Q: People often talk about the medicinal benefits of some spices, but I have never heard anyone mention the benefits of plain old pepper. Does pepper have any medicinal benefits?
A: You are right in thinking most of us do not consider the medicinal benefits of black pepper. Part of the reason is there are other more popular plants that can accomplish the same things as pepper. Another reason pepper is not as often considered is high doses of black pepper are more difficult to take than other herbs and spices. However, pepper does have a number of uses both historically and as suggested by modern science.
Historically, pepper has been used to improve digestion. The thinking is pepper can help increase stomach acid, which might help some people better digest proteins. Pepper also helps reduce intestinal gas. So, adding pepper to your food can help you make better use of your food and reduce bloating.
Modern research suggests a number of other uses for black pepper. One use is to lower cholesterol levels. Research suggests pepper helps keep the body from absorbing cholesterol from your food. Therefore, pepper has the possibility of improving cholesterol levels in the blood.
Black pepper is known to contain high amounts of a natural compound called piperine.
Piperine has been shown to have a number of potential health benefits. Researchers are finding pepper has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer and anti-carcinogenic properties along with protecting the body from the negative effects of high blood pressure. Pepper might also help keep you leaner longer.
However, before considering pepper to be a miracle substance, it is good to understand some of this information is based on animal and cell research, which doesn’t always apply to humans. For example, pepper has been thought to help improve energy levels, but research on humans has not substantiated this effect. Some research suggests very high amounts of pepper could have negative health effects, such as increasing the chance of having esophageal cancer. This does not mean you should stop eating pepper. Just be aware high doses might have a negative effect. Overall, I recommend you use pepper in moderation to gain some of its health benefits, but avoid high doses.
Shawn Palmer is a naturopathic doctor.