Even if you are not a fan of black pepper, you have likely sprinkled some of these ground up dried fruit berries from time to time for added taste. Pepper has a way of bringing flavours together and this ability also carries over into extensive list of health benefits. Let us continue discussing the wellness benefits of this powerhouse spice.

Health Benefits of Black Pepper – Part 1

Black Pepper’s powerful health benefits continue

spices black pepper

Helps fight bacterial infections

The antibacterial properties of black pepper have been used for generations to treat toothaches and other mouth related diseases. Extensive list of phytonutrients makes black pepper a mighty antibacterial and antimicrobial agent, preventing the spread of various infections. [5]  For example, malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by Plasmodium parasite which is often carried and transmitted through a bite of infected mosquito. A recent study showed piperine to be an effective insecticide (larvicide) against larval life of such malaria carrying mosquito species.  [52]

Black pepper’s potent anti-inflammatory properties also produce other antibacterial effects.  Research identified black pepper to help fight off food-born infection caused by escherichia coli (E. coli) as well as staphylococcus (staff) bacteria. The pepper oil extracts decreased an important DNA enzyme within these bacterial strains, thus slowing down their replication. [53]

Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria is usually found in the stomach and may cause chronic stomach line inflammation (gastritis), peptic ulcers and in some cases stomach cancer. H. pylori uses its small-looking tentacles called flagella to bury itself in the inner mucus lining of the stomach in order to avoid exposure to gastric acids. Piperine is shown to effect H. pyroli’s flagella coding genes, suppressing their expression. This results in much smaller or incomplete set of tentacles which are inefficient to move around and dig itself into stomach lining, leaving H. pyroli exposed to the stomach acids. [54]

Promotes weight-loss

We all know that black pepper is a spice which can make you sneeze and sweat. In addition, study after study confirms that this black gold is also great for weight loss. Our metabolism is complex, made up of vast biochemical highways which uptake, use, convert and store energy for all body functions. As science expands the understanding of these systems, it looks at different ingredients which may affect them. Black pepper happens to be one of such ingredients. 

Managing bodyweight overlaps with number of very heavily researched areas such as obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other metabolic disorders which all investigate similar elements. Since black pepper may hold numerous benefits, the volume of research literature on its applicability is expansive to say the least. The following is our summation of current understanding on the effect of black pepper on body weight and composition.

Majority of research on metabolic disorders including excess body weight is experimented on animals. Often these animals have diet-induced obesity, which share many symptoms with human obesity and metabolic syndrome, and hence make good study models. Black pepper is great when it comes to improving metabolic activity and losing weight. The outer layer of the peppercorn contains numerous phytonutrients which increase fat metabolism, and burn more calories in the process. Peppercorn’s main active ingredient piperine is again a major player within the weight-loss process.

Piperine

Animal studies showed that piperine is an effective tool in decreasing overall cholesterol and blood lipids, even when eating a high-fat high-carbohydrate diet. [35]. Piperine affects the production of fat cells. Like any cell in the body, a fat cell or adipocyte, requires maintenance in order to store our energy in several forms of fats (eg: triglycerides). When we consume more food than we need, the body tries to store it, and the preferred form is fat. To us, fat may seem like an unattractive, jiggly stuff that undesirably sits around our waist, arms, hips and thighs. But to the body, fat is yellow gold—literally. It’s very stable, low maintenance (doesn’t need other things like water (i.e. glucose) to store it) and it packs twice the energy than sugars or proteins (when broken down and converted to sugar equivalent substrates). So, for the body, fat is not just good stuff, its great. This great investment needs to be stored, and adipocytes are it. 

