Written in 2007 and edited in July 2010 (please scroll down for more recent entries). 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-kappaB transcription factor. The full list can be seen at: http://tinyurl.com/26k7xd
Capsaicin is 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. Yes, 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, which means that it 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! Anyway, 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 2007 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 EVER 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.
Capsaicin update (June 26 2007 post): Prof. Aggarwal recently co-authored a study concerning the effects of capsaicin on the STAT3 pathway in human MM cells. The “Clinical Cancer Research” May 2007 abstract can be read at: http://tinyurl.com/2xy88n. Here are a few excerpts (practically the entire abstract !): We found that capsaicin inhibited constitutive activation of STAT3 in multiple myeloma cells. […] Capsaicin also inhibited the interleukin-6-induced STAT3 activation. […] Capsaicin down-regulated the expression of the STAT3-regulated gene products, such as cyclin D1, Bcl-2, Bcl-xL, survivin, and vascular endothelial growth factor. Finally, capsaicin induced the accumulation of cells in G(1) phase, inhibited proliferation, and induced apoptosis, as indicated by caspase activation. Capsaicin also significantly potentiated the apoptotic effects of Velcade and thalidomide in multiple myeloma cells. When administered i.p., capsaicin inhibited the growth of human multiple myeloma xenograft tumors in male athymic nu/nu mice. Pass the capsaicin, please!
August 13 2010 post. A few days ago, I read a very interesting Science Daily article about capsaicin–the HOT ingredient in chili peppers–and high blood pressure: http://tinyurl.com/34swjx4 It reminded me of a post that I wrote in 2007 (see above!) about a myeloma and capsaicin study: http://tinyurl.com/3xocear. At the time, I had access only to the abstract. Well, I did a brief search yesterday, and it turns out that the full study is available for free online now. I haven’t had the time to read it yet, but here is the link: http://tinyurl.com/34vkljo
March 30 2012 post: The second SD article is about capsaicin, the fabbbbulous ingredient in hot pepper, which inhibits the infamous STAT3 pathway, thereby killing myeloma cells (see my Page on capsaicin).
Well, capsaicin seems to have many other health benefits, too, as you can read in the article, including lowering blood pressure, reducing blood cholesterol and blocking the formation of blood clots. Oh, it also inhibits COX-2, which is involved in myeloma (and not in a good way!). This article highlights capsaicin’s heart-protecting potential: http://goo.gl/oe2rV So hey, bring on the heat! Yummy, too.
April 20 2012 update: A write-up on cayenne pepper (capsaicin kills MM cells!): http://goo.gl/v24WN