Photo of green, white and black peppercorns
Black pepper isn't just a spicy companion to salt at the dinner table - it's full of healthy benefits [Image: Rainer Zenz - Wikimedia Commons]

Black pepper compound shows promise in fighting fat

22 May, 2012

Natural Health News — The substance in black pepper that makes us sneeze – piperine – may also hold the key to a slimmer waistline.

Citing previous studies that show that piperine reduces fat levels in the bloodstream and has other beneficial health effects the Korean researchers set out to learn more.

Black pepper and the black pepper plant, they note, have been used for centuries in traditional Eastern medicine to treat gastrointestinal distress, pain, inflammation and other disorders. Despite that long medicinal history, scientists know little about how or why piperine works on a molecular level.

Genetic action

In this study the researchers looked at the effects of piperine on fat tissue in the lab and in computer models.

The results, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, showed that piperine interfered with the activity of genes responsible for forming new fat cells.

Researchers say this benefit of black pepper sets up a chain reaction that helps keep the formation of fat in check in other ways as well.

“Overall, our results suggest that piperine could be a lead natural compound for the treatment of fat-related disorders,” they write.

King of spices

Black pepper is sometimes called the King of Spices. It is the most popular spice in the world, and black, green and white peppercorns all come from the black pepper plant (Piper nigrum), native to Asia.  Black is the whole, partially ripened fruit; green is the unripe fruit; and white is the peeled seed.

Pink peppercorns are not true pepper. They’re the dried berries of the Brazilian pepper tree (Schinus terebinthfolius) and have have been linked with headaches, tummy aches and more (so much so that at one time they were banned in the US and many authorities recommend they be used in moderation if at all).

In the same vein Sichuan peppercorns, used in East Asian cuisine, are the dried fruits of the prickly ash tree (Zanthoxylum piperitum) and are much spicier than normal black peppercorns.

Rich in essential oils

Black pepper corns are rich in manganese, vitamin K, iron and fibre though you’d have to eat impractically large amounts to derive nutritional benefits from them. Dried black pepper is also rich in a variety of essential oils which are traditionally used to stimulate appetite and improve digestion and to relieve stomach upsets and flatulence.

The piperine content of black pepper may also help us absorb more of the goodness from our food and supplements according to laboratory studies. For instance, the main antioxidant of green tea epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is better absorbed in the presence of piperine.

Likewise there is evidence that the bioavailability of curcumin – a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant spice – is increased 2000% when it is combined with black pepper.

Black pepper essential oil is warming and spicy and helps boost the body’s natural defences and eases muscle aches (try blending it with rose, fennel and/or lavender). In one study inhalation of black pepper essential oil was found to improve the swallowing reflex in patients who had suffered a stroke. It may also benefit paediatric patients who have difficulty swallowing.