The exciting news is that capsaicin has been shown to reduce the incidence of colorectal tumors in mice.
Rodents are used in many medical studies due to having similar reactions to various stimuli as humans.
This is how it is thought to work.
When capsaicin is administered to mice, a receptor in their intestinal wall is activated in a chronic manner, and this process seems to spawn a reaction that radically lowers the incidence of tumors, as well as increasing their lifespan.
Pretty cool, huh?
The process works this way.
The receptor is called TRPV1. This receptor is central to a reaction to inflammation and painful stimuli.
Heat and acidity are some of the things that it reacts against, as well as what the body considers “spiciness”.
Yes, the “heat” that we perceive comes from hot peppers also triggers this response, since these sorts of things can actually hurt us in the right concentrations.
Think bee venom, here. It is known that small inoculations of bee venom cause the body to form a defense. Well, this wouldn’t be the only kind of positive outcome to a limited exposure to what could be a harmful chemical.
So TRPV1 initiates the response to capsaicin.
Now, TRPV1 is also released by epithelial cells that line the intestinal tract.
See where we’re going here?
TRPV1 is activated by an epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), which binds to the actual epidermal growth factor. This surface protein which binds itself to the EGF causes the growth of the epithelial cells that line the intestine. Whenever you have lots of cell growth, then mutations in new cells cause cancers. Intestinal cells are replaced every 4-6 days, sot hat’s a lot of cell growth going on. It’s actually amazing that intestinal cancers aren’t even more prevalent.
So, while a certain healthy level of EGFR is needed for normal cell growth, too much can cause more problems.
TRPV1 is activated by the EGFR and stops the positive feedback loop, or slows it. Since capsaicin causes an increase in TRPV1, it is assumed that capsaicin can slow the rate of epithelial cell creation and gene mutations, thus lowering the incidence of tumor development.
Whew, what a mouthful.
So, while not proven completely in humans, this can be a good sign for chili heads and spicy food lovers.
Even if it were proven, it doesn’t mean that every spicy food lover would be protected, as some people have a higher incidence of being affected by such things and those genetics would be stronger.
There are plenty of chili heads that have unfortunately been killed by bowel cancer, but, this is still a promising development and the observations can lead to medicines that could work much better than mere spicy foods.
Such is the world of disease research.
So, stay motivated, my friends, and keep eating spicy. (or take a supplement)
It can’t hurt you.