Black pepper is the most widely used spice in the world, and found in every kitchen cabinet side by side with salt. Known as the King of Spices, black pepper is actually a fruit. The pepper plant is a vine producing small berry size peppercorns which are dried prior to use. These spicy-dried-peppercorn-berries have been enticing taste buds and enhancing meals of many cultures for thousands of years. Peppercorns produce a sharp and spicy aroma enhancing natural flavours of seasoned foods. Besides livening up dishes, black pepper’s taste comes from active ingredients which possess immense healing properties used as natural remedies for many generations. In this article, we’ll discuss this marvellous ingredient and its ability to elevate flavours but, more importantly the vast number of health and wellness benefits of this potent spice.

So, whether you’re looking to boost metabolism, detoxify or simply add more plant-forward superfoods to your diet—we have the chai tea for you!

Highlights

What is Black Pepper?

The History of Black Pepper

Black Pepper’s powerful health benefits

– Antioxidant benefits

– Free Radicals and Oxidative Stress

– Antioxidant Power

Detoxifies the Body

Improves Brain Health

Combats Neurological Disorders

May Help Fight Cancer

– What is Cancer?

Lowers Bad Cholesterol

– What is bad about cholesterol?

Combats Metabolic Syndrome

Improves Digestive Health

Final Thoughts

What is Black Pepper?

Belonging to the Piperaceae family, and scientifically called Piper nigrum, black pepper plant is a vine which produces small fruit peppercorns. The peppercorns are dried and used as spice and seasoning. Though black pepper is the most common type of spice used, there are actually four varieties of peppercorns:

  • Black peppercorns are the most common variety. These are first cooked and then dried.
  • Green peppercorns are the unripe version of the dried fruit.
  • White peppercorns are taken from nearly ripe peppercorns and the skin is removed.
  • Red peppercorns are fully mature fruit and are very rare. This is not a common type of peppercorns and often not mentioned in text.

As a fruit, peppercorns contain numerous phytonutrients including, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fiber. Pepper’s essential oils contain its main bioactive ingredient (alkaloid) called piperine, which produces uniquely strong and pungent smell, and taste flavour. [1]

Piperine can be considered as “the key that opens many doors”. In terms of health benefits, piperine products have been used to relieve pain of aching muscles and joints, ease digestive issues while improving brain activity and mood. Black pepper has also shown anti-bacterial, antioxidant and immune enhancing properties. As a stimulant, piperrine can increase metabolism while improving blood circulation and organ function. [1,2]

The second notable power of piperine is its unique ability to increase bioavailability—absorption into blood stream and effectiveness—of other bioactive compounds. This makes piperine an important research topic for many drugs, supplements and cosmetic products.

black pepper in bowlThe History of Black Pepper

The king of spices’ long history of seasoning and medicinal usage is believed to originate from a native plant in Kerala state of South India over 4000 years ago. The pepper plant can grow throughout the year, and has been exported to neighbouring countries around Malabar Coast (of South India). Since ancient times, black pepper was one of the most widely-traded spices in the world. 

Records show that the ancient spice trade between India and the West dates back over 3000 years. Black pepper was transported by sea in ships, as well as the caravans through the “Silk Road”. Ancient Greece and Rome valued black pepper as currency and accepted it as payments for rent, taxes, and at times as ransom demands. The Romans loved black pepper, as the world’s oldest known cookbook contains 80 percent of pepper flavoured recipes.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Arabic traders took over the spice trade. By the 10th century, pepper was the most desired spice as its trade spread across Europe. The traders controlled the shipping lines, growing the demand for this lucrative spice and raising the peppercorn prices to luxury status. In medieval Europe, phrases like “black gold” or “pepper expensive” were used to describe this peppery fruit.

After 14th century, other countries began establishing their own trading routes by refusing to pay highly inflated pepper rates. This began the explorer’s age as Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Columbo), Vasco de Gama and Francis Drake were sent on missions of discovering the “black gold” sea routes. Columbus turned right instead of left, sailing to Americas and returning back to Spain with ships loaded with chilly peppers; which he thought were black pepper. This was the first introduction of chilly peppers to the world, but at the time were worthless, compared to lucrative black peppercorns. Vasco de Gama was successful in reaching India, bringing back the desired pepper and cinnamon (and later other spices) back to Portugal.

