Super pepper: The king of spices

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By a correspondent

Black pepper, which has been used as a folk medicine in a variety of cultures, has immense health benefits. Read on!

My curiosity about this spice was triggered when I took a mixture of black pepper and black cardamom and it worked as an instant remedy to control diarrhea.

Black pepper has been used as a folk medicine in a variety of cultures. The chemical piperine is a major active component in both black and white pepper (de-husked pepper) and has numerous reported physiological and drug-like actions.

Now, several scientific studies provide evidence that piperine enhances digestive tract function, has antibiotic properties and anti-inflammatory effects, anti-oxidant properties, anti-cancer effects and may even help in weight loss.

Interestingly, it has been found to have anti-larvicide effect against the dengue-causing mosquito and East Africans believe that body odor produced after ingesting pepper, repels mosquitoes — an idea for health authorities for dengue control maybe.

Also called the king of spices, pepper is one of the oldest and most popular spices in the world. Originated 4,000 years ago and indigenous to the Malabar Coast in India, it was the search for pepper which led to early Western sailors travelling eastwards. The name pepper comes from the ancient Sanskrit word pippali meaning berry. It was used as a desirable currency — dowries, taxes and rents were paid in pepper corns and thus the word “pepper corn rent” was coined.

Spices are traditionally known to stimulate digestion and help control digestive disorders. Black pepper has been used to treat sluggish digestion, flatulence, bloating, lack of appetite and cramps. Several scientific studies have confirmed that piperine favorably stimulates digestive enzymes of pancreas, improves digestive capacity and significantly reduces the gastro-intestinal food transit time. It has been found to be useful in nausea, and both in constipation and diarrhea. This could be attributed to spasmodic and anti-spasmodic effects, which have been found in black pepper’s piperine.

Piperine protects against oxidative damage caused by free-radicals. Black pepper extracts show strong anti-oxidant activity — which can have far-reaching health benefits including cancer prevention, anti-inflammatory effects and immunomodulatory activity.

A study conducted in 2010 to determine effects of piperine on malignant breast cancer cells found that it inhibited breast stem cell renewal without causing toxicity to normal cells. It was thus concluded that piperine could be a potential cancer preventive agent.

Another study published in 2010 — conducted to find out the possible immuno-modulatory effects of black pepper — concluded that its extract significantly enhanced activity of natural killer cells, hence showing powerful anti-cancer and anti-tumor effects. It also suggests the use pepper extract as a potential agent to regulate inflammation and prevent carcinogenesis.

Recently, British researchers found that black pepper had anti-bacterial properties since it was shown to effectively combat the bacteria responsible for food poisoning.

A word of caution: Piperine can strengthen or modify the effects of numerous other medicines, particularly blood thinning agents. So it is important to seek advice from a qualified professional before using it in therapeutic doses — but make sure you are generous with it the next time you cook.

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