For many years there has been an incessant search in the laboratories of substances to overcome cancer. However, until now, none had firmly demonstrated this capacity from the scientific-medical point of view.
Recently, we have been witnessing the presence of some substances or plants, such as ajís or graviola, which present active principles capable of dealing with cancer cells in vitro .
In several studies, a molecule obtained from ajís showed its anticancer power in cultures of lung cancer cells and human pancreas.
The substance that we will study today is found in the popular hot peppers, chilis or ajis, as they are known. We refer to that variety of peppers that contain a special pungent power, that is, they sting. Its anticarcinogenic potential is due to capsaicin, a substance that causes “suicide” of cancer cells. Its action can not only stop the development of these cells, but also kill them.
Action of capsaicin against cancer cells
Capsaicin belongs to a family of molecules called vanilloids. It is these molecules that present this anticancer potential. There are studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of this substance against cells from liver or prostate cancer.
But the most impressive thing is that not only do they kill the cancer cells, but they do not damage the cells that surround the tumor , that are healthy, or are normal.
This group of substances, among which capsaicin is found, are found in many foods. The pharmaceutical forecasts think that an anti-cancer drug can be obtained using the properties of these molecules.
Meanwhile, Cancer Research UK recommends reducing the risk of cancer through a healthy and balanced diet , with an abundance of fruits and vegetables.
Capsaicin and cell death
Capsaicin, the spicy principle of chili, leads to prostate tumor cells, among others, to self-destruction. According to several studies, it has been shown that this component present in high concentrations in chili produces the activation of programmed cell death , or cell suicide (also called apoptosis), at least in vitro .
What is programmed cell death?
Apoptosis or cell death is a natural and necessary phenomenon thanks to which there is a balance between new cells and those that are older or are already deteriorated. However, cancer cells become immortal because they evade the molecular mechanisms of apoptosis.
Scientists have observed that capsaicin inhibited the activity of a molecular mechanism that is altered in cancer cells (the NF-kappa Beta factor) and that, under normal conditions, participates in apoptosis or cell death. The defective regulation of factor NF-kB by cancer cells is one of the reasons that promote their immortality.
The spicy component of peppers also reduced the formation of a protein that is often produced in high amounts by prostate tumors and that can signal the presence of the tumor in men. This protein is known as prostate-specific antigen ( PSA ).
Why eat foods that contain capsaicin?
Seeing the wonderful properties of spicy foods, if we want to help in the fight against cancer or prevent it, we have to incorporate into our diet the largest amount of vegetables containing capsaicin. However, it is important to clarify that if we have cancer, ingesting lots of chili will not cure us.
- Chilli peppers : these are the most potent and known source of capsaicin, and some have the highest scores on the Scoville hot scale, such as jalapeños or habaneros.
- Tabasco : this commercial sauce is made with the hot peppers of the Tabasco variety, from the Mexican state of the same name, adding vinegar and salt. A few drops in your food, a party in your language.
- Cumin : although it is much less spicy than the previous ones, it contains capsaicin and can give a great flavor to your legumes, besides being the main ingredient of the Canarian mojo.
- Curry : one of the main ingredients is turmeric , which gives it the yellow color and contains small amounts of capsaicin.