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Black pepper could help fight obesity

8th May 2012

A key ingredient in black pepper - the same ingredient that induces sneezing - may be beneficial in fighting obesity, new research has shown.


South Korean researchers writing in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry say that they may have narrowed down the fat-fighting effects of black pepper to a key substance.

Research in the laboratory on piperine, a pungent chemical that gives black pepper its taste, showed that it can block the formation of new fat cells.

According to researchers Soo-Jong Um, Ji-Cheon Jeong and colleagues, previous studies have indicated that piperine reduces fat levels in the bloodstream and has other beneficial health effects.

Both black peppercorns and the black pepper plant itself have centuries of history in traditional medicine, including Ayurvedic medicine, as a treatment for gastrointestinal distress, pain, inflammation and other health problems.

Researchers said they set out to find out exactly how piperine works at a molecular level, because this was previously unknown to science in spite of the plant's long medicinal history.

Their findings suggested that piperine, a major component of black pepper, inhibits fat cell differentiation.

This makes the substance a candidate for potential use in the treatment of obesity-related diseases, although further studies would be needed to confirm their findings, the researchers said.

After the team studied the effects of piperine on gene expression in fat tissue in the laboratory and in computer models, researcher Ui-Hyun Park said that black pepper could offer a natural alternative for current obesity treatments.

The team's results showed that piperine interfered with the activity of genes responsible for forming new fat cells, setting up a chain reaction that helped keep the formation of fat in check in a multitude of ways.

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

Black pepper, known as marich in Ayurvedic traditions, is named after the Sanskrit word for the sun.

In that medicine tradition, it is said to contain very potent solar energy, and therefore produces energy within the body's system, having a heating and a drying effect.

The white-flowering shrub is native to South India, where it grows wild.

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