Scientists claim that the substances that give chili peppers their intensive taste when ingested or applied topically, as well as their several related chemicals – collectively termed capsaicinoids, can kill cancer cells and may even extend lifespan.
Chili peppers have been a substantial part of the human diet in the Americas since the year of 7,500 BC. The most recent research shows that chili peppers were domesticated more than 6,000 years ago in the region of Mexico, and were one of the first self-pollinating crops cultivated in Mexico, Central and parts of South America.
Things have changed in the last millennia and India is now the world’s largest producer, consumer and exporter of chili peppers.
Red chilies contain large amounts of vitamin C and small amounts of carotene (provitamin A). Yellow and especially green chilies (which are essentially unripe fruit) contain a considerably lower amount of both substances.
In addition, peppers are a good source of most B vitamins, vitamin B6 in particular. They are very high in magnesium, potassium and iron. Their very high vitamin C content can also substantially increase the uptake of non-heme iron from other ingredients in a meal such as beans and grains.
Past research suggested that spicing food with chilies can lower blood pressure in people suffering from this, reduce blood cholesterol, and ease the tendency towards forming dangerous blood clots too. Researchers in Korea recently published works that reveal the mechanisms behind capsaicin’s power to aid weight loss.
Spicing up your daily diet with some red pepper can significantly curb appetite, especially for those who don’t normally use the popular spice, according to research from Purdue University. The component that gives jalapeno peppers their heat may also kill prostate cancer cells.
Scientists have also reported that chili peppers are a heart-healthy food with potential to protect against the leading cause of death in the developed world.
Treatment of the tumor-prone mice with capsaicin has now been shown to reduce tumor burden and to extend the lifespans of the mice by over 30 percent. “This may be translated to humans to a certain extent but further research will be necessary to quantify gene expression,” said Dr. Henry Peterson commenting on the study.
Research published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, said “the active ingredient produced chronic activation of a receptor TRPV1 in the cells which are lining the intestines of mice genetically modified to be TRPV1-deficient, which in turn triggered the reaction.”
“Our data also suggested that TRPV1 triggering by dietary administration of capsaicin suppressed intestinal tumourigenesis,” the researchers stated.
As a result, they recommended the administration of TRPV1 agonists like capsaicin in combination with celecoxib, a COX-2 non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that treats some forms of arthritis and pain.
Dr. Petrus de Jong, one of the study’s authors, said:
“A basic level of EGFR activity is required to maintain the normal cell turnover in the gut. However, if EGFR signaling is left unrestrained, the risk of sporadic tumor development increases.”
The receptor or ion channel TRPV1 was originally discovered in sensory neurons, where it acts as a guard against heat, acidity and chemicals in the environment. This latest research found that the receptor was also expressed by intestinal epithelial cells.
The scientists discovered that TRPV1 works as a tumor suppressor in the intestines through a “feedback loop” with the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), reducing the risk of unwanted growth.
Professor Eyal Raz, another of the study’s authors, confirmed: “Our data suggest that individuals at high risk of developing recurrent intestinal tumors may benefit from chronic TRPV1 activation.”
So, it seems that they have provided proof-of-principle.
The Journal of Clinical Investigation