Excess food intake triggers the production of more fat cells through a process known as adipogenesis where pre-adipocyte cells divide (in similar way as we see in mitosis). [55]  Due to all of health related and metabolic conditions associated with excess weight gain, adipogenesis is currently one of the most researched models. What scientists uncovered is that, there are set of receptor type proteins called peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) which play a big role in activating the genes for various cellular development and metabolism. [56]  One particular version PPARγ (gamma) has been identified as a strong regulator of adipogenesis. PPARγ has huge potentials as it plays significant roles in improving insulin resistance, anti-inflammatory response and even decreasing cancer growth. But when it comes to fat cells, it activates an evolution-type pathway of energy storage, which in today’s age is common with obesity and type 2 diabetes. [57]  Test tube and animal studies show that piperine decreases adipogenesis process by disrupting (not damaging) interaction between PPARγ and its activators. This decreases PPARγ activity which slows down and even stops fat cell growth and development. [58]  Another animal study showed a reduction in overall body fat (and all fat types) as well as size of fat cells after 8 weeks of oral piperine supplementation. Here, piperine improved liver health by decreasing PPARs activity and fat deposit in hepatic tissue. [59]

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is a molecule that transfers energy within the cell. For metabolism, ATP is the universal currency for energy accepted by all tissues. Now, fat (free fatty acids) and sugar (glucose) are stored forms of energy, and would have to be converted to ATP either by aerobic (with oxygen) or anaerobic (without oxygen) pathways. ATPase is the enzyme that accepts ATP and uses its energy to power reactions in all cell areas, like cellular gradients (Potassium (K+) / Sodium (Na+) pump) or muscle contractions. Muscle is an active tissue requiring a lot of maintenance and energy. Studies show that piperine is able to increase ATPase and the “readiness” of contractile proteins inside fast twitch muscles. [60] Used ATPs are re-assembled back using energy from food body storages (adipose fat and glycogen). The more you use, the more you need to replenish, increasing caloric expenditure and weight loss.

Black pepper is a good source of fiber which has been extensively shown to slow down digestion of food. Small doses of piperine have been shown to delay movement of solid foods through digestive system of animals. [61]  Longer digestion times improve satiety and decrease hunger.

Piperonal

Black pepper has another active ingredient known as piperonal or hellotropin. This aromatic compound is a distant relative of piperine and is found in various plants such as dill, vanilla, violet flowers and black pepper. It can be created (synthesized) in the lab and is part of various pharmaceutical drugs, artificial flavours and fragrances. [62]

Though piperonal does not appear to inhibit appetite, it shows similar effects when it comes to high-fat diet as piperine. Piperonal tests are shown to improve insulin sensitivity, increasing overall metabolism and use sugars and fats to fuel muscles and other body tissues. [63] High-fat diets increase fat and starch digestive enzymes like amylase and lipase within digestive track and blood. Piperonal supplements decreased amylase and lipase levels, preventing the breakdown of large fat and sugar molecules, which are much harder to absorb and store. [64] Piperonal was also among the active ingredients of pepper mixture showing significant decrease in total cholesterol, triglycerides, free fatty acids and plasma lipids in blood as well as liver tissue. Piperonal lowered levels of PPARs, in particularly PPARγ creating a cascade type effect on other regulatory proteins towards weight loss. [59]  One of these regulatory proteins is called mitochondrial uncoupling protein 2 (UCP2). UCP2 is part of the energy pathway (electron transport chain—within mitochondria) that produces heat (thermogenesis) by burning fat in the process. An animal study showed that using piperonal supplements of 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight appeared to increase UPC2 levels, burning more energy in the process, while increasing levels of antioxidant enzymes (SOD, CAT, GPx) and GSH. [64]

Reduces Muscle and Joint Pain

Due to soothing, antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties, black pepper essential oils have been used for centuries in folk practices treating muscle and joint pain. Studies in animals show piperine can reduce pain symptoms with small doses of 5 milligram per kilogram of body weight, the equivalent to 1/6th of a teaspoon for human intake. [65] With higher doses of 30 to 70 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, black pepper’s anti-inflammatory potency significantly increased showing similar effect to common pain relieving NSAIDs such as indomethacin, aspirin or ibuprofen. [66]

