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Published on: December 2, 2014
by Tracey Roizman, D.C. for SF Gate:
Black pepper, derived from the unripe berries of Piper nigrum, is the most widely-used and traded spice in the world, notes Princeton University. Ancient Egyptians used black pepper in mummification rituals. Long valued for its sharp flavor and purported health-promoting effects, including some related to brain function, black pepper is a staple in home kitchens and restaurants alike.
Piperine, an active compound in black pepper, inhibits an enzyme that breaks down the calming neurotransmitter serotonin, according to a study published in the December 2012 issue of “Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry Letters,” making it potentially useful in the treatment of some mood disorders.
The enzyme also degrades melatonin, a hormone your brain produces that controls your body’s day/night cycles. In an animal study published in the April 2011 issue of “Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry” mice treated with piperine exhibited less immobility and higher levels of 5-hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP, a molecule that the brain uses to produce serotonin.
A study published in the December 2012 issue of “Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry Letters” found that black pepper might help prevent and treat Parkinson’s disease. Researchers noted that piperine inhibits a type of enzyme that degrades the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is deficient in Parkinson’s disease patients. Additionally, a portion of the study that tested the brain’s affinity for various substances revealed that the brain readily absorbs piperine, indicating that consuming black pepper or piperine extract could provide brain-protective benefits.
Black pepper might forestall brain aging and help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published in a 2012 “Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.” In the animal study, elderly dogs consumed a daily supplement that contained a combination of turmeric, green tea, N-acetyl cysteine, alpha-lipoic acid and black pepper for three months. Results showed improvement in spatial attention. However, visual learning and spatial memory were unaffected by the supplement combination in this study.
Anti-seizure effects of black pepper were demonstrated in a study published in a 2010 issue of “Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin.” The animal study found that piperine inhibits seizures by controlling the flow of calcium — the chemical that prompts nerve cells to release neurotransmitters. Researchers noted that piperine improved the synchronization of nerve activity in the brain. Additionally, the black pepper compound protected nerve cells and prevented early cell death.
Black pepper improved swallowing ability in stroke patients in a study published in the September 2006 “Journal of the American Geriatric Society.” Participants inhaled an infusion of black pepper oil for a minute per day for a month. Results showed increased activation of the area of the brain that controls the swallowing reflex.
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