Ah…the sweet smells of fall!

When I ask most of my clients what their favorite sweet-smelling spices are, the top ones on their list include cinnamon, ginger, or that amazing golden hero, turmeric. These are all beneficial and perfect for October’s pumpkin treats!

Family meal

However, many of you know I have a thing for sidekicks…

You might recall this in my confessional blogs about:

  • my love for myrrh, even though it has taken the passenger seat to frankincense
  • how I rekindled my relationship with cedarwood after I overlooked it for lavender and sandalwood

Alas, I have a third confession of another unsung hero. It’s NUTMEG!

This month, I got the opportunity to try my newest sidekick essential oil. I started diffusing it and smelling it daily. It didn’t take long for nutmeg to wiggle its place onto my next essential oils order. It had me at “Yummo!”

So, the nerd that I am, I started my journey into research articles with PubMed and Dr. Google (Scholar).

I now have some validation for my fondness of this essential oil and I am eager to learn more as natural medicine gets its rightful place in research studies.

Below are the 10 reasons why you should consider adding nutmeg to “spice up” your life!

water dropNote: These studies are on nutmeg, the herb, spice, extract, and essential oil. Different constituents reside in each.

1. It Is Promising for Brain Support

Several studies have demonstrated that nutmeg may have an ability to modulate the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme which is thought to be involved with memory. The first abstract demonstrated the most activity with an extract of nutmeg on this enzyme verses the second comparison study. This may be due to the first study’s methods of isolation and analysis of various compounds in nutmeg.

Study 1: The anti-cholinesterase activity was evaluated of the ethyl acetate fraction of the methanol extract of Myristica fragrans Houtt (Myristicaceae) seeds and of compounds isolated from it by various chromatographic techniques. The chemical structures of the compounds were determined from spectroscopic analyses (NMR data). Thirteen compounds (1-13) were isolated and identified. Compound 8 { [(7S)-8′-(4′-hydroxy-3′-methoxyphenyl)-7-hydroxypropyl]benzene-2,4-diol) showed the most effective activity with an IC50 value of 35.1 microM, followed by compounds 2 [(8R,8’S)-7′-(3′,4′-methylenedioxyphenyl)-8,8′-dimethyl-7-(3,4-dihydroxyphenyl)-butane] and 11 (malabaricone C) with IC50 values of 42.1 and 44.0 pM, respectively. This is the first report of significant anticholinesterase properties of M. fragrans seeds. The findings demonstrate that M. fragrans could be used beneficially in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. (1)

Study 2: The aim of this study was to evaluate acetylcholinesterase inhibitory activity of some commonly used herbal medicine in Iran to introduce a new source for management of Alzheimer’s disease. A total of 18 aqueous-methanolic extract (1:1; v/v) from the following plants: Brassica alba, Brassica nigra, Camellia sinensis, Cinchona officinalis, Citrus aurantifolia, Citrus x aurantium, Ferula assafoetida, Humulus lupulus, Juglans regia, Juniperus sabina, Myristica fragrans, Pelargonium graveolens, Pistacia vera, Punica granatum, Rheum officinale, Rosa damascena, Salix alba, and Zizyphus vulgaris were prepared and screened for their acetylcholinesterase inhibitory activity using in vitro Ellman spectrophotometric method.

Results According to the obtained results, the order of inhibitory activity (IC50 values, ?g /ml) of extracts from highest to the lowest was: C. sinensis (5.96), C. aurantifolia (19.57), Z. vulgaris (24.37), B. nigra (84.30) and R. damascena (93.1).

Conclusions The results indicated and confirmed the traditional use of these herbs for management of central nervous system disorders. C. sinensis showed the highest activity in inhibition of acetylcholinesterase. However, further investigations on identification of active components in the extracts are needed. (2)


2. For Healthy Mood Support…Of Mood and Mice

In an old mice study which studied constituents in nutmeg, myristicin had an effect of increasing the concentration of the brain happy amino acid, 5-hydorxyytrupatamine (a precursor to serotonin). Furthermore, other components appeared to cause nervous system stimulation:

Nutmeg and its active component, myristicin, show evidence of central monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibition by their ability to lower the convulsive dose of intravenous tryptamine in mice and to increase rat brain 5-hydroxytryptamine concentrations. They also show some ability to antagonize reserpine-induced ptosis of the eyelids. Myristicin is chemically unique as a nitrogen-free MAO inhibitor. Although its potency in this respect is not comparable to some of the more potent inhibitors such as tranylcypromine and iproniazid, it seems quite adequate when compared to its low toxicity. Other volatile components of nutmeg such as borneol, geraniol and safrole, do not show tryptamine potentiation, although some appear to cause C.N.S. stimulation in high doses. Further study is recommended for more direct evidence of nutmeg and myristicin as enzyme inhibitors and for their utility as anti-depressant drugs. (3)


3. It May Help Mitochondria Revive!

Our mitochondria are known as “cellular powerhouses” for energy production in our bodies. This abstract aimed to study the molecular mechanisms underlying the activity of a component in nutmeg, myristicin. It demonstrated that this component could modulate gene expression in human leukemia cells. The gene expression profile revealed an overall down- regulation of DNA damage response genes after exposure to myristicin.

