Spicy hot foods give you this edge against cancer
February 5th, 2017 by Holly Cornish
It’s nice to think that God planned it this way: It seems like every medicine we need can be found in a fruit or vegetable if we look hard enough. Plants contain a mind-boggling array of natural chemicals — for their own benefit, of course — that not only make us healthier, but often taste good, too.
One of the most powerful of these “phytochemicals” is a substance that certain vegetables contain to keep their seeds safe from fungus.
According to researchers at the University of Florida, capsaicin, the spicy ingredient that makes hot peppers hot, wasn’t designed with human taste buds in mind, but evolved to help chili peppers ward off fungus that would otherwise destroy their seeds.
Whether we owe it to God or Darwinian evolution, cancer researchers now find that capsaicin can have potent benefits for killing cancer cells even though that’s not why the pepper plants manufacture it. Keep reading for the details on this “hot” story. . .
“What could happen if you had better blood flow
Capsaicin is an all-around valuable nutrient
By focusing on capsaicin’s cancer benefits, I don’t want to suggest it’s some kind of targeted cancer medicine. It’s good for us in a vast number of ways.
- Evidence suggests that capsaicin may help us live longer. Research that analyzed the health of more than 16,000 Americans for more than 20 years found that people who ate hot peppers had a 13% lower chance of dying during the study.1
- Patches containing capsaicin can relieve peripheral neuropathic pain as well as prescription medicine but without the problematic side effects.2
- A sinus spray containing a capsaicin derivative can relieve stuffy sinuses.3
- Meals containing chili peppers lower blood pressure.4
- According to tests at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, consuming food with hot peppers can lower the risk of colon cancer.5
- Eating meals that include capsaicin may reduce arterial obstructions linked to heart disease.6
- Hot peppers can boost your metabolism and help you lose weight.7
- Topical capsaicin creams and lotions are often applied to the skin for relief of pain from sprains, arthritis, and so forth.
And the list of benefits for capsaicin goes on and on. As I often say in cases like this, if it was a pharmaceutical drug, they’d bottle it and charge you a fortune for it.
Managing microbes the natural way
Historically, spices like capsaicin have been popular in tropical climes because they help preserve food in warm, humid environments. Up north, they’re less popular. Researchers believe that since growth of damaging microbes in stored food has been less of a problem in colder climates, folks living in those areas have been less likely to use items like chili peppers that have preservative powers.
“The use of chili peppers as a spice has spread to nearly every culture within 20 degrees of the equator, and it tends to decline as you move toward the poles,” says researcher Douglas Levey, who has investigated how chili peppers protect their seeds with capsaicin.
Now, however, capsaicin is establishing a new place in human health thanks to its anti-cancer properties.
Research at Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Cologne, Germany, for instance, has found that capsaicin can slow down and stop the growth of what’s called triple-negative breast cancer, a particularly nasty, aggressive form of this disease.8
Triple-negative breast cancers consist of tumors that lack one of the three receptors that drive the development of most breast cancers – estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors or human epidermal growth factor receptors. In cancers that do have one or more of those types of receptors, oncologists use various drugs against the tumors that latch on to these receptors and thereby help destroy the cancer.
However, receptor-targeting treatment won’t stop a triple-negative cancer because the drug doesn’t have the parking place it needs on the cancer cell. The only weapon in conventional medicine’s arsenal against this type of cancer is powerful chemotherapy – with dangerous side effects.
Plus, this type of cancer, which occurs in about 15 to 20 percent of breast cancer cases, grows fairly quickly and is often likely to recur after treatment.
Although triple-negative breast cancer cells don’t contain the usual hormone receptors, when the German researchers began testing these types of cancer cells they found that they contain olfactory receptors – receptors that are more commonly known for being used to detect odors.
The study showed that capsaicin interacted with these receptors to kill off the cancer cells. (The researchers note that these receptors are also activated by helional – a perfume used in soap and detergent to suggest the scent of a sea breeze.)
The activation of these receptors by capsaicin slowed the reproduction of the cancer cells and led to the cells dying off. The cells that didn’t die could not move as quickly as before and were less able to metastasize and invade other tissues.
Is capsaicin useful for other types of cancer?
It also turns out that capsaicin can help defeat other types of cancer – by both activating similar receptors in those tumors and by other actions that cause the destruction of cancer cells.
