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Hot remedy: Chilli out to keep cancer at bay

CHILLI PEPPERS are used extensively in Indian cuisine for their pungency and colouring properties. Despite their widespread use, nutritionists still do not know whether consumption of chilli peppers has beneficial or adverse effects. The popular perception is that chilli peppers are not good for health.

india Updated: Apr 04, 2006 01:32 IST

CHILLI PEPPERS are used extensively in Indian cuisine for their pungency and colouring properties. Despite their widespread use, nutritionists still do not know whether consumption of chilli peppers has beneficial or adverse effects. The popular perception is that chilli peppers are not good for health.

However, recent research in the biochemistry department of Allahabad University has provided a clue to the beneficial effects of chillies. Dr S I Rizvi and Dr S Luqman have published a research paper in the April 2006 issue of the prestigious research journal Phytotherapy Research (London), emphasising the anti-oxidant activity of the chemical present in chilli peppers which may provide protection against cancer, atherosclerosis and other age-related diseases.

Capsaicin is the major pungent chemical found in hot peppers of the plant genus capsicum.

Capsicum has been used as a traditional medicine for the treatment of a wide range of disorders in different regions of the world. The traditional use of the chilli powder in dog bite and toothache is well documented. In contemporary medicine, capsaicin formulations are used to treat a number of diseases associated with neurogenic pain and inflammation.

It has been established that capsaicin desensitises a class of neurons, which carry sensation of pain. This property of capsaicin, known as its neuronal effect, has been exploited for use as an analgesic compound in the form of ointments and creams.

Despite the elucidation of the neuronal effects of capsaicin, scientists have been baffled about the widespread use of capsicum by humans, especially in hot climatic regions of the world. The `hot’ pungent taste of capsicum is not a natural taste and has been acquired through long-term use. 

Dr Rizvi (reader in the biochemistry department of University of Allahabad) and his research scholar Shuaib Luqman have been doing research on capsicum to explain this paradox. The recent research paper gives an idea of the benefits of capsicum consumption by humans.

In their research paper, the authors reveal that capsaicin (the main chemical in capsicum) is a potent antioxidant compound, the activity of which is comparable with Vitamin C. The findings of Dr Rizvi could well provide an explanation to the high consumption of capsicum in certain regions of the world.