Piperine is the chemical that makes black pepper spicy. It prevents inflammation and oxidative stress and holds promise in the treatment of diseases as diverse as cancer, arthritis, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s. It may also increase metabolism and weight loss, improve cholesterol, enhance brain function, and reduce pain. Read on to learn about the many benefits of piperine.
What is Black Pepper?
Black pepper is the most widely used spice in the world.
Long before scientific research explained how it worked, black pepper was used as a folk medicine to treat a variety of conditions and diseases, including rheumatism, influenza, muscle pains, chills, fevers, migraines, and digestive problems. It was also used to enhance blood circulation and stimulate appetite [R].
It is also classified as a cinnamamide. These are chemicals that have sedative, anticonvulsant, and antidepressant properties [R].
Piperine has numerous health benefits. It protects against inflammation, may improve cognitive function, mood, allergies, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure.
It is also an antioxidant, and it improves the bioavailability of many other drugs and supplements. This means our bodies can make use of them more effectively.
Mechanism of Action
Piperine has many effects on the body. These include:
- decreasing inflammation. It reduces the levels of cytokines that promote inflammation (IL-1b, TNF-α, and PGE2) and increases the levels of cytokines that reduce inflammation (IL-10) [R].
- increasing bioavailability of many drugs and supplements. By inhibiting the detox enzymes that break down drugs (such as CYP3A4) and increasing drug/substance absorption in the gut, piperine increases the body’s ability to make effective use of many other compounds [R].
- acting as an antioxidant. It acts directly as a hydroxyl and superoxide radical scavenger [R].
- inhibiting prostaglandins (hormone-like fats). This helps with diarrhea [R].
- increasing dopamine and serotonin in the brain – this help improves mood, cognitive function, and fight of neurodegenerative diseases [R, R].
- Increasing muscle metabolism by increasing ATPase activity. This increases the use of energy by the muscles and helps in weight loss [R].
Health Benefits of Piperine
1) Piperine Is An Antioxidant
Along with everyday risk factors such as pollutants and radiation, a high-fat diet can cause the production of free radicals. When piperine was given to rats that had been living on a high-fat diet, the number of free radicals decreased. It also increased the levels of enzymes that neutralize free radicals (SOD, CAT, GPx, and GST) [R, R].
2) Piperine Increases Supplement/Drug Bioavailability
In other words, piperine increases the ability of the body to use nutrients and drugs [R].
This means that lower or fewer doses of the drug can be used to achieve the same effect. This is very beneficial when it comes to drugs that have unpleasant side effects!
Piperine does this by [R]:
- stopping the body from breaking down drugs by blocking drug-metabolizing enzymes in the liver (such as CYP3A4, CYP2E1, CYP1B1, and CYP1B2)
- increasing the number of drugs and nutrients absorbed in the gut by stimulating gut transporters
3) Piperine May Combat Cancer
Piperine prevented breast cancer (with 80-90% efficacy) and decreased breast cancer growth in rats [R].
Piperine fights against cancer in several ways. It:
- creates free radicals in cancer cells — the same things that it protects the body against through its role as an antioxidant in normal cells [R, R].
- reduces the levels of cyclin B1, a protein that lets cells divide [R].
- causes programmed cell death (apoptosis) of cancer cells by increasing p21 and activating caspase 3 [R, R].
4) Piperine May Improve Cognitive Function
For example, rats who were fed piperine learned faster and retained memories longer [R].
5) Piperine May Combat Depression
Depression is common in epilepsy. In a rat model of epilepsy, feeding rats piperine reduced symptoms of depression by increasing serotonin levels [R].
Piperine’s ability to enhance the effects of other drugs is also helpful when it comes to depression. Resveratrol is a compound that can reduce depression, and this antidepressant works better in mice when combined with piperine [R].
6) Piperine Could Help Treat Parkinson’s Disease
In a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease, piperine improved motor coordination. It also improved brain function and learning [R].
Increasing dopamine levels is the most common way to treat Parkinson’s disease. Piperine inhibits MAO-A and MAO-B, the enzymes that break down dopamine, thereby increasing overall dopamine levels in the brain [R].
