Study finds that chili peppers and marijuana can help reduce inflammation in the gut

Chili peppers and marijuana might seem like two very different things but a recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that these two items have certain similarities. Researchers from the University of Connecticut found that chili peppers and marijuana interact with the same receptors in the stomach that help calm down the immune system.

Have you ever wondered why chili peppers make you feel hot? This is due to a chemical called capsaicin that binds to receptors that trigger the brain to feel heat. However, one thing that has perplexed scientists for a long time is why these receptors are also found in the gastrointestinal tract.

To determine the purpose of these receptors, the researchers fed capsaicin to mice. They found that not only did the spice reduce inflammation in the gut, it also cured mice with Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation in the cells of the pancreas. At the molecular level, this anti-inflammatory effect of capsaicin was observed to involve receptors called transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 1 (TRPV1). Upon binding to these receptors, capsaicin triggers the production of anandamide and this is where marijuana comes into the picture.

Anandamide is a cannabinoid similar to those found in marijuana. In the study, the researchers observed that this chemical was responsible for calming down the immune system. Moreover, they found that directly treating the mice with anandamide led to similar results as capsaicin. The way through which anandamide heals the gut also involves TRPV1 receptors, which stimulate the production of more anandamide, and another receptor that recruits immune cells to subdue inflammation. From the results of the study, they were able to observe that the anti-inflammatory effects work along the upper gut, esophagus, stomach, and pancreas. Unfortunately, they were unable to determine whether these effects also reached the bowel.

Overall, the results of the study prove that chili peppers and marijuana can improve inflammatory conditions in the gut through similar mechanisms of action that involve the cannabinoid anandamide. (Related: Cayenne pepper improves circulation, reduces inflammation and spices up your cooking.)

Other health benefits of chili peppers

If you’re looking for more reasons to include chili peppers in your diet, here are some of its other health benefits:

  • Providing pain relief — The anti-inflammatory effects of capsaicin can do wonders for patients suffering from pain caused by osteoarthritis and diabetic neuropathy.
  • Promoting weight loss — The heat that arises from eating chili peppers can help you burn calories and reduce your cravings. This was proven by a study from Daegu University, which showed that eating capsaicin regularly lowers calorie intake and fat levels in the body.
  • Improving cognitive function — Chili peppers are good sources of iron that is necessary for transporting oxygen throughout the body. By eating chili peppers regularly, you ensure that the brain gets an adequate supply of oxygen and consequently, reduce your risk of developing cognitive disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
  • Reducing cancer risk — Studies have shown that capsaicin has the ability to inhibit tumor growth and kill off cancer cells. Chili peppers also contain carotenoids called capsanthin that have potent antioxidant properties. These compounds protect the cells from oxidative damage that can cause cancer.

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