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Exploring the World of Spice and Smoke
Tags >> chiles and health

Chile StethescopeThe much sought after cure for cancer could be heating up. Recent findings from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center suggests that capsaicin, the active chemical compound that gives chile peppers their heat, may reduce and even block chronic inflammation pathways in cancer cells.

In an article posted on MD Anderson’s blog, professor in the Department of Experimental Therapeutics, Dr. Bharat Aggarwal, Ph.D., points out that, "Symptoms common in cancer patients, such as depression, fatigue, neuropathic pain, metastases and tumor growth, are due to inflammation. By using capsaicin, we can inhibit these things."

While capsaicin has long been linked to boosting metabolism, lowering the risk of ulcers, and reducing muscle pain and inflammation, scientists say its cancer-curing potential has yet to be fully tapped. One problem holding scientists back?

"Chiles are a double-edged sword -- a little bit is good, but too much is bad," Aggarwal says. "Many people's stomachs can't handle red chile."

In a recent Phase III placebo-controlled trial at the Geisinger Clinical Oncology Program in Danville, Pa., many patients experienced discomfort with a topical capsaicin ointment. And while patients in the trial preferred the capsaicin to the placebo as a pain-reliever, the extreme heat of most pepper varieties may prove too hot to handle – for now, at least.

Read the full article from the MD Anderson Cancer Center here.


Fire BreatherLast week, a judge at the Fiery Foods Challenge, a spicy food contest held in conjunction with Texas-based festival, ZestFest 2011, was hospitalized after sampling an entry. The blind entry in the hot sauce category was described as a “nightmare in a bottle” by another of the contest judges. Speculators have suggested the sauce may have contained the extract capsaicin, the chemical that gives chile peppers their heat.

“Our best wishes for a swift recovery go out to the judge injured in the Fiery Foods Challenge this week,” said Dave DeWitt, owner and producer of the Fiery Foods and Barbecue Show in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “Safety is the most important thing when testing fiery foods. Chemical additives such as capsaicin only increase the necessity for proper precautions.”

“At the Fiery Foods Show, exhibitors are required to have warning signage at their booths and to taste only on the end of toothpicks,” said DeWitt.

In addition to producing the Fiery Foods Show—the largest hot foods trade show in the country, DeWitt also hosts the annual Scovie Awards, a contest that judges the best food products in the hot foods industry. Judges who participate in the superhot category of the Scovies (including products containing the capsaicin extract) are required to sign a waiver before the contest and to test products separately, overseen at all times by a designated monitor.

Judges at the Scovies are provided with several different, thick coolants, such as yogurt and ice cream—the same cooling agents that members of the public should use when tasting fiery foods. Dairy and alcohol products are particularly effective in counteracting the heat associated with chile peppers; capsaicin dissolves in the fats contained in dairy. Water is a relatively useless cooling agent. Other methods used to combat the heat from peppers include tasting small samples in order to gauge heat levels, and building a tolerance to heat over time before tackling superhots.

With the proper precautions, the general public can avoid overexposure to the “fire” in fiery foods and enjoy the spice of life.

Extras:

Check out this video from Dave DeWitt on how to avoid chile pepper burnout!


The Pepper EaterSometimes it’s easy to forget that producing fiery foods is more than just a passion – in many parts of the world, chile production and processing is a necessity. Dried red pepper is the one of the most widely consumed spices in the world, eaten daily by one-quarter of the world’s population. Chile peppers are one of the oldest domesticated crops. Civilizations in South America grew chile peppers for food and medicinal purposes, and after peppers were introduced to other parts of the globe more than 500 years ago, chiles became important in developing nations for their economic value. Ethiopia alone consumes 466 million kilograms of pepper annually, with an estimated 400,000 women in Ethiopia processing peppers for income.Women Processing Peppers

Inspired by stories of Ethiopian women bringing in income by processing peppers by hand, a team from the Hassno Plattner Design Institute at Stanford University developed the Pepper Eater—an affordable hand-cranked pepper grinder. Pepper processing is exhausting work that turns fresh peppers into higher-value products: dried flakes, seeds, and powder. The procedure can cause severe irritation in the skin, eyes, and noses from exposure to pepper oil containing capsaicin, pepper dust in the air can cause respiratory issues. The Pepper Eater produces dried pepper flakes about 2-4 times faster than current manual methods while greatly reducing the health risks associated with processing chiles.

