Capsaicin, the active ingredient in chilli peppers that makes them “hot”, has a number of anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and heart-health boosting properties.
A study conducted at Nottingham University in the UK showed that Capsaicin killed laboratory cultured lung cancer cells and pancreatic cancer cells, by attacking the cells’ source of energy and triggering programmed cell death. Furthermore, the capsaicin did this without harming the surrounding tissue.
Dr. Timothy Bates, who led the study, reported “This is incredibly exciting and may explain why people living in countries like Mexico and India, who traditionally eat a diet which is very spicy, tend to have lower incidences of many cancers that are prevalent in the Western world.”
“We appear to have discovered a fundamental weakness with all cancer cells. Capsaicin specifically targets cancerous cells, leading to the possibility that a drug based on it would kill tumors with few or no side effects for the patient.”
Researchers from the University of Cincinnati also discovered that they could significantly reduce the damage to heart cells during a heart attack if they applied a topical cream containing capsaicin to the skin, because it triggered certain nervous system responses and “pro-survival pathways” that protect the heart. In animal studies, the scientists discovered an incredible 85% reduction in heart cell death when they used the cream, which makes it the most powerful cardioprotective substance detected so far.
Capsaicin is already used in a number of topical medications for pain relief.
It appears that habanero peppers have the highest levels of capsaicin of any pepper, and in mouse studies conducted by UCLA in 2009, researchers were able to shrink prostate tumours by 80%, verses untreated mice. This was done over a 2 month period, using the human equivalent of 8 fresh habanero peppers, (or 400mg capsaicin), eaten 3 times per week for a 170lb man.
Research conducted at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School showed that capsaicin induced apoptosis (programmed cell death) in pancreatic cancer cells.
More recent research has shown that capsaicin has inhibited the growth of adult leukaemia cells and gastric cancer.