Cayenne turns up heat on prostate cancer

Cayenne Peppers Help Treat Prostate Cancer

Common Hot pepper’s heat could kill prostate cancer

Cayenne pepper – also called Guinea spice, aleva, bird pepper and cow-horn pepper – is a hot chilli pepper which enjoys great popularity in many dishes.  It is a cultivar of Capsicum annuum and related to jalapeño and bell peppers, among others.  Research suggests that the pungent pepper may be a potent tool in the fight against prostate cancer.

Researchers from the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in collaboration with colleagues from UCLA, found that capsaicin, the alkaloid found in hot peppers which creates the sensation of heat can trigger apoptosis – cell death – in prostate cancer cells, causing them to kill themselves.  Study findings were published in the journal Cancer Research.

Using a mouse model, it was found that capsaicin caused roughly 80 percent of malignant prostate cells to follow a molecular pathway which induced their own apoptosis.  In addition, prostate cancer tumors treated with capsaicin were about 1/5 the size of those in mice which did not receive treatment.

“Capsaicin had a profound anti-proliferative effect on human prostate cancer cells in culture,” said Sören Lehmann, M.D., Ph.D., visiting scientist at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the UCLA School of Medicine. “It also dramatically slowed the development of prostate tumors formed by those human cell lines grown in mouse models.”  Researchers observed that capsaicin inhibited the activity of NF-kappa Beta, a molecular mechanism that participates in the pathways leading to apoptosis in many cell types.

According to Lehmann’s estimates, the dose of cayenne pepper extract given to the mice was the equivalent of a human male consuming 400 milligrams of capsaicin three times weekly – an achievable dose for hot pepper-lovers, being roughly what would be found in between three and eight fresh habañera peppers, depending on their capsaicin levels.  Capsaicin is also available as a supplement for those less inclined toward spicy food.

Apoptosis is a normal cellular process found in many tissues.  It helps maintain a balance between new and old healthy cells.  Malignant cells, by comparison, seek “cellular immortality” – they do not willingly self-destruct, avoiding apoptosis by deregulating or mutating genes which are a part of the process of programmed cell death.

Phillip Koeffler, M.D., director of Hematology and Oncology, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and professor at UCLA, explains: ”When we noticed that capsaicin affected NF-kappa Beta, that was an indication that we might expect some of the apoptotic proteins to be affected.”

Capsaicin also was able to reduce malignant cell proliferation in prostate cancers which were affected by the male hormone, testosterone, in a dose-dependant manner.  The greater the concentrations of capsaicin given, the more prostate cancer cells became frozen in a non-proliferative state, called G0/G1.

It was found that prostate cancer cells which were androgen independent – not affected by testosterone – reacted similarly to capsaicin.

It also reduced the production of PSA – prostate specific antigen – a protein which is often elevated if prostate cancer is present – though is not necessarily indicative of cancer nor the cause of it.