Chilli for colon cancer

There are moments in life that you just have to live through. There is for instance that moment on Monday morning when you have to face work colleagues who last saw you when you performed enthusiastic, and inebriated, Beyonce Knowles dance moves at the work party on Friday night. Then there is that moment when you realise that your fly is undone and suddenly all of the comments about it being a windy day and things flying at “half mast” that have been mystifying you all day suddenly make sense. Perhaps greater in degree of difficulty than all of these however, is that moment when you are at the Thai restaurant and ask timidly whether the dish you would like is “mild”; your dining companions shift uncomfortably in their seats, diners around you cast sidelong glances to see what sort of a chilli-wimp asks such a question, the waiter’s lip curls in disdain ever so slightly and then to top it all they politely and reassuringly say, as you would to a child asking if it will hurt to get a splinter out, “Oh yes, it’s very mild, you don’t need to worry.” Yes, the life a chilli-wimp is filled with these moments of gustatory disgrace as they scuttle their way among the proliferation of Thai restaurants and Mexican eateries and it seems there is worse to come; not only is the chilli-wimp a social pariah but they also miss out on health benefits because chilli can reduce the risk of colon cancer.

This discovery comes from researchers who noted that capsaicin from chillies activates a pain receptor called TRPV1. This action in the nervous system is thought to be behind the topical pain relieving properties of chilli (and capsaicin) but this research went a step further.

The researchers noted that although TRPV1 was first discovered in sensory neurons, they found that it also is expressed in the cells that line the intestines when they are stimulated by epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), a receptor critical to cell growth in the intestines. If EFGR signalling is impaired then cell growth can get out of control increasing the risk of tumour development. However, when TRPV1 is activated by EGFR then it forms a negative feedback loop that stops the growth of unwanted cells and reduces the risk of tumour development. So TRPV1 actually works to reduce the risk of tumours in the intestines and therefore, by stimulating it, capsaicin and therefore chilli should reduce the risk of tumours as well.

To support this hypothesis, the researchers found that when mice with colon cancer were fed capsaicin in their diet there was a 30 per cent increase in lifespan.

That adds up to TRPV1 being stimulated by capsaicin from chilli leads to reduced risk of colon cancer. If you can stand the heat those chillies are worth having in your kitchen.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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