Black Pepper is the dried mature berry of Piper nigrum, a climbing, perennial shrub mostly found in hot, moist region of Southern India. Under cultivation pepper vines are trailed over support as columns, 5-6 mtr tall, 1-2 meter diameter. The climbing woody stems have swollen nods with clinging roots at each node, which helps in anchoring the vine to the support trees (standards). It has straight upward growing main stem and have lateral shoots from the axils of the leaves having shorter inter nodes without adventitious roots. In such branches the terminal buds get modified into an inflorescence (spike) and the auxiliary buds continue further growth.
The root system confined to 75-100 cm radius and depth. The inflorescence is a pendent spike, 3-15 cm long with 50-150 flowers. Flowers are minute, white pale yellow, arranged spirally on fleshy pedantries. The specie is naturally self-pollinated and pollen dispersal is aided by the presence of water droplets. Fruit is a single seeded drupe often called berry. It is spherical in shape, green in colour, changing to red on ripping.
ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION
Pepper is considered originated in the hills of South Western Ghats of India. It is now grown in Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Brazil, Mexico, and Guatemala apart from the country of origin. Pepper requires hot and humid climate and grows between 20 degree North and South latitudes, from sea level to up to 1500 meters above MSL. The crop tolerates temperatures between 10 degree and 40 degree C. A well-distributed annual rainfall of 125 to 200 cm is considered ideal for pepper.
Pepper is largely used by meat packers and in canning, pickling, baking, considering for its preservative value. It has the ability to correct the seasoning of dishes, therefore used as a final dash at the end of cooking to effectively adjust the flavour. It is an important component of culinary seasoning of universal use and is an essential ingredient of numerous commercial foodstuffs. It is also used as an ingredient in spice mixes. White pepper is used in products like mayonnaise where, black specks of black pepper is not liked. Other products in use are pepper oil, oleoresin, micro encapsulated pepper, green pepper in brine, dehydrated green pepper, frozen pepper etc. Black pepper is an essential ingredient in Indian system of medicine. Piperine, the pungent principle in pepper oleoresin helps to enhance bio-availability and therefore used in pharmaceuticals. They have been used as carminative, reducing stomach and intestinal gas and have been found to stimulate the activities of the heart and kidneys. The major functional properties of pepper are analgesic, anti-pyretic, anti-oxidant and anti-microbial.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage our cells. Excessive free radicals are formed from exposure to pollution, smoke, and sun rays. Excess free radical damage may lead to major health problems. It has been linked to premature aging, Inflammation heart diseases and certain cancers.
Black pepper is rich in a plant compound called piperine, which studies have found to have potent antioxidant properties. Black pepper can help repair that damage and in turn, help reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases.
Studies suggest that a diet high in antioxidants may help prevent or delay the damaging effects of free radicals.
Cholesterol and Heart health:
High blood cholesterol level leads to increased risk of heart disease. This is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Black pepper extract has been studied in animals for its potential to reduce cholesterol levels. A a study carried out on rats, rats fed with a high-fat diet and a black pepper extract had decreased blood cholesterol levels, including LDL (bad) cholesterol. The same effects were not seen in the control group.
Additionally, black pepper and piperine boost the absorption of dietary supplements that have potential to lower cholesterol.
Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disorder and emerging pandemic of the 21st century. Piperine, the chief alkaloid present in Piper nigrum (black pepper), has a wide array of uses in alternative and complementary therapies. The effect of piperine on blood glucose level was studied in alloxan-induced diabetic mice in acute and subacute study models.
Studies suggest that piperine may help in reducing blood sugar levels. It was observed that consumption of the dietary supplement was associated with a significantly greater decrease in insulin resistance.
Helps Fighting Cancer:
Cancer is a genetic disease characterized by unregulated growth and dissemination of malignantly transformed neoplastic cells. The process of cancer development goes through several stages of biochemical and genetic alterations in a target cell.
Piperine is an active alkaloid with an excellent spectrum of therapeutic activities such as anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, anti-asthmatic, anti-convulsant, anti-mutagenic, antimycobacterial, anti-amoebic, and anti-cancer activities.
Piperine can play an important role in regulating cancer cell proliferation and are considered as potential targets for the treatment of cancer. Piperine is also known to affect cancer cells in variety of other ways such as influencing the redox homeostasis, inhibiting cancer stem cell (CSC) self-renewal and modulation of ER stress and autophagy. Piperine can reverse multidrug resistance (MDR) in cancer cells and acts as bioavailability enhancer for many chemotherapeutic agents.
Some findings suggest that piperine may be a potential agent for the prevention and treatment of human breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate in men. Piperine has also shown promising effects in laboratory studies for reversing multidrug resistance in cancer cells which needs further studies.
Chronic inflammation plays a major role in the development of various neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, brain tumor, and meningitis. Why these diseases are more common among people from some countries than others is not fully understood, but lifestyle factors have been linked to the development of neurodegenerative diseases. For example, the incidence of certain neurodegenerative diseases among people living in the Asian subcontinent, where people regularly consume spices, is much lower than in countries of the western world. Extensive research over the last 10 years has indicated that nutraceuticals derived from such spices as turmeric, red pepper, black pepper, licorice, clove, ginger, garlic, coriander, and cinnamon target inflammatory pathways, thereby may prevent neurodegenerative diseases.
In a study it was found that the administration of the plant extract significantly improved memory performance and exhibited antioxidant potential. Results suggest that the plant extract ameliorates amyloid beta(1-42)-induced spatial memory impairment by attenuation of the oxidative stress in the rat hippocampus.
