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Some Like It Hot: Peppers Help Prevent Cancer

Aug. 19, 2014|692 views
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Do you like your food hot and spicy, or are you a fan of blander fare? To each his or her own. Some people simply don’t like the spicy heat of chili peppers. But adventurous eaters who’ve learned to embrace the burn of red hot chili peppers have something to celebrate. New research suggests that the active ingredient in chili peppers—a compound called capsaicin—may be protecting you from colorectal tumors.

Colorectal cancer is a leading form of potentially deadly cancer in the United States. According to new research published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, capsaicin from chili peppers in the diet triggers activation of a receptor present on cells of the intestinal lining. The receptor, or ion channel, is called TRPV1. Chronic activation of TRPV1 produces a reaction that is protective against the development of cancer in the intestinal-lining cells.

TRPV1 acts as a sort of molecular pain receptor that reacts to hot, spicy chemicals. These types of receptors work with nerve cells in other parts of the body to detect things like heat and acidity. In the gut, activating these receptors ultimately puts the brakes on cellular turnover. And that can help protect the gut lining against the development of tumors.

The lining of the gut must be continually renewed, and the need for rapid cellular turnover is linked to the greater likelihood that a tumor could develop in this tissue. Cancer is, after all, a condition characterized by rapid, runaway cell growth. Capsaicin appears to help keep rapid cellular turnover from getting out of hand.

In a press release, Eyal Raz, MD, professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, and senior author of the study, said “Our data suggest that individuals at high risk of developing recurrent intestinal tumors may benefit from chronic TRPV1 activation.” Petrus de Jong, MD, first author of the study, said “These results showed us that epithelial TRPV1 normally works as a tumor suppressor in the intestines.”

All of which suggests that those of us who appreciate spicy food should keep doing what we do to boost our odds of avoiding colorectal cancer. And the rest of you should perhaps reconsider your aversion to spicy foods.

Petrus R. de Jong, Naoki Takahashi, Alexandra R. Harris, Jihyung Lee, Samuel Bertin, James Jeffries, Michael Jung, Jen Duong, Amy I. Triano, Jongdae Lee, Yaron Niv, David S. Herdman, Koji Taniguchi, Chang-Whan Kim, Hui Dong, Lars Eckmann, Stephanie M. Stanford, Nunzio Bottini, Maripat Corr, Eyal Raz. Ion channel TRPV1-dependent activation of PTP1B suppresses EGFR-associated intestinal tumorigenesis. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2014; DOI: 10.1172/JCI72340

Tags:  health tips, cancer risks, prevention