Chicory is a plant used in Mediterranean cooking. Its leaves, buds, and roots have medicinal properties. Chicory root, in particular, is revered for being a potent source of inulin–a prebiotic fiber that has been linked to better gut health. Due to its coffee-like taste, chicory root is ground into a powder and used as a substitute for coffee. It’s also been used in folk medicine for hundreds of years . Chicory root is also a good source of vitamin B6, manganese and potassium . You can get these benefits by drinking chicory root coffee, or by taking chicory root inulin supplements, which offer a higher concentration of the prebiotic fiber found in chicory root.
1. Increases Beneficial Bacteria in the Gut
According to scientific research, supplementing with inulin raises populations of healthy bacteria strains in the large intestine. These bacteria play a role in fighting off pathogens, improving digestion and boosting the assimilation of nutrients from food . The inulin in chicory root is considered a prebiotic, which is a compound in food that induces the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Friendly bacteria in your gut ferment chicory root inulin and multiply as a result. Because of this benefit, chicory root fiber is often an added active ingredient in probiotic supplements .
2. Relieves Constipation
The inulin in chicory root is an excellent source of fiber, which bulks up stool in the intestine and increases peristaltic motion, which is the contraction-like movement that pushes food through the digestive tract. As a result, inulin works to reduce constipation. Preventing constipation lowers the risk of gastrointestinal diseases, such as stomach and colon cancers .
In a study on 44 people with constipation, chicory inulin was shown to work as a stool softener that increased bowel movement frequency. Another study found that chicory root improved bowel movement difficulties in 25 older individuals .
3. Improves Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
The polyphenols in chicory root, including caffeic acid, are shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect . This anti-inflammatory action combined with inulin’s ability to boost beneficial bacteria numbers means chicory root could improve inflammatory bowel diseases. The inflammation that occurs in cases of inflammatory bowel diseases are typically caused by harmful bacteria, yeast, and parasites living in the large intestine that trigger an immune system response. By promoting improved colonization of good bacteria, chicory root can give the immune system a hand in fighting off bad bacteria and reduce the inflammation that results from it .
4. Heals the Gut Lining and Improves Leaky Gut Syndrome
A layer of mucus is required to maintain healthy intestinal walls. The intestinal walls are designed to allow for some penetration of nutrients into the bloodstream while keeping harmful pathogens and toxins from escaping to other parts of the body where they can do severe damage. In the case of leaky gut syndrome, the intestinal walls have become too permeable, causing substances to leak into the bloodstream.
A report published in the British Journal of Nutrition noted that the inulin found in chicory root promotes glycoprotein synthesis, which is the main constituent of the gut’s mucus lining. By improving the lining of the colon and healing leaky gut, inulin has far-reaching benefits, such as lowering the risk of disease, improving nutrient absorption and improving the gut’s immune function .
5. Improves Digestion and Alleviates Digestive Ailments
Chicory root can help with common digestive ailments like acid reflux or heartburn and indigestion, as it reduces excess acidity in the digestive tract . By promoting the colonization of beneficial bacteria, it combats diarrhea, excess gas, bloating, abdominal pain and other digestive abnormalities .
6. Increases the Absorption of Calcium and Magnesium from Food
Human and animal studies have proven that inulin boosts the body’s assimilation of calcium and magnesium from food . One study even suggested that it prevents calcium and magnesium deficiencies in people taking proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to treat chronic acid reflux or GERD, which are drugs known to decrease absorption of these minerals .
7. Lowers Your Risk of Colon Cancer
Studies on animals and humans have revealed that inulin from chicory root lowers the risk of developing colon polyps, which can become cancerous. It also may help reduce the risk for colon cancer, which affects 1 in 23 adults [5, 8].
8. Promotes Liver Health
Your liver plays a critical role in digestion, as it’s responsible for converting food molecules into usable nutrients and assimilating fat-soluble vitamins. A medical review of several studies determined that chicory root extract is shown to have liver protective properties. Specifically, it protects against free radicals, cell damage, and liver toxicity through its antioxidant actions .
Other Benefits of Chicory Root
Chicory root helps lower blood sugar levels by improving the metabolism of carbohydrates. In a study on people with prediabetes, chicory root was shown to reduce insulin resistance, which is a condition that lowers the body’s natural ability to metabolize carbs. Chicory root may be helpful for people with arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, as it has anti-inflammatory properties .
Some people are allergic to chicory, indicated by symptoms like pain, swelling and tingling should. Chicory root is side-effect free for most people, but not recommended for pregnant women, as it could trigger miscarriage . You can get the benefits of chicory root by brewing chicory root coffee, or by taking a chicory root inulin supplement containing an isolated form of the inulin fiber derived from chicory root.
Chicory root, most commonly known as a coffee additive or substitute, has an incredible ability to transform digestive health. By healing the mucosal lining of the colon, it helps reverse leaky gut. Chicory root also promotes the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria, which are critical for immune function and digestion. It improves the assimilation of nutrients, improves digestive ailments like diarrhea, constipation and acid reflux, and protects the liver from the harmful effects of toxins. You can take chicory root as a drink, or get the benefits of its most active medicinal compound, known as inulin, in pill supplements derived from chicory root.