Treats All Inflammation

Black pepper’s extensive phytonutrient profile which include vitamins, minerals, proteins and carbohydrates makes it a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. Repeated studies have shown piperine to be effective in protecting tissues against oxidative stress in rheumatoid arthritis. Piperine consumption decreased the inflammation causing proteins (cytokines) such as TNF-alpha, interleukin 1 beta (IL-1b) and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), while increasing inflammation reducing proteins such as interleukin 10 (IL-10), as well antioxidant enzyme activity. [67]

MAPK/ERK pathway is a cell signalling systems that is made up of protein signalling chain stretched from cell surface proteins with receptor and moving deep into the nucleus and DNA.  This complex system works similar to a domino effect by initial activation of the surface receptor, cascading the signal downwards into the nucleus, and activating specific genes within DNA to produce coded products. Mutation with any protein in this “domino” line can cause the entire system to malfunction and get stuck either in the “on” or “off” mode, causing cancerous cell growth. [68] [69]  NF-kB is a protein complex inside cell nucleus that controls the decoding (transcription) of DNA genes that code inflammatory response proteins (cytokines). [70]  Piperine’s anti-inflammatory effect decreases NF-kB activation resulting in less cytokine (such as TNF-alpha, IL-6, and IL-1beta) production. Less inflammation keeps low levels of white blood cells and build-up of excess lung fluid. [71]  Also, piperine supplements are shown to significantly decrease inflammation within animal uterus (endometritis) due to lower activity of specific messaging proteins within both MAPK/ERK and NF-kB pathways. [72]

Ulcers are painful sores caused by stress, strong stomach acid, medication or bacteria H. pylori . Ulcers form due to continuous inflammation in the stomach, lower esophagus or small intestine lining. As seen before, black pepper is rich in antioxidants which can help reduce and even prevent ulcer formations from various causes. [54,73]

Reduces Allergies and Congestion

For centuries black pepper has been effectively providing respiratory relief, including asthma and allergies. Black pepper has been used in ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines for its ability to improve circulation and mucus flow. Allergies are a hypersensitive response by immune system to typically harmless things (allergens) in the environment. These allergens can be many things including food, dust particles and plants among others often causing stuffy and runny nose, itchy skin, sneezing, watery eyes and sore throat and coughing. When your immune system overreacts to an allergen, it produces antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (igE).  There are different types of IgEs, and each one specific to a particular allergen (making it react).  These antibodies travel to cells causing allergic reaction in the nose, lungs, throat or on the skin. [74]

Test tube research using specialized animal cells showed that piperine can bind to the surface and deactivate hyper-inflammatory response through messaging sequence of calcium (Ca2+) channels. Scientists believe that by binding directly to the cells, piperine interferes with IgE signalling pathways causing its inhibition. This prevents histamine release and decreases circulation of inflammatory causing cytokines (TNF-alpha, IL-4, and IL-13). [75]  Some animal studies confirm test tube results of piperine’s powerful anti-histaminic and antiallergic profile.  Animals with allergic rhinitis showed improved allergic symptoms including reduced sneezing and nose-rubbing. Biochemically, those animals showed decreases in histamine, nitric oxide (NO), IgE and inflammation causing cytokines (IL-6, IL-1b, IL-2 and interferon-γ (IFNγ)). [76] [77]

Asthma can also stem from an allergic response. Asthma is a condition where the smooth muscle cells within the airway are hypersensitive or inflamed leading to restriction of the area. Due to growing literature about “power of spice” more people are turning to traditional or herbalist type treatments in search for solutions. One Caribbean study looked at asthmatic patients using herbal and spice remedies, including black pepper. Patient who used black pepper experienced relief in asthmatic symptoms. [78]