Piper nigrum prove to be effective for prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. A study in rats with Alzheimer’s disease found that piperine improved memory. Piperine extract has been linked to decrease in the formation of amyloid plaques, which are dense clumps of damaging protein fragments in the brain that have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Read more about Food for Brain Health here.
Research has revealed that the major risk factors for most chronic diseases are infections, obesity, alcohol, tobacco, radiation, environmental pollutants, and diet. It is now well established that these factors induce chronic diseases through induction of inflammation. Inflammation could be either acute or chronic. Acute inflammation persists for a short duration and is the host defense against infections and allergens, whereas the chronic inflammation persists for a long time and leads to many chronic diseases including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, respiratory diseases, etc.
Studies indicate that cancer incidence in countries such as India where spices are consumed daily is much lower (94/100,000) than those where spices are not consumed such as United States (318/100,000), suggesting the potential role of spices in cancer prevention.
Many laboratory studies suggest that piperine, the main active compound in black pepper, may effectively fight inflammation. Results suggest that piperine has anti-inflammatory, antinociceptive, and antiarthritic effects in an arthritis animal model. Thus, piperine should be further studied with regard to use either as a pharmaceutical or as a dietary supplement for the treatment of arthritis.
In rats, piperine significantly reduced nociceptive and arthritic symptoms at days 8 and 4, respectively. Studies have shown that piperine significantly reduced the inflammatory area in the ankle joints.
Some studies also suggest that piperine effectively treats asthma.
Boosts Nutrient Absorption:
Black pepper can enhance the absorption and function of certain nutrients and beneficial compounds. In particular, it may improve the absorption of curcumin, an active ingredient in the popular anti-inflammatory spice turmeric. One study found that taking 20 mg of piperine with 2 grams of curcumin improved the availability of curcumin in human blood by 2,000%
Research also shows that black pepper may improve the absorption of beta-carotene — a compound found in vegetables and fruits that your body converts to vitamin A. Beta-carotene functions as a powerful antioxidant that may combat cellular damage, thus preventing conditions like heart disease.
Digestion & Weight Loss:
Black pepper may promote proper stomach function. Black pepper stimulates the entire digestive system, from the salivary glands to the large intestine including the all-important digestive juices such as bile and acids that help digest our food.
Since black pepper enhances digestion, it can go a long way in helping weight loss. The breakdown of fat cells can be supported by the outer layer of the peppercorn, making it easier to be processed by the body, so black pepper can help you lose weight more easily. Read more about Diet and Weight Loss here.
Also read about the benefits of other commonly used spices like Mint, Ginger, Fenugreek, Fennel, Curry Leaves, Cumin Seeds, Coriander, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Bay Leaves, Basil, Asafoetida, Aniseeds, on our digestion and metabolism.
May promote gut health:
The makeup of your gut bacteria has been linked to immune function, mood, chronic diseases, and more. Preliminary research suggests that black pepper may increase the good bacteria in your gut.
Pepper is known carminative and helps expel gas out of the body. Gas that stays within the body can put a strain on the vital organs including the upper chest cavity which is why it can make you feel uncomfortable.
Depression is said to be one of the most common problems faced by most people worldwide and it can harm our health in multiple ways. Black pepper is used in the treatment of depression. In addition to acting as an anti-depressant, black pepper helps you think more clearly and improves cognitive ability. It is due to the effect on the regulation of serotonin in the brain, a neurotransmitter that affects mood, as well as dopamine that supports brain function.
Beneficial for skin health:
Black pepper prevents a skin pigmentation disease called vitiligo. This condition makes the skin turn white. Black pepper contains ‘piperine’ that stimulates the skin to produce melanocytes pigment.
This also ensures that the chances of occurrence of skin cancer due to overexposure to chemicals are reduced. Black pepper used for skin rash and skin allergy,
Improves Blood Circulation:
Eating black pepper makes sure that blood circulation to different parts of the body is improved. This also ensures that skin is rejuvenated. Skin deformation, like wrinkles, is kept at bay if one adds black pepper to their diet since young age. The occurrence of premature ageing, dark spots are also kept in control if one eats black pepper in raw or cooked form. Skin disorders like acne are controlled if one adds black pepper to their diet. Black pepper benefits for hair fall and hair regrowth.
Treats Cough and Cold:
Common in Ayurvedic medicine, pepper is used to provide relief from nasal congestion and sinusitis by breaking up phlegm and mucus in the respiratory tract so it can be eliminated easier for a faster recovery. In the same way, pepper is active against bacteria. It takes care of our dental health by preventing tooth decays and cavities. It kills bacteria and helps freshen our breath.
Other commonly used home remedies which can help the symptoms of respiratory health and asthma are Mint, Ginger, Garlic, Curry Leaves, Coriander, Cinnamon, Chilies, Cardamom, Bay Leaves, Basil, Asafoetida, Aniseeds.
Possible Side Effects:
Black pepper is considered safe for human consumption in the typical amounts. Supplements containing 5–20 mg of piperine per dose also appear to be safe, but research in this area is limited.
However, eating large amounts of black pepper or taking high-dose supplements may lead to adverse side effects, such as burning sensations in the throat or stomach.
If you’re interested in increasing your black pepper intake or taking piperine supplements, be sure to consult with your doctor about possible drug interactions.
Improvement in insulin resistance and favourable changes in plasma inflammatory adipokines after weight loss associated with two months’ consumption of a combination of bioactive food ingredients in overweight subjects – PubMed (nih.gov)