Black pepper is known as the King of spices. It comes from the dried berry of the native Indian plant Piper nigrum L. For thousands of years, man has enjoyed pepper, and still today, it is the world's most commonly traded spice. How well do we know about this essential seasoning in our kitchen?
Apart from adding flavours to our food, black pepper also comes with various health benefits. In fact, it is an ancient Ayurvedic medicine due to its valuable healing properties.
Here are seven scientifically-proven benefits of black pepper that you probably did not know.
1. Black Pepper is High in Antioxidants
Black pepper is rich in a plant compound called piperine, which has potent antioxidant properties that prevent damage to cells caused by free radicals.
A study was done on treating high-fat diet rats with black pepper or piperine supplement over ten weeks. It has significantly reduced oxidative stress markers near those of controlled normal-diet rats.
Another study discovered that black pepper extracts could resist over 93% of the free radical damage scientists stimulated in a fat preparation.
A human cancer cells test-tube study observed that 200microg/mL of black pepper extracts and compounds could stop 3.5% - 86.8% of cellular damage associated with cancer development.
The results from these researches suggest that black pepper and its constituents exhibit not just antioxidant but also anticancer activities.
2. Black Pepper has Anti-inflammatory Properties
Numerous studies have also suggested that piperine, the main active compound in black pepper, can effectively fight inflammation. Many factors in our environment can lead to inflammation. Apart from infections through injuries, exposure to irritants such as industrial chemicals, toxins or polluted air may also cause inflammation. The various symptoms of inflammation generally occur because our body's immune system is fighting against harmful irritants.
To determine the beneficial properties of black pepper, another study was conducted on arthritis rats as arthritis usually involves inflammation or degeneration of joints. Piperine has noticeably decreased the arthritic symptoms, nociceptive and inflammatory area in the ankle joints of the test subjects. These results mean that pepper supports joint health too!
3. Black Pepper Regulates Blood Sugar Level
When it comes to India's long Ayurvedic tradition, restoring healthy balance is always the goal. Pepper has been widely used in Ayurvedic healthcare due to its balancing effects too. It goes without saying how crucial it is to balance out blood sugar levels to prevent diabetes-related complications. It all boils down to eating right to nourish our metabolism so that it can function optimally.
There have been tests done on animals to indicate piperine's potential in improving their blood sugar metabolism. In one study with 24 spice extracts, the black and white pepper extracts significantly increased glucose uptake in rats. In other words, the piperine compound prevents hyperglycemia.
A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study on eight-six overweight people has been conducted before using piperine as a bioactive food ingredient to assess its efficacy on metabolic changes. After consuming supplements containing piperine and other compounds for eight weeks, there was a substantial improvement in their insulin sensitivity. The cells use blood glucose more effectively, reducing blood sugar levels.
Feeling black pepper's medicinal qualities outshining its flavour profile yet? We're only halfway there!
4. Black Pepper's Potential in Promoting Digestion
Favourable findings have also come from examining black pepper's digestive stimulant action on digestive enzymes of the pancreas and small intestine. The study on experimental rats showed elevated activities of pancreatic lipase, chymotrypsin, and amylase by 40%. The body's ability to break down and digest food was greatly improved.
Additionally, black pepper also enhances the growth of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, according to an investigation on the prebiotic potential and chemical composition of spice extracts. Bifidobacterium and lactobacillus are medical foods used as probiotics or "friendly bacteria" to maintain a healthy digestive tract.
5. Black Pepper's Potential on Improving the Brain Function
Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease are more commonly age-associated neurodegenerative disorders. In a Parkinson rat model experiment, piperine was found to have a neuroprotective effect. It prevented a further decrease of tyrosine hydroxylase-positive (TH) cells that could worsen the disease.
Another study conducted on rats with Alzheimer's disease also discovered piperine's potential in improving memory. The piperine enabled the rats to repeatedly run a maze more efficiently than the rats not given the compound.
In another rat model, piperine in black pepper also seems to decrease the formation of amyloid plaques, the hard clump between the nerve cells in the brains of Alzheimer's disease.
6. Black Pepper's Ability in Lowering Cholesterol Levels
Black pepper has been studied in animals for its potential to reduce cholesterol levels too. In a 42-day study, high-fat diet rats fed with black pepper extract are observed to have a decreased blood cholesterol level, including LDL cholesterol.
7. Black Pepper's Ability to Boost Nutrient Absorption
With cleansing and antioxidant properties, it also means that black pepper can help the body absorb and circulate its needed nutrients.
Research shows that black pepper may improve the absorption of beta-carotene up to 147%! Beta-carotene is a compound commonly found in vegetables and fruits that converts to Vitamin A. Furthermore, a 14-day study in healthy adults discovered that taking 15 mg of beta-carotene supplements with 5 mg of piperine improved the serum response of beta-carotene.
More than just a seasoning, black pepper consisting of pure alkaloid piperine has more health benefits than we know! And guess what? Sarawak is well known to produce one of the most aromatic black pepper of them all. Its rich and distinctive flavour is preserved through tried and tested processing methods for optimum quality and heat!
IMPORTANT: Black pepper is generally safe for human consumption. While it has fewer reported adverse effects than taking a large amount of salt, too much of anything is never advised. Overdoing it can lead to stomach upset too. If you intend to take it as a medicinal supplement, always check with your healthcare provider first, especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have bleeding disorders, have heart conditions, and taking other medications.
*Disclaimer: The information in this article does not cover all possible uses, precautions, and adverse effects for all health circumstances. It should never replace your doctor's advice.
This article is brought to you by the Malaysian Pepper Board
Malaysian Pepper Board Spicing Up the Industry in Malaysia
Pepper is not just a way of adding bite to one's meals. It is also a contributor to socio-economic development in Malaysia, accounting for RM1.9 billion of the nation's GDP in 2019 and providing a livelihood for tens of thousands of pepper farmers. As the agency tasked with leading the advancement of the Malaysian pepper industry, the Malaysian Pepper Board (MPB) has been at the forefront of ensuring the resilience of the pepper industry in the country since 1971.
Cover Photo Source: Cookies.com