Myristicin, an allylbenzene, is a major active component of various spices, such as nutmeg and cinnamon, plants from the Umbelliferae family or in some essential oils, such as oils of clove or marjoram. Human exposure to myristicin is low but widespread due to consumption of these spices and essential oils, added to food (e.g. cola drinks) or in traditional medicine. Occasionally high dose exposure occurs, leading to various clinical symptoms, however the molecular mechanisms underlying them are unknown. Our previous studies revealed that myristicin is not genotoxic and yet presented apoptotic activity. Therefore, in this work we assessed the apoptotic mechanisms induced by myristicin in human leukaemia cells. In order to gain further insight on the potential of myristicin to modulate gene expression we also analysed alterations in expression of 84 genes associated with the DNA damage response pathway. The results obtained show that myristicin can induce apoptosis as characterised by alterations in the mitochondrial membrane potential, cytochrome c release, caspase-3 activation, PARP-cleavage and DNA fragmentation. The gene expression profile revealed an overall down regulation of DNA damage response genes after exposure to myristicin, with significant under-expression of genes associated with nucleotide excision repair (ERCC1), double strand break repair (RAD50, RAD51) and DNA damage signalling (ATM) and stress response (GADD45A, GADD45G). On the whole, we demonstrate that myristicin can alter mitochondrial membrane function, induce apoptosis and modulate gene expression in human leukaemia K562 cells. This study provides further detail on the molecular mechanisms underlying the biological activity of myristicin. (4)


4. It’s All About the Phenols, Baby

Almost twins

Oh, poor nutmeg! It has been way under looked for its ability to scavenge free radicals which are associated with cellular damage.

In a menthol extract, nutmeg had a lot of antioxidant power.  Nutmeg demonstrated activity as a free radical scavenger, an antioxidant capacity for peroxyl and hydroxyl radical, and some phenolic activity. (Phenols have  immune modulating properties.) One drawback in this study was that the extraction method could have altered the active constituents activity.

Black peppercorn, nutmeg, rosehip, cinnamon and oregano leaf were extracted with 50% acetone and 80% methanol, and evaluated for their radical-scavenging activities against cation (ABTS+), DPPH, peroxyl (ORAC) and hydroxyl (HO) radicals. For each extract, total phenolic content (TPC) and chelating activity were also determined. The extracts of all botanical samples showed significant radical-scavenging capacities, TPC and chelating abilities. The 50% acetone extract of cinnamon had the highest ABTS+-scavenging capacity of 1243 ?mol TE/g and the greatest ORAC value of 1256 ?mol TE/g on a per weight basis. The 50% acetone extracts of black peppercorn and cinnamon showed higher ABTS+-scavenging, ORAC, Fe+2 chelating ability and TPC value, but lower DPPH value than the corresponding 80% methanol extracts. The 80% methanol extract of nutmeg had greater ABTS+, ORAC and TPC values than the 50% acetone extract. Electronic spin resonance (ESR) measurements demonstrated that cinnamon had the strongest HO-scavenging activities among all the tested botanical materials. These data indicate that black peppercorn, nutmeg, rosehip, cinnamon and oregano leaf may serve as potential dietary sources of natural antioxidants for improving human nutrition and health. The extracting solvent may alter the antioxidant activity measurement for selected botanicals, including spices and herbs. (5)


Here’s another study on the DNA protecting aspect and antioxidant power of phenolics in nutmeg and green pepper:

Antioxidant potential of phenolic compounds from green pepper (Piper nigrum L.) and lignans from fresh mace (Myristica fragrans) were evaluated for their ability to scavenge 1,1?-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH) radical, inhibit lipid peroxidation and protect plasmid DNA damage upon exposure to gamma radiation. EC50 values of the major phenolic compounds of green pepper namely, 3,4-dihydroxyphenyl ethanol glucoside, 3,4-dihydroxy-6-(N-ethylamino) benzamide and phenolic acid glycosides were found to be 0.076, 0.27 and 0.12 mg/ml, respectively, suggesting a high radical scavenging activity of these phenolics. These results were further confirmed with cyclic voltammetry. Acetone extract of nutmeg mace and its subsequent TLC isolated fractions constituted mainly of lignans as revealed by GC–MS analysis. The major compounds were tentatively identified from their mass spectral fragmentation pattern. DPPH radical scavenging capacity of the acetone extract as well as its fractions was comparatively lower than that of green pepper phenolics. In contrast, these fractions had a greater ability to inhibit lipid oxidation than phenolics from pepper as revealed by ?-carotene–linoleic acid assay. A DNA protecting role of these compounds even at doses as high as 5 kGy further suggested the potential use of green pepper and fresh nutmeg mace and their extracts as a nutraceutical in preventing oxidative damage to cells. (6)


