High-fiber
  • Treats diarrhea
  • Helps eczema
  • Relieves gas and bloating
  • Reduces colon cancer risk and heart disease
  • Treats hemorrhoids, hypertension and inflammatory bowel diseases

History and Origin of Chicory Root

Chicory root comes from a perennial herbaceous plant of the dandelion family, called chicory, that usually has bright blue flowers. Many varieties are cultivated for salad leaves, which you may know as endive or chicons, but the roots are ground and used for baking and, most popularly, as a coffee substitute. Chicory root is a bit wood-like, being fibrous in nature. Due to its fibrous composition, it’s not digested in the small intestine but instead maintains its forms as is travels to the colon or large intestine.

The chicory root (Cichorium Intybus) has been around for some time, cultivated since ancient Egypt and is a bushy perennial herb with blue flowers in the Asteraceae family. It’s been a popular addition to coffee in France since the 19th century where it’s commonly roasted and ground. It’s thought that the coffee mixed with chicory concoction probably began in Holland, becoming more popular across parts of Europe around 1801. Chicory root has traditionally been used in tea or in medicinal remedies to treat jaundice, liver enlargement, gout and rheumatism.

While chicory became an American interest, coffee became the beverage of choice. New Orleans became the second largest importer of coffee in the U.S. However, it was during the American Civil War that Louisianans considered adding chicory root to their coffee due to the Union naval blockades cutting off shipments to the port. In fact, chicory root was used often in times of shortages of coffee, such as during the Civil War and the Great Depression, and even in prisons to help stretch out the coffee supply.

That caffeine buzz known as a coffee fix started a long time ago. Since shipments of coffee had halted, New Orleans had to get creative so the people could extend their supply as much as possible. They used acorns and beets, and though these additions lacked the caffeine, chicory had a similar flavor as coffee, making it a much better match in addition to being cheaper.

Regardless, a New Orleans native will tell you that it’s one of the best and most delicious traditions and a must-have when visiting. Known as the chicory in a café au lait, which is chicory coffee with hot milk, it has become an essential part of the history of New Orleans. You can find chicory a the grocery in the coffee aisle, and most claim that the few brands available all originated in New Orleans and that the chicory is still be imported from France. (13, 14, 15)


Chicory Root Risks

There are numerous studies that still need to be conducted regarding chicory root and chicory root extract. While these studies show that it contains many benefits, it’s always best to get fiber from whole foods when possible.

If you’re pregnant, have any disease or if disease is common in your family, make sure to check with your doctor before consuming chicory root.


Final Thoughts on Chicory Root

  • Chicory root has been shown to reduce stress, contain anti-inflammatory properties, protect the liver, possibly prevent or delay the onset of diabetes, help manage osteoarthritis, aid gut health, and relieve constipation.
  • Chicory root is an inulin, a type of plant-based carbohydrate that cannot be broken down by human digestive enzymes, and it’s often used in high-fiber and gluten-free products. This is is done by pulling the inulin from the roots of chicory plants, producing chicory root extract.
  • Inulin is classified as soluble and as a prebiotic. Soluble fibers can hold water and thicken or gel up, which can add bulk to foods. It’s one of these reasons it’s widely used, along with its ability to provide moisture and a creamy texture.

Read Next: 6 Inulin Fiber Benefits, Uses and Surprising Facts


From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.

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