Black pepper was also regarded for its powerful health properties. Ancient folk remedies used this spice to treat a vast array of ailments. For example, Ayurvedic medicine used black pepper to treat various conditions, from vision problems, tooth and ear aches to gangrene. Pepper trading also reached far east to ancient Egypt. During archaeological digs, peppercorns were found stuffed inside the nostrils of Ramses the Great’s mummified remains.

Over time, other countries such as Netherlands, England, France and Denmark engaged in the open ocean spice trade, making black pepper more accessible and less expensive as the result. Lower prices led to the inclusion of black pepper in many recipes and blends of common Indian, Moroccan, French and Cajun dishes. [3]

Today, Vietnam is the largest producer and exporter of black pepper, contributing around 34 percent world wide. India, Brazil and Indonesia are the other top pepper developing countries.

Black Pepper’s powerful health benefits

Black pepper is a versatile product capable of exciting the senses, tastebuds and positively affect numerous body systems. Its thermogenic properties enhance metabolic function and energy, while improving both physical and psychological abilities. Today’s science identified piperine as the main ingredient of the peppercorn responsible for its numerous health benefits. Lets take a closer look, into the power of this spicy black fruit-berry.

Antioxidant benefits

Free Radicals and Oxidative Stress

The body’s metabolism goes through millions of biochemical reactions, naturally producing free radicals and other byproducts that may be toxic or cause damage to our internal molecules and cells. Having some free radicals is not a bad thing, as our immune system keeps a balanced free radical/antioxidant reserve for protection against foreign invaders. However, when the body’s free radical levels rise, they react not only with available antioxidants but with all types of molecules that they can steal an electron from. Many of these molecules happen to be part of important cellular components and DNA; resulting in structural damage. The body imitates an immune response to repair the damage caused by free radicals through inflammation. This shift of free radical levels is often referred to as oxidative stress.

Antioxidant Power

Number of environmental factors such as diet, smoking, poor air quality, emotional stress or extreme physical exercise further increase our free-radical production and oxidative stress. Today’s science links chronic inflammation as one of the common causing ailments. From seasonal allergies to life threatening diseases such as dementia, metabolic syndrome and cancers; all have been attributed to elevated oxidative stress. This is where antioxidants play an important role by seeking out free radicals, neutralizing their harmful effects and protecting internal systems. 

Black pepper is full of powerful active compounds such as vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients; ranking it #24 on the ORAC top 100 list for antioxidant value among all of the foods and beverages across the world. [4]  The peppercorns’ potent antioxidants boost immunity, improve digestion and brain function; while decreasing and even preventing inflammation causing conditions including cancerous tumors. [5] 

High-fat diet is among the every day contributing risk factors of free radical production. Black pepper’s micronutrients have been repeatedly shown to reduce oxidative stress in high calorie diets. Piperine is the main compound responsible for much of the black pepper’s health and wellness glory. It protects against oxidative stress in several ways.

  • First, by directly seeking out and reacting with free radicals (like hydroxyl and superoxide) in the body. [6]
  • Secondly, by increasing enzymes which neutralize free radicals, like superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), glutathione peroxidase (GPx), gluthatione-S-transferase (GST) and glutathione (GSH) in high-fat diet animals, thereby decreasing the oxidative stress. [7,8]

Detoxifies the Body

Black pepper’s phytonutrients including piperine have shown biotransformation abilities. This involves a minor chemical alteration of nutrients, amino acids, toxins and drugs, which improve the absorption or excretion process. [9] This makes black pepper especially valuable for increasing nutrient or drug absorption and bioavailability into our systems. [10]  Due to this unique power, piperine is often placed as one of the ingredients inside many digestive supplements. 

Piperine’s biotransformation potential has also been shown to detoxify the body by removing accumulated byproducts while reducing inflammation. These observations were again noted in animals on high-fat-high-sugar diet where piperine decreased blood pressure and inflammation while improving liver function and blood sugar tolerance. [11]

Shop Fortify Chai (w/ Black Pepper): Earthy and Balanced flavours – Looseleaf or TeabagsFortify Chai Looseleaf Improves Brain Health

Black pepper is a superfood containing many powerful bioactive compounds. These compounds produce a multitude of antioxidant responses within the most important organ in the body—the brain. Ancient Ayurvedic medicine used pepper in more than 150 remedies improving body function including brain activity. Modern research confirms black pepper’s positive effect of enhanced memory and cognition, even in neurodegenerative cases.