7) Piperine May Decrease Inflammation
Piperine reduced both short- and long-term symptoms of inflammation in rats [R].
It also reduced inflammation in a mouse model of endometritis (inflammation of the uterus) [R].
In mice with acute lung injury caused by lipopolysaccharides, piperine reduced the production of cytokines that cause inflammation. It also reduced the accumulation of white blood cells and the build-up of excess fluid in the lungs [R].
8) Piperine May Fight Allergies
9) Piperine May Relieve Pain
As little as 5 milligrams of piperine per kilogram of body weight reduced pain in mice and rats. In humans, this would be roughly equivalent to 1/6th of a teaspoon [R].
10) Piperine May Improve Cholesterol
Rats with high levels of fats and cholesterol in the blood were fed piperine for three weeks. Without a change in diet, their levels of total, LDL– and VLDL-cholesterol (the bad kinds of cholesterol) decreased while HDL-cholesterol (the good kind) increased [R].
11) Piperine May Help with Weight Loss
Piperine prevents and slows the production of fat cells [R].
Rats with high levels of fats and cholesterol in the blood lost weight and fat mass when piperine was added to their diet [R].
In addition, piperine increases the number of calories burned by muscle. This increase in metabolism might offer another explanation of why this compound helps with weight loss in animals [R].
12) Piperine May Lower Blood Pressure
Piperine caused a significant drop in average blood pressure when fed to rats [R].
In another study in rats, it was able to partially prevent the increase in blood pressure caused by a drug (NOS inhibitor)[R].
High blood pressure causes artery walls to be more rigid, which is a predictor of heart disease and stroke. In rats, piperine prevents artery walls from hardening, keeping arteries youthful, healthy, and flexible [R].
13) Piperine May Combat Metabolic Syndrome
Supplementation with piperine in rat models of metabolic syndrome decreased blood pressure, improved glucose tolerance, reduced blood markers of oxidative stress and inflammation, prevented tissue damage and inflammation in the liver (fibrosis) and improved liver function [R].
14) Piperine May Prevent Gallstones
Gallstones are formed from crystallized cholesterol in the gallbladder. Piperine prevented cholesterol gallstone formation in mice by reducing the size of cholesterol crystals and decreasing the transport of cholesterol from the liver into the gallbladder [R].
15) Piperine Helps Your Gut Absorb More Nutrients
It allows the body to absorb more nutrients by making it easier for them to pass through the membrane (inner layer) of the gut [R].
It also increases the surface of the gut that can absorb nutrients from food, further boosting the gut’s efficiency [R].
16) Piperine May Help Against Diarrhea
Piperine prevents diarrhea in mice. In rabbits and guinea pigs, it works as well as loperamide, another drug used to treat diarrhea — but without causing any of loperamide’s usual side effects [R, R].
It is also anti-spasmodic, meaning that it reduces muscle spasms in the digestive tract [R].
17) Piperine (In Low Doses) May Lower Blood Sugar in Diabetes
18) Piperine May Prevent Ulcers
19) Piperine May Combat H. pylori
Heliobacter pylori is a bacteria that causes chronic stomach inflammation, peptic ulcers, and in rare cases of stomach cancer.
Piperine inhibits H. pylori from growing and sticking to cells, which may reduce the chances of infection [R].
20) Piperine May Protect Against Seizures
Other Effects Of Piperine (Can be Positive Or Negative)
1) Piperine May Decrease Thyroid Hormones
In a study with mice, piperine (2.5 mg/kg) reduced the levels of thyroid hormones as much as standard anti-thyroid drugs did [R].
This can be good for people who have elevated thyroid hormones. However, reducing thyroid levels in healthy people could be harmful. Low levels can cause symptoms such as fatigue, joint pain, and shortness of breath [R].
2) Piperine Can Both Suppress or Boost the Immune System
When the body senses an invader such as bacteria, it sends dendritic cells to the lymph nodes to activate the T-cells. In mice, piperine keeps dendritic cells from maturing and makes them less able to travel to the lymph nodes [R].
Immune system suppression could be harmful to healthy people, but with further research, it could help in the treatment of autoimmune diseases [R].
