ORLANDO, Fla. — Spicy food isn’t for everyone. Some people love a little danger with their dinner, while others prefer to play it safe and avoid fiery ingredients like chili peppers. However, a new study finds that chili peppers may have a much more important benefit than making your dinner taste better: the ability to fight lung cancer.
The study out of Marshall University finds that the natural compound responsible for chili peppers’ distinctive hot flavor, called capsaicin, may also impede the spread of lung cancer.
This could be an incredibly important breakthrough in cancer treatment. Not only is lung cancer the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among men and women, but most cancer cases become much worse when cancer cells begin spreading throughout patients’ bodies due to a process called metastasis.
“Lung cancer and other cancers commonly metastasize to secondary locations like the brain, liver or bone, making them difficult to treat,” explains study author Jamie Friedman in a release. “Our study suggests that the natural compound capsaicin from chili peppers could represent a novel therapy to combat metastasis in lung cancer patients.”
Researchers conducted experiments involving three groups of lab-grown human cells and lung cancer cells. Capsaicin effectively prevented the cancer cells from “invading” the other cells.
Additionally, mice suffering from metastatic cancer who had consumed capsaicin exhibited smaller amounts of metastatic cancer cells in their lungs compared to cancer-ridden mice who had not eaten any capsaicin.
The study’s authors say capsaicin impedes lung cancer metastasis by suppressing Src, a protein involved in several cellular processes including proliferation and independent movement.
“We hope that one day capsaicin can be used in combination with other chemotherapeutics to treat a variety of lung cancers,” Friedman says. “However, using capsaicin clinically will require overcoming its unpleasant side effects, which include gastrointestinal irritation, stomach cramps and a burning sensation.”
Researchers are currently working on a not-so-spicy ingestion method for patients that will still retain all of capsaicin’s usual cancer-fighting qualities.