I have wonderful memories of spending summers at a rustic cottage on tiny Pleasant Lake in Michigan with my aunt Lila and my Uncle Gigi D’Augistino, back when I was a child in the 30s. Gigi loved his red wine and would sprinkle dried red peppers generously over his pasta. He would explain that his two doctors constantly gave him conflicting advice. Dr. Gigante, our family’s traditional Italian-trained doctor, would tell Gigi that if he drank one or two glasses of red wine with every meal and partake of the capsicum pepper he would live a long and healthy life. His modern American doctor told him that unless he cut out the wine and pepper he would surely die of stomach cancer. Both doctors turned out to be right. He died of stomach cancer back around 1965 I would guess at the age of 79, living a long life for back at that time.
Back in the 30s, health effects of red wine and hot peppers only existed in oral folk medicine. There were no biomolecular theories of what these substances might do, animal experiments or clinical trials. It was enough for Dr. Gigante to say “Red wine and hot peppers will aid your digestion and might help you live longer.” Now of course we know about the polyphenols like resveratrol that exist in red wine and have a fairly good picture of how some of them limit inflammation, control apoptosis, fight cancers, affect “longevity genes,” and so forth. A conflict about the longevity effects of wine still exists (see this post) but without any doubt red wine contains biochemical ingredients that are definitely health-promoting and potentially life-extending.
So much for red wine. Now how about the red peppers? It appears that a similar story exists. Capsicum, the main ingredient in hot peppers, apparently can induce apoptosis in cancer cells (ref)(ref). The American doctor back in the 30s was telling Gigi the opposite of what was right about his pepper habits and cancer risk. “It has been shown to exert biological activities (anticarcinogenic, antimutagenic and chemopreventive) in many cancer cell lines(ref).” Red peppers are turning out to be hot stuff for cancer prevention. Oh, a final note for any of you worrying about end-burns. “There is no scientific evidence that a spicy meal based on red hot chili pepper may worsen hemorrhoidal symptoms and, therefore, there is no reason to prevent these patients from occasionally enjoying a spicy dish if they so wish.(ref)”
Hmm. I am yearning for a good plate of pasta with meat sauce sprinkled with red peppers tonight!
I would not bet on this.
In India, the chilli peppers are thought to be the main reason for easophagus cancer among Indians who eat spicy and very spicy food.
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Capsaicin, the active ingredient of hot chilli peppers, downgrades :-
NF-kB, survivin, cyclin D1, Bcl-2, Bcl-xL, CIAP, Cdc25, Cdk1, according to a PDF published by Elsevier and named “Molecular targets of dietary agents for prevention and therapy of cancer”. It is authored by Bharat B. Aggarwal (Cytokine Research Laboratory, Department of Experimental Therapeutics, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center) and Shishir Shishodia (Department of Biology, Texas Southern University).
If one takes note of herbalists, the best form of capsaicin to consume is from the Cayenne varieties, due to its extra purported medicinal properties.
I would have the capsaicin and the meat sauce, but would stay well away from the pasta – high carbohydrate loads like pasta, make me feel very ill…but that’s me!
Thanks, and to the point. Neither Uncle Gigi or either of his doctors knew that back then, but we do now. Jim Watson and I are preparing a new blog entry on phytosubstances and cancer and will mention your point. Please stand by for this soon. There are already some blog entries on phytosubstances and cancer as well as on anti-cancer epigenetic effects of phytosubstances. If registered you can login and use the search function to find them.
Besides the effects you point out, phytosubstances can exercise important epigenetic effects like keeping histones for anti-cancer genes like P53 acetylated (assuring that they are active) and keeping the promoter sites for cancer- promoting genes methylated (assuring they are inactive). And for me personally, I spash hot hot sauce on nearly everything but my breakfast cereal. And righto re pasta, much as I love it.
Thanks for the reply,
Yes, I have read most of your site, including the blog entries about phytosubstances. A great number of phytosubstances have major positive effects on our body at the cellular/epigenetic level. I think capsaicin is amazing! It is not quite as productive as curcumin, but it certainly has more effects than what I have mentioned above.
In rodents (at least), it has been shown to kill 80% of prostate cancer cells and reducing the size of the cells that were left. To quote the conclusion to a different paper I have re capsaicin and prostate cancer, “In the present studies, we show that capsaicin has a profound inhibiting effect on the growth of prostate cancer cells in vitro and in vivo, inducing the apoptosis of both AR-positive and AR-negative prostate cancer cell lines. We also showed that capsaicin profoundly decreased the transcription of AR target genes”.
Capsaicin apparently causes ROS to be over-produced in the cancer cell mitochondria, causing apotosis, but leaves healthy cells be.
Capsaicin has also been attributed with ‘cardio-protective’ properties and reduces arthersclerotic plaques. In addition, it down-regulates TNF-alpha and COX-2 and if I remember rightly, is the only substance known to actively attack glioma’s…and the list could go on! It’s even a reasonable (and cheap) burner of adipose tissue!
Thank you for showing interest in my small contribution. I think you could probably do an entire entry on capsaicin alone!