There is a growing body of research that shows how oxidative stress and increased levels of free radicals, negatively affect memory as we age. This decline is noticed by the damage of fats within cell structures (lipid peroxidation), decrease in antioxidant enzymes, while raising activity of enzymes which break down neural messengers (acetylcholine esterase (AChE)). [12] 

As previously mentioned, pipeline’s powerful antioxidant abilities directly react with free radicals, and increase activity of free radical fighting enzymes (such as SOD, CAT, GPx, GST and GSH). These protective skills not only effect animals on high-fat diets, but extend to degenerating age-related tissue, memory and cognitive malfunction. [8,13] Studies show, piperine fed animals with dementia symptoms retained longer memories and improved cognition and learning capacity compared to the non-piperine counterparts. [14,15,16]

[Designed as a morning-style tea, one of the many important benefits of our Arise Chai is its ability to improve focus and cognition. Black pepper combined with seven other ingredients in this blend works together to accomplish this very important task].

Combats Neurological Disorders

Black pepper’s antioxidant abilities were further tested against number of neural disorders including depression and various forms of dementia. Piperine is again at the research forefront showing great benefit for people suffering from depression. Piperine inhibits an enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO) which breaks down serotonin and dopamine—the calming and feel-good neurotransmitters. [17]  Low levels of both of these neurotransmitters are the key markers of several neural diseases including depression, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. The treatments often focus on increasing dopamine and serotonin in the brain, resulting in greater cognition, better mood and increased ability against neurological decay. [18] Animal studies showed that piperine was able to do just that, and decrease depression symptoms by significantly elevating serotonin levels in hippocampus, hypothalamus and frontal cortex portions of the brain. [19,20]

Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases are the two largest neurodegenerative disorders.  Scientific data shows that piperine improves motor coordination, learning capacity and brain activity of Parkinson’s diseased animals. Piperine triggers biochemical processes which further protect dopamine nerve cells, maintaining their integrity and preventing cell death. [21]  With Alzheimer’s disease, scientists identified the build up of several neurotoxic proteins in the brain leading to neuro-degeneration and dementia. Tests show that piperine protects nerve cells while reducing brain plaque formation seen with Alzheimer’s cases. [22] 

May Help Fight Cancer

What is Cancer?

Our body continuously needs to upkeep itself due to general wear and tear (old cells in need of replacements) or growth (adaptation requiring the body to build more of particular tissues, compounds, etc). Because of this cyclical requirement, our cells—depending on the type—regenerate themselves through replication process called mitosis. Mitosis is one of the three phases of a cell cycle, consisting of five steps where a cell divides into two identical cells.  Mitotic steps are done in sequence, ensuring that the mother cell has all necessary materials, resources, and information prior to final division. Like with anything in life, mistakes do happen. Mitotic errors where non-identical cells have been produced are called mutations. The body has a contingency plan for this kind of thing in form of programmed cell death (apoptosis), or destruction through the immune system response. But, sometimes the mutated cells do not self-destruct and begin to multiply at an alarming rate. Certain types of cancers come from such mutations.

Now, because cancer cells can replicate suddenly and without control, most of the research is done either in the test tubes, or animal models where tumor behaviour can be better analyzed and understood. Piperine and other phytonutrients of peppercorns showed numerous health benefits including cancer fighting abilities. This is a fast developing research which has been predominantly separated into two major areas.

  • One research area focuses on piperine as a cancer fighting agent.
  • The other, investigates piperine’s (and black pepper in general) capacity to improve transport of various ingredients from digestive track into bloodstream (bioavailability), thus amplifying overall health benefits.

