(NaturalNews) Hot peppers are great for spicing up food. They may be even better for keeping the human body feeling in the spice of life. Capsaicin is the active ingredient in hot peppers and the one that turns up the heat. It is a compound useful in nature for preventing pepper plants from being eaten by insects and animals. When capsaicin is consumed by humans in the form of hot sauce, chili peppers or cayenne pepper, it offers a wealth of health benefits. One that has received much recent attention is the ability of capsaicin to make prostate cancer cells commit suicide.
Moderate dose of capsaicin makes 80 percent of prostate cancer cells die
In 2006, a team of researchers from the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, found that capsaicin induced 80 percent of human prostate cancer cells growing in mice to follow pathways leading to certain death. They also found that prostate cancer tumors in mice fed with capsaicin were about one-fifth the size of tumors in non-treated mice. Additionally, capsaicin had a profound anti-proliferative effect on cultured human cancer cells according to a scientist at the UCLA School of Medicine. It dramatically slowed the development of prostate tumors formed by cells from the same lines as those grown for the mouse models.
The scientists estimated that the dose of pepper extract fed to the mice was equivalent to giving 400 milligrams of capsaicin three times a week to a 200 pound man. This would be about the amount found in three to eight fresh habanero peppers, depending on how hot the peppers were. The hotter the pepper, the greater the capsaicin content. Habanero peppers, which are native to the Yucatan, have the highest amount of capsaicin. On the Scoville Heat Index, habaneros score 300,000 heat units. Jalapeno peppers, popular in the U.S., score between 2,500 and 3,000 heat units.
In 2008, these results were corroborated by researchers in Madrid, Spain who identified ten genes that were down-regulated and five genes that were up-regulated upon capsaicin treatment in human prostate cancer cells. They found that blocking the action of one of the up-regulated genes significantly reduced capsaicin-induced cell death. From these findings they concluded that the mechanism by which capsaicin causes prostate cancer cells to die had been identified.
In those prostate cancer cells that depended on the predominant male sex hormone, testosterone, for their growth, capsaicin reduced cell proliferation in a dose-dependent manner. Prostate cancer cells that were not dependent on testosterone for their growth responded to capsaicin in a similar manner.
Capsaicin reduced cancer cell production of prostate specific antigen (PSA), a protein that is a marker for the presence of prostate cancer. Production of PSA is regulated by male sex hormones.
Capsaicin is effective against other types of cancer
Research from India recently investigated the effect of capsaicin on fat metabolism during induced lung cancer in mice showing abnormal changes in tissue and serum lipids, lipoproteins, and lipid metabolizing enzymes. Treatment of 10 mg per kg of body weight showed an ability to reduce all of these alterations and restore normality that they described as "remarkable". (Archives of Pharmacal Research, February).
In another study investigating how oxidative stress mediated lung cancer, lysomal damage was found to be an indispensable event in the development of some lung cancers. Capsaicin was able to completely prevent lysomal damage, and was effective against induced lung cancer. (Fundamental Clinical Pharmacology, February).
Scientists investing the effects of capsaicin against human breast cancer noted that the compound has been shown to exert powerful biological activity including anticarginogenic, antimutagenic and chemoprotective effects against many cancer cell lines. When they tested it against a highly malignant breast cell line, they found that treatment with capsaicin for 24 hours resulted in dose-dependent death of the cancerous cells. (Oncology Report, March).
A recent study investigating capsaicin on highly metastatic melanoma cells found its anti-mutagenic activity inhibited the migration of melanoma cells at low doses without showing obvious cytotoxicity. The scientists concluded that capsaicin administration should be considered an effective approach for the suppression of invasion and metastasis in malignant melanoma. (Experimental and Molecular Medicine, October, 2008).
In an earlier study at M.D Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, researchers tested capsaicin on human skin cancer cells to analyze how the cells would react. They found that the majority of skin cancer cells exposed to the substance died. Capsaicin seemed to kill cancerous cells by damaging their membranes and limiting the amount of oxygen that could reach them. Drug companies have long searched for a drug that could do just that. Any compound that could limit oxygen in targeted cells would be highly effective against many forms of cancer.
High intake of capsaicin correlates with lower death rates from cancer
In countries where high intake of capsaicin is the dietary norm, cancer death rates for men and women are significantly lower than they are in countries with less chili pepper consumption according to statistics from the World Health Organization. Experiments have shown that capsaicin seems to be able to detoxify a wide range of chemical carcinogens which, if left to roam the body, could create mutations leading to full blown cancers.
Lose weight by eating chili peppers and hot sauce
Researchers have found that adding capsaicin in some form to breakfast foods or appetizers at lunch causes people to eat less during meals and for hours afterwards. Thirteen women, who ate breakfast foods spiced with red pepper ate less than normal at breakfast and during the day. Ten men who ate appetizers laced with red pepper consumed fewer calories at lunch and during a mid-day snack hours later. In addition to acting as an appetite suppressant, red pepper seems to increase the number of calories burned, particularly after high-fat meals. This is because capsaicin is a thermogenic agent, meaning it increases metabolic activity that results in calories and fat being burned. Several popular fat-burners on the market contain capsaicin.
Capsaicin soothes digestive tract stress
Contrary to popular belief, a study has found that ulcer sufferers are helped by eating hot spicy foods. Capsaicin increases blood flow in the stomach's mucous lining, helping to heal stomach tissue. It is effective against H. pylori bacteria, and stimulates circulation sequentially, from the internal organs to the skin surface, and on throughout the entire body. A Duke University study has found that capsaicin may lead to a cure for inflammatory bowel disease. Eating chili peppers has also been shown to protect against the effects to the stomach of aspirin.
Capsaicin helps relieve congestion and prevent sinusitis
Potent antibacterial properties of capsaicin fight chronic sinus infections. Because it is so hot, capsaicin helps stimulate secretions that clear mucus from the nose, relieving nasal congestion. It may also be helpful for sinus related allergy problems.
Protect your heart with capsaicin
Capsaicin reduces cholesterol, triglycerides and platelet aggregation. It has shown evidence of being able to dissolve fibrin, which is necessary for blood clots to form. Tumors often develop a fibrin based protective coating. Dissolving this coating leaves the tumors highly vulnerable. Cultures around the world that engage in the liberal use of hot peppers have significantly lower rates of heart attack and stroke than cultures that do not.
Red pepper makes food taste fabulous
Red pepper is widely available in capsule form, usually as cayenne. But eating it in pepper form or as hot sauce is so much more fun. Red pepper is a great addition to almost any dish and can add another taste dimension when used alone or with black pepper. Hot pepper sauce is a staple on many kitchen tables where it is sprinkled liberally on meat, fish, side dishes, and snacks. It is a natural to accompany Mexican foods.
Chili may be one the best foods for men trying to avoid prostate cancer. When it is made with fresh tomatoes as well as hot peppers, it offers the two major players against this form of cancer, lycopene and capsaicin. Spaghetti sauce can be spiced up with hot pepper sauce. Baked potatoes doused with hot sauce and a clove of smashed organic garlic added in just can't be beat. And hot sauce is the best friend of fish. Bake wild-caught cod or other whitefish, slice fresh sweet raw onions and get out the hot sauce.
The glories of fresh salsa defy description. Salsa is another way to blend lycopene rich tomatoes with capsaicin from peppers. Adding salsa to boring beans makes them get up and dance. Make a warm weather lunch of mashed avocados with lime juice, salsa and organic blue corn chips.
Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.