On the other hand, piperine can also boost the immune system. In mice, it caused an increase in the production of IL-6 and TNF-α, signal molecules that cause inflammation in response to infection [R].
3) Piperine May Slow Gut Transit
One study looked at the movement of food and liquids through the digestive system in mice and rats. Low doses of piperine (1 to 1.3 mg/kg body weight) increased the time it took for solids to travel through the digestive system. There was no change for liquids [R].
Another mouse study showed that doses as low as 0.5 mg/kg slowed the time for food to move through the digestive system [R].
1) Piperine May Decrease Fertility
One study in male mice showed that piperine damages sperm. Piperine increased the number of harmful radicals in the epididymis, the tube where sperm is stored [R].
It also reduced the number of sperm and their ability to move in rats [R].
These fertility effects can occur with doses as low as 10 mg/kg body weight in rats [R].
Finally, piperine may prevent pregnancy by stopping fertilized eggs from attaching to the uterus. In mice, piperine injections reduced the number of implanted eggs by half [R].
2) Piperine May Increase the Bioavailability of Some Toxins
This compound may increase toxin bioavailability by the same mechanisms that improve supplement and drug bioavailability.
Limitations and Caveats
While piperine shows a lot of potential for treating many disorders and diseases, many of the studies were done in animals. Human trials are therefore needed to confirm beyond doubt these health benefits in humans.
Safety and Side Effects
Piperine is a non-toxic compound with few side effects.
One study with human volunteers reported that piperine causes no adverse effects [R].
Some people reported nausea and gut discomfort when using the supplement.
As much as 250 times the average human consumption causes no toxicity in rats [R].
Piperine is a bioavailability enhancer, meaning that it helps the body make use of other substances. This means that it causes many drugs and supplements to have greater effects at even lower dosages [R].
It enhances the effect of many drugs (including those metabolized by CYP3A4 and CYP2E1 enzymes):
- Diclofenac (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) [R]
- Ibuprofen (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) [R]
- Fexofenadine (an allergy drug) [R, R]
- Carbamazepine (anti-epileptic) [R]
- Chlorzoxazone (muscle relaxant) [R]
- Ampicillin trihydrate (a type of penicillin, which is an antibiotic) [R]
- Norfloxacin (antibiotic) [R]
- Nevirapine (a drug used to treat HIV) [R]
- Domperidone (anti-emetic drug) [R]
- Docetaxel (anti-cancer drug) [R]
- Glimepiride (anti-diabetic) [R]
- Nateglinide (anti-diabetic) [R]
- Metformin (anti-diabetic) [R]
However, it prevented the antidiabetic effects of curcumin in rats [R].
The regular kind of black pepper that you probably have in your kitchen at home is 0.4-7.0% piperine [R].
Slightly lower amounts are found in white pepper, long pepper, and Balinese long pepper [R].
Piperine supplements are sold both as a powder and as pills.
There is no official recommended dosage for piperine. In humans, a dose of 20 mg per day can increase the bioavailability of curcumin [R].
There have been few human studies for the other benefits of piperine. However, these daily doses have been effective in mice and rats:
- For pain relief: 30-70 mg/kg body weight [R].
- To improve brain function: 5-50 mg/kg body weight [R].
- To lower blood pressure: 10 mg/kg body weight [R].
- For antioxidant effects: 20 mg/kg body weight [R].
Ordinary black pepper is around 0.4-7.0% piperine [R]. Therefore, to get 1 full gram of piperine from black pepper, a person would have to eat over six teaspoons of black pepper! Unsurprisingly, it is recommended to use piperine supplements for these doses instead.
“Works great with turmeric as a pain reliever.”
“I love it and have been using this product for many years now without any problems. It really seems to help with the absorption of other supplements that I take, one being my thyroid medication.”
“Nice inexpensive way to increase the benefits from different food and supplements.”
“I didn’t feel any extra absorption of my daily supplement when I took this product.”
“I have not experienced any noticeable effect (positive or negative) since starting this product. It’s difficult for me to determine whether the bioavailability of my vitamins or other supplements is enhanced by this product.”