Everyone is aware that eating too much salt is harmful to one’s health. Nobody ever mentions the other spice in the cruet set, black pepper, and its potential influence. Is it affecting your health in any way?
People have certainly believed this throughout history. For thousands of years, black pepper, made from the dried berries of the Piper nigrum vine, has been used in traditional Indian (Ayurvedic) medicine.
According to Ayurvedic practitioners, it is thought to have “carminative” effects, meaning it soothes flatulence. In traditional Chinese medicine, black pepper is also used to treat epilepsy.
Black pepper, according to modern science, has health benefits owing to an alkaloid called piperine, which is the molecule that gives pepper its intense flavor and is also a powerful antioxidant.
Antioxidants are molecules that scavenge dangerous chemicals known as “free radicals.” The quantity of free radicals in your body can be increased by a poor diet, too much sun exposure, alcohol, and smoking. An overabundance of these unstable molecules can harm cells, causing premature aging and a variety of health issues such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, arthritis, asthma, and diabetes.
Piperine has been found to protect against free radicals in animals and cells in the lab. Rats were divided into groups in one study, with some being fed a regular diet and others being fed a high-fat diet. A high-fat diet laced with black pepper was fed to one group of rats, whereas a high-fat diet supplemented with piperine was fed to the other.
When compared to rats fed only a high-fat diet, rats on a high-fat diet supplemented with black pepper or piperine exhibited significantly fewer signs of free radical damage. Indeed, their free radical damage markers were about the same as those of rats who ate a normal food.
Piperine is also anti-inflammatory in nature. Chronic inflammation has been linked to a variety of illnesses, including autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis. According to animal research, piperine decreases inflammation and pain in rats with arthritis.
Black pepper can also aid in the absorption of some nutrients, such as resveratrol, an antioxidant present in red wine, berries, and peanuts. Resveratrol has been shown to protect against heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes in studies.
The difficulty with resveratrol is that it breaks down in the intestines before it can be absorbed into the bloodstream. Black pepper, on the other hand, has been shown to improve resveratrol’s “bioavailability.” To put it another way, there is more of it available for the body to use.
Curcumin, the active element in the popular anti-inflammatory spice turmeric, may also be improved by black pepper. People who took 20mg piperine and 2g curcumin had 2,000% more curcumin available to them.
Black pepper has been demonstrated in other studies to help in the absorption of beta-carotene, a chemical present in vegetables and fruits that your body converts to vitamin A. Beta-carotene is a potent antioxidant that may help to prevent cellular damage. When 15mg of beta-carotene was combined with 5mg of piperine, blood levels of beta-carotene were found to be much higher than when the beta-carotene was taken alone.
Cancer and piperine
Black pepper may have anti-cancer properties as well. Piperine stopped the growth of breast, prostate, and colon cancer cells in test tubes, which made them die.
When researchers tested 55 components from a variety of spices, piperine was shown to be the most effective at increasing the success of a common treatment for triple-negative breast cancer, the most aggressive type of cancer, when researchers tested 55 components.
Piperine could also help cancer cells become less resistant to multiple drugs, which could make chemotherapy less effective.
But there’s a word of warning. Because most of the studies have been done in cell cultures or on animals, all of these things are somewhat speculative. Experiments like these don’t always “translate” to humans. You can be fairly certain, however, that adding a few extra grinds of pepper to your food will not harm you—and may even benefit you.