Black pepper is identified as a potent anti-tumor compound. The active ingredient piperine revealed its powerful antioxidant abilities by directly seeking out free radicals and engaging cancerous growth and development. [5,10]

Animal studies showed that piperine prevented skin cancer (melanoma) tumour cells from spreading (metastasizing) to other parts of the body, improving overall survival rates. [23]  Similar results regarding piperine were also observed in breast cancer, where animal tumors were decreased and prevented from spreading. [24,25]  Piperine also decreased tumor growth in test tube and animal experiments using colon and prostate cancer cells. [26,27]

Piperine research identified messaging network within several pathways leading to decrease or prevention of tumor growth. For instance, piperine has been noted to cause apoptosis (programmed cell death) in number of cancer types, and it does this in several ways. Being a powerful antioxidant, piperine has an ability to create free radicals (also known as reactive oxygen species (ROS)) like hydroxyl which attack cancer cells. The same free radicals that piperine protects against in normal cells, it produces and sets loose inside cancer cells. These piperine made ROS’ strike down internal components including DNA inside colon and skin cancers. Damaged DNA initiates the failsafe destruct mechanism through a sequence of protein-protein messaging pathways—apoptosis. [26,28] 

Furthermore, piperine appears to reduce Cyclin B1 protein—the main protein which activates mitosis (or division) of a cell. Cyclin B1 is a regulatory protein and acts like a switch, and once turned-on, the mitotic phase begins, and cells goes through division. In normal cells, cyclin B1 levels are strictly regulated through intracellular safety mechanisms. However, in caner cells, there’s a lack of such regulations and cyclin B1 levels accumulate fast—leading to metastasis. [29]  Studies have shown that piperine reduces cyclin B1 levels, even in highly aggressive breast cancer cells, thus decreasing overall tumor growth. [23]

The other main cancer research area converges on black pepper’s bioavailability—the aid in absorption/transport of active compounds or drugs from intestinal tract into bloodstream. Piperine increased bioavailabitily of several cancer treating drugs within small animals, enhancing overall treatment against prostate, breast and ovarian tumors. [27,30,31]

Piperine also increases bioavailability of other phytonutrients such as selenium, curcumin, beta-carotene, and several types of vitamins—all of them containing health benefits and cancer fighting abilities. [32]

For example, in small animals, curcumin (active ingredient of turmeric) has been identified as a strong suppressor of lung cancer. [33]  Curcumin has a low bioavailability, as it’s rapidly broken down in the liver and intestinal wall, before getting a chance to be absorbed into bloodstream and delivered to target areas. Piperine has been shown to increase curcumin’s bioavailability (faster absorption into bloodstream and remained in the blood longer) by 154 percent in animals and a whooping 2000 percent in humans. This potent mixture greatly decreased many oxidative stress markers, while improving antioxidant enzymes, cognition and energy. [34,83]

Improves heart health by lowering blood pressure

Black pepper’s impressive anti-inflammatory phytonutrient profile can also improve heart health by lowering blood pressure and overall cholesterol levels. An antioxidant master, piperine is shown to decrease overall blood pressure and several other markers often seen with hypertension. To improve overall circulation and heart health, piperine appears to effect several biochemical pathways. Some studies show piperine enhancing vasomodulation (neuronal regulation of blood flow) by interacting with Calcium (Ca2+) ion channels and relaxing aorta walls in the same manner as the high blood-pressure medications. [35] 

Ayurvedic and other traditional medicines have utilized black pepper as a remedy to increase blood circulation while lowering high blood pressure. Often these historical tonics were made by mixing peppercorns with essential oils of cinnamon and/or turmeric to enhance the warming properties. [Our Fortify Chai is a similar tonic containing: cinnamon, ginger, turmeric and black pepper amongst other potent ingredients]

Modern science confirms the power of spice of these ancient remedies through black pepper’s ability to improve bioavailability of other ingredients. Feeding piperine to small animals lowered blood pressure and controlled it from rising just after 3 weeks. [36]  When combined with curcumin (active ingredient in turmeric), the positive effect on cardiovascular system greatly amplified. With boosted curcumin’s bioavailability, piperine improved nitrogen oxide (NO) levels and other active proteins responsible for arterial elasticity. [37]  NO is a multi-purpose molecule for the immune, nervous musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems, that uses connecting nerves to relax smooth muscles, including blood vessels via vasodilatation (relaxation). [38]

black pepper

Lowers Bad Cholesterol

With antioxidant properties, black pepper and its main active compound have been tested for overall lipid management. Black pepper is often recommended by medical practitioners to patients suffering from various forms of heart disease.

What is bad about cholesterol?

