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Can Capsaicin in Chili Peppers Help Beat Cancer?


The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2017 there will be 1.68 million new cancer cases and over 600,000 deaths.1 This means three new cases and one death every minute of every day. The top five cancers diagnosed are estimated to be breast, lung, prostate, colorectal and melanoma, in that order.

The link between obesity and cancer, and the high number of insulin receptors on cancer cells2 make sugar and a high-carbohydrate diet a significant risk for developing cancer.

A recent study from Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center demonstrated a significant link between sugar and some cancers, especially breast cancer.3

As it is estimated that breast cancer will be diagnosed more than any other cancer in 2017, and the amount of sugar in a standard Western diet only continues to grow, it is very important to evaluate your dietary choices to reduce your risk and improve successful treatment.

Interestingly, a recent study from Ruhr University in Germany has identified a positive effect of the spicy molecule in chili peppers against some of the more aggressive forms of breast cancer.4

Not All Breast Cancers Are the Same

Regardless of race or ethnicity, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer diagnosed. However, with recent breakthroughs in the ability to identify genetic markers in cancer cells, scientists have been able to categorize different types of breast cancer and also design more effective treatment protocols.

Although referred to as a single disease, breast cancer is categorized by where it is found and the type of cells in the tumor. Important to both diagnosis and treatment are the site of the tumor (if it is found in the ducts or lobules of breast tissue), whether it is in the walls or has become invasive, and the reproductive status of the woman.5

Biological markers are also used to evaluate treatment options and prognosis. These markers include Luminal A, Luminal B, triple negative and HER2 types. The most aggressive of these subtypes is the triple negative cell type. The name is derived from the tumor cells being progesterone, estrogen and HER2 receptor negative.6

Within the triple negative subtype, there are also several subsets. Between 15 percent and 20 percent of all breast cancers diagnosed are triple negative, tending to occur most often in younger women and African American women.7

The majority of cancers that develop in women with the gene mutation BRCA1 are both triple negative and basal-like. Recent research tested this most aggressive subtype of breast cancer, triple negative, basal-like tumors.

Cancer Cells Succumb to Capsaicin

The active ingredient in hot chili peppers is capsaicin, which is what makes your mouth burn and gives the peppers their pungent odor. According to recent research, capsaicin also inhibits the growth of breast cancer cells.8

Using the aggressive triple negative breast cancer cells, researchers carried out experiments to determine the effect of capsaicin on the tumor cells.

The team first confirmed the presence of olfactory receptors on the tumor cells called Transient Receptor Potential Channels (TRPV1), which are normally activated by capsaicin and the scent of a fresh ocean breeze. Next, they activated these receptor cells by adding capsaicin to the cell cultures for several hours to several days.9

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