Black pepper is hot and pungent, and — not surprisingly — one of the most widely used spices in the world. But did you know that besides enhancing the flavor of your food, black pepper also has a host of health benefits? In fact, it’s used widely in Ayurvedic medicine, one of the world’s oldest medical systems. So, if you’re looking for a spice that not only zings your taste buds, but also supports the respiratory system, digestion and helps you lose weight, then black pepper is the spice for you.
Help absorb nutrients (and polyphenols like curcumin)
If you’re looking to get more out of your vitamins, take them with a little black pepper. That’s because black pepper increases the absorption of various nutrients such as selenium, vitamin B, vitamin C, coenzyme Q10 and beta-carotene. It also increases the bioavailability of herbal drugs such as resveratrol and turmeric.
Turmeric, which has quickly become a wonder spice, is known for its inflammation fighting properties thanks to curcumin (the active compound in turmeric). But, unfortunately, curcumin is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream.
A study from India found that two grams of curcumin alone were undetectable or very low in the blood stream. But when taken with pepper, curcumins bioavailability skyrocketed by 2000 percent. Essentially, our liver likes to rid itself of foreign substances by making them water soluble so they can be more easily excreted. But, black pepper molecules prevent that process.
You don’t need a lot of pepper to increase absorption, just a 1/4 teaspoon in food. Or if you prefer, simply swallow a few whole peppercorns when taking a curcumin supplement to enhance absorption.
May treat vitiligo
If you’ve never heard of vitiligo, it’s a skin pigmentation disorder that afflicts an estimated 100 million people worldwide. Even Michael Jackson was reportedly afflicted with it. It’s characterized by white patches on the skin, resulting from the loss of pigment. Although it’s not life threatening or contagious, it’s often misrepresented as a condition that is infectious, which tends to create emotional pain for those who suffer from it. But there’s good news ahead. According to the Dermatology Research Division, piperine, an extract of black pepper, has been found to be an effective treatment for vitiligo.
Animal studies found that piperine and two of its counterparts – tetrahydropiperine and a cyclohexyl derivative — produced light, even pigmentation when applied to the skin of poorly pigmented mice. When combined with UV radiation, the skin became significantly darker and showed none of the patchiness caused by UV treatment alone. Furthermore, skin pre-treated with a piperine compound required fewer UV exposures. And that’s good news because it lowers the risk of cancer. UV alone takes much longer for the pigmentation spots to fade.
Talk to your health care provider or dermatologist about using piperine extract in an herbal formulation to treat vitiligo.
A little sprinkle of pepper in your food may improve digestion. Black pepper can help your gut health by stimulating the secretion of hydrochloric acid. Let’s say you eat black pepper in spaghetti sauce, it sends a signal to your stomach to increase hydrochloric acid secretion. These acidic secretions help break down food. The result is speedier digestion. Through improved digestion, black pepper helps relieve bloating, flatulence and constipation.
So, go ahead and add black pepper to foods that may cause digestive upset, such as acidic foods (tomato sauce), dishes made with dairy (cream soups and lasagna), fatty foods and fried foods.
Promotes glowing skin
You may never have considered using black pepper on your face, but it has remarkable antibacterial and antioxidant properties that help promote clear, healthy skin. The texture of the pepper works well as an exfoliant and helps banish blackheads by opening pores and allowing for a deeper clean.
Just mix half a teaspoon ground pepper with one teaspoon of yogurt. Apply to the skin and gently rub in circular movements. Wash and pat dry.
Pepper works as a natural decongestant. It can help clear a stuffy nose and congestion by loosening phlegm.
Just drink a glass of lukewarm water mixed with a half tablespoon of black ground pepper, two or three times a day to clear the respiratory system. You can also use steam inhalation to clear your congestion. Add black pepper and eucalyptus oil to hot water. Then, simply breathe in to decongest.
May help you lose weight
Black pepper, known for stimulating the appetite, may also play a role in weight loss. It seems that piperine possesses potential fat reducing effects, without changing appetite. A study published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology found that supplementing piperine with a high-fat diet significantly reduced body weight. Meanwhile, another study published in the journal Eurekalert by the American Chemical Society further explained the beneficial fat-fighting effects of black pepper.
The research again points towards piperine — the pungent-tasting substance that gives black pepper its characteristic taste — suggesting that it blocks the formation of new fat cells. Lab studies and computer models found that piperine interferes with the activity of genes that control the formation of new fat cells. By doing so, researchers found that piperine also set off a metabolic chain reaction that may help keep fat at bay in other ways as well.
We all do it, right? But if you’re a little more prone to gas, spice your food with black pepper instead of chili powder or peppers. To cure gas, mix a quarter teaspoon each of black pepper and cumin powder in a glass of buttermilk.
Soothes a wet cough
Soothe your wet cough with a cup of black pepper tea with honey. This old-fashioned remedy has roots in New England folk medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. The black pepper stimulates circulation and mucus flow.
Add one teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper and two tablespoons of honey in a cup. Fill with boiling water and steep for 15 minutes. Strain in a fine mesh strainer and drink. Alternatively, sprinkle black pepper on a lemon wedge. Suck on the lemon wedge for quick relief.
We all have black pepper in our cupboards — it’s a spice staple. So, don’t forget to use it the next time you’re feeling congested or have an upset stomach. In fact, go ahead and give that shaker a few more generous shakes.