If your ego ever shoved a chile in your maw that was hotter than your mouth could handle, you learned something very fast: capsaicin loves to piss off pain receptors. Some of us have even learned this lesson twice; once on eating the chile, again when it says good bye on the way out. What you may not know is that capsaicin keeps up the shenanigans all the way through your digestive system, all the way from point A to B. That stimulus
is the basis of research suggesting that chile peppers may prevent colon cancer.
Basically, capsaicin activates a pain receptor named TRPV1. At first the researchers found the receptor in sensory neurons. Hence, the burning sensation in one’s mouth that sends newbies at the National Fiery Foods & BBQ Show running at mach 8 for the ice cream booth every year. The researchers also found TRPV1 in the cells lining the intestines. Hence, capsaicin should stimulate them, too.
The scientists found that TRPV1 in the intestine cells is stimulated by epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). That receptor is vital to intestinal cell growth. Interrupt EGFR’s signal and you may get uncontrolled cell growth, leading to tumors. Long story short, activating TRPV1 stops the growth of extraneous cells. Fewer extra cells, less risk for tumor growth. Since the capsaicin in chiles also fires up TPRV1, chiles may reduce the risk of intestine/colon cancer.
To test this hypothesis, researchers did something Beavis and Butthead would love to try–feeding chile peppers to mice. Once the research team stopped laughing at the sweaty little rodents sprinting for the ice cream at the end of the lab maze, they found that after adding capsaicin to the mice’s diet, the rodents’ lifespan increased 30 percent.
All kidding about ice cream and mazes aside, you can get full details here.