5. For Supporting Healthy Teeth

In petri dishes, nutmeg inhibited nasty cavity-forming bacteria:

The occurrence of dental caries is mainly associated with oral pathogens, especially cariogenic Streptococcus mutans. Preliminary antibacterial screening revealed that the extract of Myristica fragrans, widely cultivated for the spice and flavor of foods, possessed strong inhibitory activity against S. mutans. The anticariogenic compound was successfully isolated from the methanol extract of M. fragrans by repeated silica gel chromatography, and its structure was identified as macelignan by instrumental analysis using 1D-NMR, 2D-NMR and EI-MS. The minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) of macelignan against S. mutans was 3.9 ?g/ml, which was much lower than those of other natural anticariogenic agents such as 15.6 ?g/ml of sanguinarine, 250 ?g/ml of eucalyptol, 500 ?g/ml of menthol and thymol, and 1000 ?g/ml of methyl salicylate. Macelignan also possessed preferential activity against other oral microorganisms such as Streptococcus sobrinus, Streptococcus salivarius, Streptococcus sanguis, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus casei in the MIC range of 2–31.3 ?g/ml. In particular, the bactericidal test showed that macelignan, at a concentration of 20 ?g/ml, completely inactivated S. mutans in 1 min. The specific activity and fast-effectiveness of macelignan against oral bacteria strongly suggest that it could be employed as a natural antibacterial agent in functional foods or oral care products. (7)


6. Liver Support

In a study with our rodent friends, myristicin suppressed inflammatory markers and showed evidence that it may protect liver cells from damage caused by lipopolyscarrarides (LPS) plus d-galactosamine.  (Yuck, I dislike the damaging microbial LPS plus sugar toxin test, but it must be done!)

To evaluate the hepatoprotective activity of spices, 21 different spices were fed to rats with liver damage caused by lipopolysaccharide (LPS) plus d-galactosamine (D-GalN). As assessed by plasma aminotranferase activities, nutmeg showed the most potent hepatoprotective activity. Bioassay-guided isolation of the active compound from nutmeg was carried out in mice by a single oral administration of the respective fractions. Myristicin, one of the major essential oils of nutmeg, was found to possess extraordinarily potent hepatoprotective activity. Myristicin markedly suppressed LPS/D-GalN-induced enhancement of serum TNF-? concentrations and hepatic DNA fragmentation in mice. These findings suggest that the hepatoprotective activity of myristicin might be, at least in part, due to the inhibition of TNF-? release from macrophages. However, further studies are needed to elucidate the hepatoprotective mechanism(s) of myristicin. (8)


7. For That Frisky Feeling

Speaking of mice, it seems nutmeg made these critters a little frisky when combined with clove. According to these researchers, who were assigned this interesting research topic:

Background: Spices are considered as sexual invigorators in the Unani System of Medicine. In order to explore the sexual function improving effect of Myristica fragrans Houtt. (nutmeg) and Syzygium aromaticum (L) Merr. & Perry. (clove) an experimental study was conducted in normal male mice.

Methods: The extracts (50% ethanolic) of nutmeg and clove were administered (500 mg/kg; p.o.) to different groups of male Swiss mice. Mounting behaviour, mating performance, and general short term toxicity of the test drugs were determined and compared with the standard drug Penegra (Sildenafil citrate).

Results: The extracts of the nutmeg and clove were found to stimulate the mounting behaviour of male mice, and also to significantly increase their mating performance. The drugs were devoid of any conspicuous general short term toxicity.

Conclusion: The extracts (50% ethanolic) of nutmeg and clove enhanced the sexual behaviour of male mice. (9)

 8. It may help with Poop

According to an old case study in the British Medical Journal, nutmeg helped a patient who was having diarrhea (the British say “diarrhoea”) related to various medical issues. This was an old case report in 1975!