Modern diet often contains high fat content which negatively impacts blood circulation and some metabolic processes. High levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL)—sometimes referred to as “bad cholesterol”—have been associated with number of problems including increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and coronary artery disease. LDLs carry fats (such as cholesterol, triglycerides and phospholipids) around the body to designated cells. However, LDLs can be damaged through oxidation when they enter endothelium (a thin cell line that covers interior of blood vessels). Oxidized LDL particles get stuck in these arterial cell walls, and if not cleared, begin to gather more debris, eventually progressing into full atherosclerosis (a type of blood clot). [39]

Black pepper is an excellent source of manganese, vitamin K, and great source of dietary fiber and iron—all important components in managing high blood sugar and body lipid levels. Manganese has been found to possess great potential in combatting early signs of diabetes, by reducing blood sugar levels as well as LDLs. Animal studies show black pepper has great hypolipidemic (lipid-lowering) properties even when fed high-fat diets. Peppercorn’s phytonutrients lowered total cholesterol levels, free fatty acids, phospholipids and triglycerides. Numerous animal models on high fat-diets confirmed that black pepper reduced blood lipid levels. In just three weeks of eating black pepper, the animals experienced an overall cholesterol drop, including reduced LDL and very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) while maintaining HDL levels in blood plasma. [40,41,42,43]

Combats Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster or, an umbrella term for several conditions including: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, abdominal obesity, high blood triglycerides (hypertriglyceridemia) and low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL)—sometimes referred to as “good cholesterol”.  HDLs remove not needed fat molecules like cholesterol, triglycerides and phospholipids from cells and transport them to liver where these lipids are reduced, reused and recycled. HDLs also decrease plaque buildup inside arteries (atherosclerosis), a condition that can lead to vascular diseases, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and stroke. Metabolic syndrome is closely associated with insulin resistance and excessive weight gain, placing such individuals at higher risk of developing CVD and type 2 diabetes (T2B). [44]

Scientific studies discovered that piperine’s powerful antioxidant properties improve metabolic syndrome conditions. Feeding piperine to metabolic syndrome animals (due to high-fat and high-carbohydrate diet) improved their heart condition and function while lowering overall oxidative stress and inflammation. The blood work of these animals also showed lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels while improving glucose tolerance. Also, piperine improved liver health by combating influx of oxidative stress, and preventing fibrosis (tissue damage and inflammation). [45]

Improves Digestive Health

Black pepper improves digestion by messaging pathways that raise hydrochloric acid (HCl), also known as gastric acid. HCl is part of the gastric juices inside the stomach which breaks down our food, preparing it for greater digestion and absorption. Using stronger acids improves digestive process and can eliminate some negative effects like indigestion, heartburn and bloating. Being a warming spice, peppercorns also stimulate excretion of toxins through sweating and urination. [46]

There are other methods in play that allow black pepper to improve digestion, but not all of them are yet fully understood. It is believed that the main active compound, piperine interacts with the inner membrane of small intestine, making it easier for nutrients to pass through during absorption. Another mechanism of this process focuses on piperine interacting with various enzymes embedded in inner intestinal layer, resulting in increased surface area and absorption efficiency. [47]  Mixing black pepper with other spices like coriander, turmeric, red chilli and cumin further improves levels of three digestive enzymes while doubling bile acid secretion, resulting in better digestion. [48] 

Black pepper is known to relieve flatulence, expelling gas in the downward motion, decreasing strain on chest cavity and organs within. Test tube (in vitro) and animal (in vivo) models confirm that black peppercorns show anti-diarrheal and anti-spasmodic activities which can ease symptoms of constipation, diarrhea and gas. Piperine displayed similar results as some diarrhea and high-blood pressure medications, and has potential to treat gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). [49] 

As previously seen, piperine is able to improve overall serotonin levels which has a positive effect on brain activity and neurodegenerative conditions. Researches looked at possible brain-stomach signalling activity in IBS diseased animals. Piperine supplementation improved animal behaviour and serotonin regulation within their brains and colons. [50] The mechanisms are not well understood, but existing data suggests that serotonin plays a bigger role within the brain-gut signalling. [51]

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]

Shop Arise Chai (w/ Black Pepper): Flavourful with a Hint of Spice.  Loose leaf or Teabags. 

arise tea box dupis chai

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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