You may have never heard of the word capsaicin, it is the chemical found in various hot peppers that gives them that spicy kick. If you are a spice lover, you may be familiar with many of the various peppers out there from jalapeños to habaneros, but did you know that these hots may actually have a very important health benefit in them?
Research continues to show that the capsaicin chemical has cancer prevention qualities, so many that we recommend that you find ways to incorporate it into your diet and lifestyle.
What is Capsaicin?
Capsaicin, found in chili peppers, is the most common source, it can be found in pill form in your natural food or health store. You may find it under capsaicin or cayenne pepper extract, etc. Make sure to read the ingredients to ensure that you are getting this capsaicin ingredient.
Capsaicin and Antioxidants
Free radicals are molecules that are detached and roaming around to steal a piece of another healthy molecule, thus creating the spread of broken molecules and more free radicals. The purpose of an antioxidant is to pair with these free radicals so that they do not go on to damage other molecules.
This process is pertinent to the discussion of cancer prevention as this is what goes on when cancer cells start to spread and take over certain organs. Some of the antioxidants that can be found in hot peppers are Vitamin C, Vitamin E, carotenoids, and polyphenols.
Capsaicin and Cancer Prevention Research
Capsaicin is shown to help prevent cancer by specifically blocking an element called NF-kappa Beta, which promotes the growth of cancer cells. Some of the existing cancer research that concerns capsaicin has been done around prostate cancer and leukemia, but it is that it likely it has a preventive effect on many other forms of cancer as well.
One of the most popular studies conducted in this area was that of Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. This was a study conducted on mice with prostate cancer. Findings demonstrated that about 80% of the cancer cells were affected by a process called apoptosis or cell suicide after the mice were given doses of capsaicin.
Capsaicin works to stimulate a process called apoptosis, which means cell death. This is great when targeted on harmful cancerous cells. Research conducted on prostate and pancreatic cancer demonstrates that the capsaicin helps to kill off the cancer cells while doing no harm to the healthy surrounding cells. This is like a natural chemotherapy remedy.
The Scoville Scale
The Scoville scale is the current method of measurement to determine just how much capsaicin is present in any given pepper. Originally, the heat used to be measured by asking various tasters to rate the intensity or presence of spiciness when the ground pepper was added to a sugar-water solution. The more water that was added meant that the particular pepper had more capsaicin. Now there are standardized ways to determine how many Scoville units a pepper has.
Based on this scale, some of the hottest peppers include the habanero, scotch bonnet, African birdseye, Santaka, and Rocoto. Keep in mind that more does not necessarily mean better, especially considering that some of the spiciest peppers are hot enough to burn your skin and the inside of your mouth. As a side note, remember that if you do ever bite into a pepper that is way too hot, drink milk and not water. This is because capsaicin does not dissolve in water, but does in fat.
Not everyone in the scientific and medical communities believes that capsaicin is a reliable source of cancer prevention. Some argue that there needs to be more extensive research conducted, which is fair. Others point out that some of the existing research relies on findings from cancer cells that were treated in a lab, rather than within human beings. As with many other types of research, the next phase of this cancer prevention work may be to re-implement findings in a larger number of humans, so that the true effects may be seen.
Additionally, some scientists have argued that the consumption of capsaicin may actually increase one’s risk of getting cancer, namely skin cancer. Although these claims exist, the other those that support capsaicin as a cancer fighter have the support of many well-known cancer societies and research groups.
If you are at risk for cancer or currently have cancer never take remedies into your own hands. A discussion with your physician is essential before you go popping peppers by the handful. For the most part, eating these spicy foods that contain capsaicin will have no adverse impact on your health, but some may want to hold off due to conflicting medical conditions, such as acid reflux or heartburn or there may even be a conflict with certain prescriptions.
Discuss all options with your physician and disclose the fact that you are thinking of upping your daily dose of capsaicin. However, the research is promising; we may be looking at a cutting edge method to preventing the spread of cancer through the consumption of capsaicin.
Does capsaicin bring us closer to a cure to cancer? Share your thoughts with us!