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Chilli Peppers for your Gut: Tumor Fighters!

Researchers find that Chili Peppers will fight off tumors.
carol lent

When I walked into a local market the other day, I was hit with an amazing sweet and yet tangy smell. The aroma, I was soon to learn, came from vintage wooden bins – perhaps 40 gal – that held inside of them the spice and condiment that I most crave – the Chili Pepper. Some bins had dried peppers, others housed green peppers, others even peppers on vines. I loved seeing the different variations, and it reminded me of home. How many of you had parents that grew peppers in your backyard?

Chili peppers… did you know that this sweet and potent little pepper is a fruit? Yes, the chili pepper is not considered a vegetable, but a fruit. This fruit has substances that give chili’s their intensity when ingested or applied topically, called capsaicin (8 methyl N – venillyl-6-nonenamide) and several other related chemicals, collectively called capsaicinoids.

Chili peppers have been a part of the human diet in the American society since at least 750 BC. The most recent research shows that chilli peppers were domesticated more than 6000 years ago in Mexico, in a region that extends across southern Puebla and Northern Oaxaca to southeastern Veracruz, and were one of the first self-pollinating crops cultivated in Mexico, Central and parts of South America.

Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to encounter them (in the Caribbean), and called them "peppers" because they, like black and white pepper of the Piper genus known in Europe, have a spicy hot taste unlike other foodstuffs. Upon their introduction into Europe, chili, were grown as botanical curiosities in the gardens of Spanish and Portuguese monasteries. But the monks experimented with the chili culinary potential and discovered that their pungency offered a substitute for black peppercorns, which at the time were so costly that they were used as legal currency in some countries.

In the beginning of August, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine reported that dietary capsaicin – the active ingredient in Chili Peppers – produces chronic activation of a receptor on cells lining the intestines of mice, triggering a reaction that ultimately reduces the risk of colorectal tumors. These findings, published on August 1st issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation, might be helpful to most of us who already love the chili so much.

The receptor, or “ion channel” is called TRPV1, was originally discovered in sensory neurons where it acts as a sentinel for heat, acidity, and spicy chemicals in the environment. “These are all potentially harmful stimuli to cells,” said Eyal Raz, MD, professor of Medicine and senior author of the study. “Thus, TRPV1 was quickly described as a molecular ‘pain receptor.’ This can be considered to be its conventional function, which all takes place in the nervous system.”

However, Raz and his colleagues have found that TPRV1 is also expressed by epithelial cells of the intestines, where it is activated by an epidermal growth factor receptor which is an important driver of cell proliferation in the intestines, whose epithelial lining is replaced approximately every four to six days. Petrus de Jong, MD, first author of the study says that “Basic level of the receptor is required to maintain the normal cell turnover in the gut, and if left unrestrained the risk of sporadic tumor development increases”.

In simple English for those of you who might be reading with a quizzical expression on your face – eat more Chili and this will create chemical reactors in your gut that will help your levels of cancer tumor possibilities to decrease in great measure. The current study suggests one potential remedy might be spicy capsaicin, which acts as an irritant in mammals, generating a burning sensation in contact with tissue. Capsaicin is already broadly used as an analgesic in topical ointments, where its properties as an irritant overwhelm nerves, rendering them unable to report pain for extended periods of time. It’s also the active ingredient in pepper spray. Especially if you have already suffered from colorectal tumors in the past, this will allow for there to be less probability of another outbreak.

Now, to go get me some chili spices and herbs… until next time, and here’s to your health!

Carol Lent