(NaturalNews) Black pepper does a whole lot more than hang around with salt. Researchers have recently found that black pepper can reduce the perception of pain, reduce inflammation, and combat arthritis. These discoveries follow other studies showing black pepper can block complications from diabetes, act as a powerful antioxidant and fight off colon cancer. Black pepper has been shown to substantially increase the bioavailability of nutrients from food and supplements, providing more nutrients for each dollar spent. All this makes sprinkling black pepper on food one of the easiest and most economical interventions people can make to boost their overall health status.
Piperine, the active phenolic compound in black pepper extract, was studied to determine its anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic effects as well as its ability to reduce the perception of pain. Piperine inhibited the expression of pro-inflammatory interleukin 6, and MMP13, a gene involved in the promotion of arthritis and metastasis. It reduced the production of a pro-inflammatory prostaglandin, even at a very low dose. When given to arthritic rats, piperine significantly reduced perception of pain and arthritis symptoms. Histological examination showed that piperine significantly reduced the inflammation in their joints. (Arthritis Research and Therapy, March 30)
Protein glycation is a process in which sugar molecules bond to protein molecules without enzymatic control. The result is the accumulation of end products that speed aging and the degeneration caused by diabetes. Scientists from the National Institute of Nutrition in India evaluated the ability of extracts from various plant-based foods to prevent the accumulation of advanced glycation end products. Black pepper, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, and green tea where the only extracts tested what showed significant ability to inhibit these end products. (British Journal of Nutrition, November 6, 2008)
The same research team investigated the ability of plants to modify aldose reductase activity, one of the mechanisms implicated in the development of various secondary complications of diabetes. Although various synthetic inhibitors of aldose reductase have been created, none of them has been effective when used clinically. Extracts from 22 plants were tested and 10 showed considerable inhibitory potential, with the greatest potential shown by black pepper, spinach, cumin, fennel, lemon, and basil. (Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition)
Black pepper is an antioxidant powerhouse
Antioxidants protect against hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Polyphenols are potent antioxidants found in plants. The research group from the National Institute of Nutrition in India worked to generate a database on the antioxidant activity and phenolic content of plant foods commonly consumed in India, and to assess the contribution of the phenolic content to their antioxidant activity. They tested plant foods belonging to different food groups such as cereals, legumes, oil seeds, oils, green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, spices, roots and tubers. They found that of all the foods tested, black pepper had the highest level of antioxidant activity and also the highest phenolic content. Antioxidant activity and phenolic content were the lowest in sunflower oil. A significant correlation was observed between antioxidant activity and phenol content in the plant foods studied. (International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition, June, 2007)
Black pepper inhibits colon cancer cell proliferation
A study at St. Louis University in Missouri was designed to determine if black pepper, resveratrol from grapes, and cinnamaldehyde from cinnamon have anti-prolific effects on colon cancer. Quantitative effects of each substance on concentration responses and time courses of proliferation of cultured human colon cancer cells were assessed. Black pepper showed significant anti-proliferative activity at 24, 48 and 72 hours following administration. (Clinical Laboratory Science, Summer, 2008)
Digestion and intestinal health are improved by black pepper
Hydrocloric acid is necessary for digesting proteins and other food components. Most digestive difficulties are the result of a lack of hydrochloric acid rather than too much. Black pepper stimulates the taste buds and alerts the stomach to increase hydrochloric acid secretion, improving digestion. Without adequate amounts, undigested food can sit in the stomach for prolonged periods, leading to heartburn and indigestion. Undigested food may also pass into the intestines where it can become a food source for unfriendly bacteria, producing gas, irritation, diarrhea or constipation.
Black pepper can act as a diuretic, reducing bloating in the intestinal tract where it promotes digestive health through its antioxidant effects. The outer layer of the peppercorn can even stimulate the breakdown of fat cells, releasing energy and keeping you slim.
Piperine increases bioavailability of nutrients from food and supplements
While black pepper improves digestion and frees nutrients for absorption its piperine compound operates through several other pathways to increase the bioavailability of nutrients from food and supplements. It stimulates amino-acid transporters in the intestinal lining, regulates enzymes that metabolize nutritional substances, and inhibits the removal of substances from cells. Each of these actions allows nutrients to enter and remain within their target cells for longer periods of time than would normally be the case.
Through these actions, piperine can turn a marginally effective therapeutic substance into a highly effective one by increasing its intracellular residency time. Curcumin, a compound from the herb turmeric, is known for fighting cancer, pain, inflammation and infection. The action of curcumin, and thereby its effectiveness, is increased twenty-fold when it is taken with piperine. (Planta Medica, May, 1998)
Black pepper has been highly valued for thousands of years
Before the invention of patent medicines and drugs, when people kept themselves well through the use of natural substances, the best of the natural healing compounds were afforded the highest prestige. The New Testament of the Bible tells of the gold, frankincense and myrrh brought by the Maji to the infant Jesus. This tells us that frankincense and myrrh, substances from trees, were valued comparably to gold.
Black pepper has played a similarly important role throughout history and has been prized since ancient times. It was held in such high esteem that it was not only used as a seasoning, but as a currency and offering. Taxes and ransoms could be paid in black pepper.
Freshly ground whole organic peppercorns provide the greatest benefits
Black pepper is available whole, crushed or ground into powder. Since it is piperine that gives black pepper its kick, the more intense the flavor and heat, the greater the level of piperine. Pepper that comes pre-ground has lost much of its piperine. Purchasing whole peppercorns also assures that the pepper contains no additives.
Buying whole peppercorns and grinding them in a mill just before eating provides the highest level of piperine. Black pepper should not be added while food is cooking, as it loses its flavor, aroma and vitamin C when heated.
Although black pepper is widely available in supermarkets, local spice shops or those online will frequently offer a more expansive selection of black pepper with superior quality and freshness. Pepper that is organically grown indicates it has not been irradiated.
Keep black pepper in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place. Whole peppercorns will keep for an extended period of time. Freezing makes the flavor more pronounced, and may raise the level of piperine.
Black pepper can be added to fresh vegetable juices and to most cooked and raw foods. For a real taste treat, make hot air popped organic corn drizzled with butter and sprinkled with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Salad dressing made of extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper is another winner.
Piperine can be bought as a supplement and is available from most online health retailers. It is quite inexpensive.
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.