Ease Anxiety and Cigarette Cravings

From allergy causing reactions and asthma to smoking, black pepper assists in healing it all. Human studies have shown that black pepper oils may reduce cigarette cravings and anxiety related symptoms when smokers are in need of a puff. Compared to control groups, participants who puffed vapor derived from black pepper essential oils reported significant reduction of cigarette cravings and associated anxiety. Scientists believe that pepper’s active ingredients positively interacted with respiratory tract producing withdrawal symptoms. [79]  Another human study showed that black pepper oil reduced nicotine craving, creating longer times before smokers desire for the next puff. [80]

Improves Bioavailability

We refer to black pepper is the key to many doors. It is a powerhouse full of phytonutrients possessing numerous health benefits. It has been known for almost 40 years that black pepper, and piperine in particular possess this incredible ability to elevate the “bioavailability” of other compounds. [81,82]. These compounds can be nutrients, vitamins and/or drugs. For example, cancer research has shown that piperine can profoundly increase bioavailability of curcumin, an active compound found in turmeric, as much as 154 percent in small animals and by 2000 percent in humans. [34,37,83]  Boosting overall nutrient efficiency of our diet is a big reason to season our foods with crushed peppercorns.

Piperine is also shown to increase bioavailability of drugs, and often used as part of the specific treatment. This is a good thing, especially when it comes to stronger drug treatments with extensive or unpleasant side effects. Piperine does this amazing feat in two ways:

  • increasing the absorption of drugs and nutrients within the digestive tract by stimulating gut amino acid (small parts which make up proteins) transporters, and
  • inhibiting metabolizing enzymes in the liver (such as CYP3A4, CYP2E1, CYP1B1, and CYP1B2) which often destroy drugs before they’re able to reach intended tissues. [82] [84]

Because of such unique and important ability, black pepper and piperine in particular has been a part of vast research covering many relating topics. Through this research, piperine’s bioavailability powers have been shown to increase various natural and pharmaceutical compounds used to treat various diseases. [84,85,86]

Such drugs include:

  • supplements such as beta carotene and resveratrol,
  • NSAID anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen,
  • anti-epileptic medication like carbamazepine,
  • allergy drugs such as fexofendine,
  • antibiotics like norfloxacin and ampicillin trihydrate,
  • antivirals like nevirapine
  • anti-diabetic medication like glimepiride, metformin and nateglinide
  • cancer therapy such as docetaxel.

Micronutrient Profile

A little goes a long way, and all you need is a pinch. Black pepper is a great source of (1 tbsp serving) manganese (18% of the daily value (DV), vitamin K (13% of DV), iron (10% of DV), and dietary fiber (7% of DV). [87] The essential oils of peppercorns contain the main active ingredient—piperine—which has repeatedly shown to ease aches, pains and relieve symptoms of many health conditions. 

Black pepper is not a food, but a spice, and should be consumed in low to moderate quantities.  When used with other ingredients such as turmeric, fenugreek, cinnamon, and cumin, it formulates a powerful tonic blend.

With current diet, we often don’t get enough important vitamins, minerals and elements that not only participate in benefits discussed in this article, but also take part in numerous metabolic processes which maintain body’s function and fitness levels. Here’s the content list of black pepper’s macro-, micro- and phytonutrients:

  • protein
  • carbohydrates
  • dietary fiber
  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • omega-6 fatty acids
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • vitamin B3 (niacin)
  • vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
  • vitamin B9 (folate)
  • vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid)
  • vitamin E (alpha tocopherol)
  • vitamin K
  • choline
  • betaine
  • calcium
  • potassium
  • copper
  • magnesium
  • manganese
  • zinc
  • selenium
  • phosphorus
  • iron
  • phytosterols

Black pepper has been a big part of folk remedies of many nations, and for good reasons. For instance, its nutrient content makes black pepper a viable agent in increasing male fertility.  Though the research on this topic is thin, ancient practices have a long history of using this spice to increase testosterone production in men. The bioactive pathways of producing this sex hormones do involve zinc and magnesium—two minerals black pepper has in abundance. This also leads to increased sperm count and mobility.

