Research Highlights

May 2010-- An overview of the potential health benefits of black pepper, funded by the McCormick Science Institute.  An evaluation of the research is presented. Read the entire study (PDF)

Black Pepper Paper

MSI Funded Paper:
Potential Health Benefits of Black Pepper

Singletary, K

The black pepper (Piper nigrum L) vine and its extracts have been used as a folk medicine in a variety of cultures and are the source of the most commonly used spice worldwide. The chemical piperine is a major bioactive component present in black pepper (and white pepper as well) that has numerous reported physiological and drug-like actions.

The scientific literature provides evidence that black pepper may have health benefits, particularly in enhancing digestive tract function. There is suggestive evidence that black pepper piperine may have nervous system benefits and may influence body energy usage in rats. Preliminary evidence in cell culture studies suggests that black pepper contains antioxidant constituents and possesses anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

A brief summary of potential health benefits, and suggestions for future research are presented in this study.

An evaluation of the quality of the scientific research is presented below: Rating[1]

Alteration of digestive tract function
Black pepper (and its constituent piperine) is reported to act as a digestive tract stimulant in rats and mice, although the effect is not always consistent.(5-9) In small clinical studies, intake of black pepper extract stimulated stomach secretions and affected the rapidity of movement of food through the digestive tract.(10) Some of this effect of black pepper seems to be due to piperine activating specific drug receptors.(26) Black pepper also may alter the bioavailability of certain food components and drugs, partly by altering the body's systems controlling the metabolism and absorption of dietary constituents and drugs.(20-25) This effect of black pepper has been reported to improve the bioavailability of some agents, although the clinical consequences may not necessarily be beneficial.


Metabolism and obesity
Piperine has been shown in animal studies to increase the body’s expenditure of energy. Apparently, piperine does this by affecting the production of hormone-like chemicals that regulate energy balance. This may have important implications for human body weight regulation and obesity, although, to date, there is little evidence to support such a benefit in humans.(27)


Nervous system benefits
In mice, an extract of black pepper exhibited activity in suppressing convulsions.(28-31) In one human study, inhalation of black pepper oil components improved the swallowing reflex in stroke patients, apparently by activating specific regions of the brain.(32) A novel effect of inhalation of black pepper extract was the stimulation of respiratory tract sensations that apparently alleviated smoking withdrawal symptoms.(33) Animal studies suggest that piperine may have an antidepressant-like action, but the amounts that are beneficial are poorly defined.(34-36)


Treatment of skin disorders
Several cell culture studies using pigment-producing cells from the skin showed that black pepper extracts stimulated cell multiplication and function. It has been suggested that piperine may be useful in treating the depigmentary skin disorder vitiligo.(37,38) Also, black pepper extract and piperine exhibited antiandrogenic activity and stimulation of hair regrowth in one animal study.(39) However, there is a lack of evidence for such benefit in human studies.


Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial effects
Black pepper has a high content of antioxidant chemicals. In cell culture studies and in a few animal studies, black pepper inhibited oxidative stress, protected against fat breakdown, and was able to scavenge and inactivate some, but not all, reactive oxygen species. Black pepper was reported in one study to slow the growth of a variety of types of bacteria isolated from human volunteers. One recent report suggests that piperine may be toxic to the parasite causingmalaria. Black pepper may have anti-inflammatory and fever-suppressing actions, and there is preclinical evidence that it may have modest immune system-enhancing properties.(40-47)


Anticancer actions
Cell culture and animal studies indicate that black pepper may suppress the action of chemicals that cause mutations in the genetic material of cells. Administration of piperine or black pepper can inhibit the growth of tumors in mice and rats.(9,48-51) In contrast, there is one report that chronic painting of the skin of mice with a black pepper extract increased skin cancer,(52) a response likely due to a chronic irritant action.


[1] Key to grades

S: Strong, convincing evidence
E: Emerging, suggestive evidence
P: Preliminary, inconclusive evidence


Singletary, K. Black Pepper: Overview of Health Benefits. Nutrition Today. 2010 January/February: 45(1): 43-47. Read the entire study (PDF)





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