Some of the most impressive health benefits of annatto include its ability to promote healthy digestion, strengthen bones, prevent neural tube defects, promote healing, lower fevers, boost eye health, eliminateheadaches, reduce nausea, and protect respiratory distress.
The achiote tree is a tropical shrub or small tree that grows in Central and South America with the scientific name Bixa orellana. The flowers of this tropical tree are white or bright pink, but the fruit is actually the most desirable part of the plant, made up of spiky brown and red pods that grow in clusters. When those pods dry and crack open, they expose seeds of a red color, from which red pigment can be extracted. This is why the achiote tree is often called the lipstick tree. However, that food coloring and condiment that is extracted from the seeds of the achiote fruit is called annatto, and has a wide array of uses throughout history. Its strong pigmentation makes it a natural food dye, and it has plenty of applications in cosmetics, but more importantly, it has numerous medicinal and herbal benefits that are only now being full understood.
In Caribbean and Central American cultures, annatto has been used for thousands of years to cure everything from mild to potentially life-threatening diseases, making it an ancient “super food” to a certain degree. However, it has only been in recent generations that the chemical composition of annatto has been fully understood, and the high concentration of tocotrienols, which are similar in effects and structure as vitamin E, makes this plant substance so powerful. Now, let’s take a closer look into the impressive health benefits of annatto.
Eye Health: The red colour of annatto seeds and the pigment extracted from them is due to the carotenoid content of those seeds. Over time, carotenoids break down, so only buy annatto seeds if they are bright orange or red. This high carotenoid content will function as antioxidants in your ocular system.
Antioxidant Capacity: The other organic compounds that make up annatto, like tocotrienols, also act asantioxidants in other parts of the body, which is one of the reasons that annatto is so sought after for treatment of the skin. If you’ve been looking for an anti-agingsolution for your skin, annatto pastes made from the seeds can be topically applied to reduce the signs of wrinkles, blemishes, and other imperfections, while also tightening up the skin and making it look younger.
Healthy Digestion: The high level of fiber found in annatto seeds, as well as the edible leaves of the achiote plant, means that it can be very good for human digestion by promoting the smooth passage of food through the bowels and the efficient uptake of nutrients. Fiber also helps to lower cholesterol and manage diabetes, as it can help optimize the insulin and glucose levels in the blood. Annatto has been turned to as a diabetic management herb for generations.
Strengthen Bones: A significant level of calcium found in annatto makes it important if you want to supplement your bone mineral density and ensure strength and durability as you age. Osteoporosis can affect anyone, so preventing it with essential minerals like calcium is crucial.
Prevent Birth Defects: There is an impressive amount of folate (folic acid) found in annatto, and while there are many important benefits of this vitamin, preventing neural tube defects in newborn children might be the most important. Pregnant women are encouraged to boost their folic acid levels to prevent these types of conditions.
Promote Wound Healing: If you have suffered from burns or wounds on the skin, or are suffering from skin irritation of any kind, annatto seed paste can be applied to speed the healing process and reduce the appearance of the scar. Also, the natural antimicrobial nature of annatto can help prevent infections.
Stomach Issues: To calm an upset stomach, annatto is often consumed, as it functions like a stomachic, treating heartburn and discomfort, which may be associated with everything from viral infections to simply eating too much spicy food.
Possible Anti-Cancer Role: Norbixin is one of the pigments found in annatto seeds and is known to be a powerful antioxidant. In recent research, it was shown that norbixin has a decidedly anti-mutagenic effect on healthy cells exposed to cancerous cells and free radicals, meaning that annatto may be able to help prevent a variety of different cancers from spreading.