Possible Drawbacks

Does this black gold have any side effects?

Well, not really, but looking hard enough, will bring out a few caution flags.

Black pepper is an irritant and will cause redness and burning of the eyes. If it gets into your nose, you’ll likely begin to sneeze. Now, this is not necessarily an allergic reaction, but simply a response by the body’s tissue. These irritant qualities make pepper the main active ingredient in commercial products such as pepper spray, bear spray and mace.

Piperine may also affect pregnancy. There is often a word of caution for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding to not use a lot of black pepper. The suspicion is that high piperine consumption may increase risk of miscarriage. In animal studies, piperine injections reduced implantation of eggs by 50 percent. The goal of the study was to observe an adverse affects as piperine was injected directly into the uterus at higher concentrations, rather than ingested orally. The injected piperine interfered with attachment of the fertilized eggs to the uterus. [88]  This study may have some relativity to contraceptive applications, but yields little relevance in real world, as we don’t subject potential pregnant women to uterine injections of piperine. Consequences for breast feeding on high piperine diets are not exactly known, but the thought process and caution is similar. 

Another possible concern is about pipperine’s bioavailability. The same mechanisms that improve nutrients, supplements and drugs can possibly increase certain toxins. This research is fairly dated, and we didn’t see any recent studies showing significant accumulation of toxins due to piperine. There is some scientific research discussing toxic compound build up in the liver however, being body’s greatest filter, more research is needed to narrow down piperine’s involvement.

Many scientific papers report piperine to be non-toxic compound with few side effects. The same human study that increased curcumin by 2000 percent stated that piperine supplement caused no adverse effects. And, only few reported mild nausea and gut discomfort. [83]  Animal studies showed that piperine levels of 250 times the average human consumption produced no toxic side effect. [1]

Final Thoughts

In today’s world, we often leave a pepper shaker on the side. However, the benefits of black pepper are simply incredible. Black pepper is the key to many doors. Its ability to drastically enhance flavour of almost any dish, pales in comparison to its health properties and applications. Ancient medicinal practices used this spice to heal many conditions from ear-aches to gangrene. 

Hundreds of years ago, Kings and Queens of Europe invested in entire expeditions in hopes of transporting more of this black gold as quickly as possible.

Piperine is the chemical that makes black pepper spicy. It prevents inflammation and oxidative stress and holds enormous potential in fighting many serious diseases like diabetes, cancers, and Parkinson’s. It also helps with digestion, weight loss while improving bioavailability of other food nutrients, drugs and supplements. It’s no wonder this amazing spice is considered the “King of Spices”.

DUPIsCHAI Blends

The philosophy of Dupi’s Chai, is to craft unique tea and spice blends with extensive health benefits. Our blends are inspired by past traditions, combined with modern science, producing  amazing chai that is smooth, fragrant, tasty and most importantly—healthy. We extensively researched and tested our blends, perfecting each formula. Arise and Fortify blends both contain black pepper for the above mentioned benefits.

Black pepper is one of the seven spices in the Arise Chai. This blend is packed with antioxidants and other ingredients scientifically proven to boost metabolism, improve memory and cognition, combat inflammation, fight infections, elevate organ health and function.

Fortify Chai is our contemporary take on the ever-famous “golden milk”. Ayurvedic medicine used ginger/turmeric tonics thousands of years ago to heal many health conditions. However, both ginger and turmeric carry strong odours and pungent taste, which is challenging to consume. We solved this palette hurdle with our Fortify Chai. Here, the green tea and holy basil (tulsi)—benefits of these are equally impressive—have been harmoniously balanced with ginger, turmeric, fennel and black pepper. This East meets West formula creates a warm, earthy, yet slightly minty smell that is delicious simply steeped in hot water.

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