Red peppers are part of a group of 20 plant species belonging to the genus Capsicum of the botanical family Solanaceae. The recognition that capsaicin can activate the transient receptor potential ion channel of the vanilloid type (TRPV1) has led to the use of red pepper extracts, capsaicin, and its analogs in pharmacological strategies for treating various medical conditions, especially pain and other neurological conditions. Interest in red pepper and capsaicin for dietary strategies to improve health has increased. The capacity of dietary capsaicin to manage gastrointestinal distress is unclear, because of a lack of understanding of its apparent contradictory actions within various segments of the gastrointestinal tract. More promising is evidence linking capsaicin and red pepper to improving weight loss and weight maintenance as well as lessening glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. However, progress in substantiating these benefits is limited by the need for larger, well-controlled human studies that can characterize capsaicin/red pepper’s actions at doses more consistent with typical human intakes. Likewise, insights into both TRPV1-associated and TRPV1-independent mechanisms related to any health benefits of dietary red pepper have only begun to be explored
The spice series continues with a piquant contribution
Keith Singletary, PhD, is Professor Emeritus of Nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois. From 2001 to 2004, he was the director of the Functional Foods for Health Program, an interdisciplinary program between the Chicago and Urbana-Champaign campuses of the University of Illinois. Dr Singletary received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in microbiology from Michigan State University and his PhD in nutritional sciences from the University of Illinois. Dr Singletary’s primary research interests are in molecular carcinogenesis and cancer chemoprevention, specifically identifying and determining the mechanism of action of phytochemicals in fruits, vegetables, and spices as cancer-protective agents. He also investigated the biological basis behind the role of alcohol intake in enhancing breast carcinogenesis. He has been recognized with the Senior Faculty Award for Excellence in Research by the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, and with the Outstanding Graduate Mentor/Advisor award from the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. Dr Singletary currently resides in Florida.
Funding for this article was provided by McCormick, Inc.
Correspondence: Keith Singletary, PhD, University of Illinois, 260 Bevier Hall, 905 South Goodwin Ave, Urbana, IL 61801 ([email protected]).