Chilli peppers have recently hit the headlines when it was announced at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2020 that preliminary research shows that individuals who consume chilli peppers may live longer and have a significantly reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and cancer. The reason for this is most likely due to the high amount of capsaicin which has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and blood-glucose regulating effects.
A recent extensive research review collected studies looking at capsaicin in different cancer types (Zhang et al, 2020). It appears that this compound can stop many of the mechanisms that drive cancer cell growth. It has also been found to potentiate chemo and radiotherapy.
Back in 2006 a study also found that capsaicin inhibited the growth of prostate cancer cells and so is thought to perhaps be an effective compound against other hormone driven cancers.
Capsaicin is the main compound in chillies which gives it the pungent, fiery taste, so the hotter it is the more health benefits it has. It was thought that the hot, spicy nature of this may cause damage to some cells but more recent research points to positive benefits. More research is needed into capsaicin and any potential increased risk of stomach and gallbladder cancer. However it has been found to prevent liver damage and cream preparations containing it may help if you are suffering from nerve pain often induced by cancer treatment.
Other compounds in chillies are antioxidant rich carotenoids such as lutein which is linked to improved eye health. There is some evidence also to show that chillies may aid weight loss and appetite control.
Chillis can be easy to grow at home which is preferable as when commercially grown they are often heavily sprayed with pesticides. Be aware chillis are part of the nightshade family so may cause allergy in some people.
Bley, K., et al., ‘A Comprehensive Review of the Carcinogenic and Anticarcinogenic Potential of Capsaicin’, Toxicologic Pathology, 40(6), 2012: 847–73
Zhang, S., Wang, D., Huang, J., Hu, Y. & Xu, Y., Application of Capsaicin as a potential new therapeutic drug in human cancers. J Clin Pharm Ther (2020) Feb; 45 (1): 16-28
Mori, A. et al. Capsaicin, a Component of Red peppers, Inhibits the Growth of Androgen-Independent, p53 Mutant Prostate Cancer Cells. Experimental Therapeutics Molecular Targets, and Chemical Biology (2006) March; 66: 6
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