The design team included Samuel Hamner, Megan Kerins, Siobhan Nolan, and Scott Sadlon, a group of Stanford Engineering and Business grad students. After successfully conducting an on-the-ground feasibility study in September 2009, Sam and Scott are continuing as an independent design and strategy team with the goal of implementing the Pepper Eater in Ethiopia and other developing markets. Most recently, they have partnered with Compatible Technology International and have been featured in National Geographic Magazine to help them achieve their goal and gain exposure for the project.

Interested in learning more about the project, or donating? Visit: www.thepeppereater.org.

Sources & images for this article provided by:

www.thepeppereater.org

http://socialelab.org/?page_id=103


A study in the journal Cancer Research appears to link capsaicin, a component of chili peppers, to skin cancer. This is a misinterpretation of the data, according to SuperSite Publisher Dave DeWitt, international authority on chili peppers and author of more than forty books about peppers, including The Healing Powers of Peppers. The study was focused specifically on the topical application of capsaicin, not on chili peppers as food. To quote the study itself, “capsaicin alone does not act as a carcinogen.”

Toxic Chemicals Caused Tumors, Not Capsaicin

Researchers at The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota, treated the skin of mice with a mixture of TPA and DMBA, two powerful and highly toxic tumor-producing chemicals. The mice were virtually guaranteed to develop skin cancer. Some were treated with a mixture of the chemicals plus capsaicin, and some were treated with capsaicin only.

While study results indicated that combining capsaicin with the chemicals “might promote cancer cell survival,” the report clearly stated that the control group of mice treated only with capsaicin “…did not induce any skin tumors…” In addition, the study repeatedly cited other research studies in which the anti-cancer properties of capsaicin were solidly demonstrated. A link to the full article can be found here.


 

Chile Pepper HeartGood news for chile lovers: A recent study has found that long-term consumption of chile peppers may help lower blood pressure. Capsaicin is the compound in chile peppers that gives them their spicy kick; along with its heat properties, the compound works to relax muscles, including blood vessels.  The new study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, is the first to examine long-term effects of capsaicin consumption in mice. Researchers found that long-term consumption increased the production of nitric oxide, which is known to protect blood vessels against inflammation and dysfunction. Many other health benefits are already attributed to chile peppers, such as reducing inflammation, headaches, and arthritis pain. Researchers of this most recent study concluded that further analysis should be done on humans to determine the full benefits of capsaicin. In the meantime, be sure to eat plenty of salsa!

Source:

Cell Metabolism: Activation of TRPV1 by Dietary Capsaicin Improves Endothelium-Dependent Vasorelaxation and Prevents Hypertension


Chef Hymie Grandé

Thanks to Jamie Faitelson, a.k.a. Chef Hymie Grandé, diabetics now can choose from a trio of barbecue sauces with no high fructose corn syrup or processed sugars. The sauces are vegan friendly and all natural. It is also the first BBQ sauce to carry the American Diabetes Association mark on the bottle’s label, meaning it meets the ADA specifications.  Chef Hymie Grandé also donates a portion of the proceeds from every bottle sold to the American Diabetes Association. “Chef Hymie Grandé sauces are a unique blend of everything you would want in a barbeque sauce or rub. They taste great, but don’t have all the processed sugar or high fructose corn syrup that nutritionists everywhere are in agreement is so bad for you, says Faitelson.  He adds, “We use agave syrup as a natural sweetener—although it is much more expensive—but isn’t a healthier sauce with great taste worth it?”

You can order the barbecue sauce online here. If you live near New Jersey, the website has a list of stores that carry the sauces as well.


chemical makeup of cocaine

Twenty-six cases of people in the 1990s who died unexpectedly while in police custody after being doused with pepper spray might be explained by a toxic reaction caused by capsaicin in the spray. It seems that pepper spray intensifies the effect of cocaine and other psychostimulants, resulting in death. All the victims had either cocaine or another psychostimulant in their bloodstreams. Laboratory tests on mice support the evidence that mixing capsaicin and cocaine makes for a very bad high. Read more here.

 


Back in 1994-95, the big chile pepper story was that eating the pods caused stomach cancer.  We investigated this allegation and published this report.  Back  then I wrote, "Let's put this absurdity to rest right now.  Despite all the mass media hype and paranoia, there is not one bit of credible evidence linking chile peppers with causing any type of cancer.   Period."  Here is the full story.


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