Spice it up! Capsaicin and MM

As you can tell by a previous post of mine, I am fascinated (obsessed? 🙂 ) by spices. After all, curcumin is the active ingredient of an Indian spice, turmeric. A 2004 study done at the MD Anderson Cancer Research Center, University of Texas, shows that many phytochemicals, including curcumin, capsaicin, gingerol, and ellagic acid, can block the infamous NF-κB transcription factor. The full list can be seen at: http://tinyurl.com/26k7xd

Today I focus on capsaicin, the odorless, tasteless compound that sets your mouth and throat on fire after you eat a hot chili dish. I read that pure capsaicin can blister your skin! Indeed, researchers handling pure capsaicin have to wear gloves and protective clothing, and must work in a room with an air-filtering system. This stuff is HOT.

Capsaicin and MM. What does capsaicin have to do with MM? Apparently, quite a lot. A 2006 study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found that capsaicin induces the apoptosis of MM cells. So, capsaicin kills MM cells. Perfect. Another interesting and possibly useful bit of information: these researchers found that low-dose capsaicin combined with Thalidomide and Bortezomib triggered synergistic cytotoxicity. The conclusions (my favourite part of a medical/scientific study): “These findings suggest that the antitumor activity of Capsaicin is at least partially due to inhibition of STAT3 pathway and provide a basis for potential application of Capsaicin for treatment of relapsed and refractory MM.” The abstract can be read at: http://tinyurl.com/3cmqx5

Other cancers. A study published in Cancer Research in 2004 examined the effect of capsaicin on leukemic cells, in vitro and in vivo (mice). The same killing effect was observed. See: http://tinyurl.com/36qzrk Using lung and pancreatic cancer cells, a team of researchers from the
United Kingdom, led by Dr. Timothy Bates, found that capsaicin disrupts the major energy source of a cancer cell: the mitochondria. The cancer cells died, but no harm was done to the surrounding healthy cells. Now, doesn’t that sound familiar? Why yes, curcumin has the same effect! You can read the recent BBC news report on these findings at: http://tinyurl.com/ydyx23 In Dr Timothy Bates’ words: “As these compounds attack the very heart of the tumour cells, we believe that we have in effect discovered a fundamental ‘Achilles heel’ for all cancers.”

Description of capsaicin. I subscribe to the American Institute for Cancer Research newsletter. Its February issue focuses on capsaicin, which, by the way, has been used for its medicinal properties for centuries. Here is a general description: The only plants containing capsaicin are in the genus Capsicum, but this genus contains a lot of familiar names, including jalapenos, paprika, Tabasco, bell, and habanero. In general, the hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin it contains. Bell peppers contain little to no capsaicin, while some varieties of habanero contain so much it would cause your skin to blister. Along with capsaicin, chile peppers are a good source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, and potassium. Many also contain carotenoids, the red, orange pigments in plants which are associated with having cancer-protection and other health benefits. The AICR newsletter provides us with a list of peppers rated according to their degree of “hotness.” The list and other useful information can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/2vw25w

Word of caution. The AICR report also states that research in capsaicin and cancer is still preliminary and in the laboratory stage. So before rushing to the supermarket to stock up on spicy peppers, be aware that large amounts may not be so good for you. However, one of my husband’s uncles, who never gets sick, sprinkles so much red pepper over his food that it’s a big joke in the family. Would you like some pasta to go with your hot pepper? we tease him. Well, perhaps he has had it right all along.


  1. Dear Margaret,

    I’m posting this comment just because I can’t find your email on your blog :).

    I’ve been taking curcumin, and would love to exchange more information with you about it. So please, can you write me a message, just to tell me your email address?

    Thank you very much

  2. Margaret,
    I have IgG k MGUS, various autoimmune diseases, and neuropathy. One day when my neuropathy and general body pain were feeling very bad, I went out with friends and ate a large plate of very spicy Buffalo Wings. For the uninitiated, these are roasted chicken wing “drummettes” dipped in a mix of red pepper sauce and butter. Anyway, about halfway through them, I discovered all my pain had gone away. This lasted for about two hours. Since then if I am at my limit due to pain, I take a cup of chicken boullion, toss in one or two tablespoons of hot sauce, and chug it down. It does seem to work to reduce pain for awhile. After reading your blog, I realize that it (the capsaicin) does block pathways leading to inflammation.

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