In a patient with medullary carcinoma of the thyroid with pulmonary metastases who presented with diarrhoea and steatorrhoea large amounts of prostaglandin-like material were present in peripheral blood, and some was extracted from the tumour. The diarrhoea which persisted after thyroidectomy responded to treatment with nutmeg. (10)


9. It May Help Your Paw Inflammation and Sticky Blood Action

photo 2 (2)

This study showed that nutmeg has action on enzymes involved in inflammatory pathways using mice subjects:

The chloroform extract of nutmeg has been evaluated for antiinflammatory, analgesic and antithrombotic activities in rodents. The extract inhibited the carrageenan-induced rat paw oedema, produced a reduction in writhings induced by acetic acid in mice and offered protection against thrombosis induced by ADP/adrenaline mixture in mice. (11)


10. It’s Darn Safe As Directed

So, some people have heard of “nutmeg toxicity”. I searched for this and found only one fatal case that was ASSOCIATED with nutmeg overdose which was in 2001. (12)

MAJOR CAVEAT to this finding-the fatality was associated with a combination of nutmeg and flunitrazepam, a benzodiazepine. So was it the myristicin in nutmeg or the drug? The study reports it was likely due to a combination.

However, keep in mind that the British Medical Journal reported the following in 2012:

Receiving hypnotic prescriptions was associated with greater than threefold increased hazards of death even when prescribed <18 pills/year. This association held in separate analyses for several commonly used hypnotics and for newer shorter-acting drugs. Control of selective prescription of hypnotics for patients in poor health did not explain the observed excess mortality.


So…What do you think?

  • Are you going to add some variety to your spice and oil cabinet now?
  • What’s your experience with this nutty oil?

Leave your comments below.



(1) Cuong TD, Hung TM, Han HY, Roh HS, Seok JH, Lee JK, Jeong JY, Choi JS, Kim JA, Min BS.Potent acetylcholinesterase inhibitory compounds from Myristica fragrans. Nat Prod Commun. 2014 Apr;9(4):499-502.

(2) A preliminary investigation of anticholinesterase activity of some Iranian medicinal plants commonly used in traditional medicine. Daru. 2014; 22(1): 17. Published online Jan 8, 2014. doi: 10.1186/2008-2231-22-17. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3896674/

(3) Truitt, Edward B., Gilbert Duritz, and Ethel M. Ebersberger. Evidence of monoamine oxidase inhibition by myristicin and nutmeg. Experimental Biology and Medicine . 1963.112.3: 647-650.

(4) Martins C1, Doran C1, Silva IC1, Miranda C1, Rueff J1, Rodrigues AS2. Myristicin from nutmeg induces apoptosis via the mitochondrial pathway and down regulates genes of the DNA damage response pathways in human leukaemia K562 cells. Chem Biol Interact. July 2014;218:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2014.04.014. Epub 2014 Apr 29.

(5) Su, Lan, et al. Total phenolic contents, chelating capacities, and radical-scavenging properties of black peppercorn, nutmeg, rosehip, cinnamon and oregano leaf. Food chemistry. 2007; 100.3: 990-997.

(6) Chatterjee, Suchandra, et al. Antioxidant activity of some phenolic constituents from green pepper (Piper nigrum) and fresh nutmeg mace (Myristica fragrans). Food chemistry. 2007; 01.2: 515-523.

(7) Chung, J. Y., et al. Anticariogenic activity of macelignan isolated from Myristica fragrans (nutmeg) against Streptococcus mutans. Phytomedicine; 2006. 13.4 (2006): 261-266.

(8) Morita, Tatsuya, et al. Hepatoprotective effect of myristicin from nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) on lipopolysaccharide/d-galactosamine-induced liver injury. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry. 2003; 51.6: 1560-1565.

(9) Ahmad, Shamshad, Abdul Latif, and Iqbal A. Qasmi. Aphrodisiac activity of 50% ethanolic extracts of Myristica fragrans Houtt.(nutmeg) and Syzygium aromaticum (L) Merr. & Perry.(clove) in male mice: a comparative study. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2003; 3.1: 6.

(10) Barrowman, J. A., et al. Diarrhoeae in thyroid medullary carcinoma: role of prostaglandins and therapeutic effect of nutmeg. British Medical Journal. 1975; 3.5974: 11.

(11) Olajide, Olumayokun A., et al. Biological effects of Myristica fragrans (nutmeg) extract. Phytotherapy Research. 1999. 13.4: 344-345.

(12)Stein, U., H. Greyer, and H. Hentschel. Nutmeg (myristicin) poisoning—report on a fatal case and a series of cases recorded by a poison information centre. Forensic science international. 2001: 87-90.

(13) Hypnotics’ association with mortality or cancer: a matched cohort study. BMJ Open

Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic, Grade A essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been AFNOR and ISO standardized. There is no quality control in the United States and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin.

This information is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness.

Images courtesy iStockphotos.com