For example, scientists at Texas Tech and Texas A&M have found that capsaicin can effectively disarm pancreatic cancer cells of their protection against attack by free radicals. It does this by deactivating the cancer cells’ enzymes that would otherwise detoxify its protoplasm and eliminate oxidative substances (i.e. free radicals). When capsaicin cripples these enzymatic defenses, the cancer cells are doomed.9
At the same time, capsaicin also interferes with the way in which mitochondria (little energy-producing organelles found in every cell) clean up after themselves when they fuel the cancer cells’ activities.
The microscopic energy-manufacturing process in mitochondria is a dirty business – it throws off free radicals in a stream of waste products, much the way a coal-fired electric plant belches smoke. As a tumor grows, processes come into play to render these free radicals harmless to the cancer cells.
But capsaicin suppresses the antioxidants the mitochondria need to scrub themselves. The result: the membranes surrounding the mitochondria stop functioning properly and the oxidative stress that ensues causes the cancer cells to surrender to apoptosis – programmed cell death.
Capsaicin in combo with other nutrients
Studies are also demonstrating that capsaicin in combination with other phytochemicals can significantly enhance cancer treatment and help prevent cancer. In a French study, scientists found that combining capsaicin with resveratrol, the beneficial chemical found in wine and grapes, makes it particularly useful against cancer (these researchers, too, were studying pancreatic cancer).10
In these tests, the combination of resveratrol and capsaicin had a synergistic anti-tumor effect. In addition, when the combination was used in conjunction with chemotherapy, it boosted the drug’s effectiveness in killing the cancer.
So if you have a penchant for hot food, go at it. Don’t spare the hot sauce. The fire on your tongue and lips and throat may be burning out hidden health problems that lie within.
Singing may not be quite as much fun as eating, but it’s likewise good for you. If you missed our last article on the health benefits of singing in a chorus, scroll down and read it now. . .
Few Activities Match This
When It Comes to Stopping Cancer
The very mention of the word exercise is enough to drive people to seek solace in a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip muffin.
Yet there’s no getting away from the fact that keeping the body physically active is important if you want to live a long, healthy life.
But what if there was a way to improve cardiovascular and lung function in a way that people enjoy and look forward to? And what if there were also profound social, emotional and spiritual benefits? And what if the advantages of this pursuit actually include healing effects in people with cancer?
Well there is such an activity — it’s singing in a chorus.
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More popular than football
Chorus America states that its mission “is to build a dynamic and inclusive choral community so that more people are transformed by the beauty and power of choral singing.”
A lot of Americans appear to be listening, because there are 270,000 choruses in our country, with more than 32 million adults and 10 million children taking part.
It’s the most popular form of performing arts participation. More Americans sing in choruses and other vocal groups than engage in football, baseball or any other sport.
Clearly there’s something about choral singing that meets important human needs.
A force for healing since antiquity
Music has been a force for healing for thousands of years. In 400 BC, the Greek physician Hippocrates prescribed music for his mentally ill patients, and records of choral singing in Greece go back to the second century BC.
In more modern times, John Harvey Kellogg, best known as the inventor of cornflakes, but also a medical doctor who incorporated nutrition and holistic healing methods into his practice, wrote in 1931:
“I have been particularly impressed with the value of singing. It is not only a diversion and wholesome mental occupation, and on this account health promoting, but is also excellent lung gymnastics and promotes not alone breathing but the circulation as well. It especially aids circulation through the liver, stomach and other digestive organs, and so promotes digestion.”
It wasn’t until 1948, however, with the publication of Music and Medicine, that a scientific approach was proposed for reaping the health benefits of music.
In 1996, the British Medical Journal published a study of the survival benefits from attending various cultural events, reading, and making music/singing in a choir.
Although the study didn’t single out the benefits of choir singing, the authors found that people who sometimes engaged in musical activities had an 11% reduced risk of mortality compared to those who rarely got involved.
An 11% reduced risk of dying is impressive. If they could put it in a bottle, the drug companies would make billions from it.
Social, emotional, physical and spiritual benefits
In 2001, members of a university college choir in England were asked in two surveys to complete questionnaires about their experience.
- 87% agreed that it benefited them socially (mainly by getting to meet new people)
- 75% emotionally (mostly by feeling happier, being more positive, raising mood and reducing stress)
- 58% physically (primarily by controlling and improving breathing and lung function)
- 49% spiritually (a range of answers that included phrases such as being more positive about life, therapeutic, in harmony, happier, less stressed, connected, worthwhile, contributes to society)
In the second survey, respondents were asked to rank choral singing for its impact on a list of 32 benefits. The top four were a positive mood, a moving experience, feeling happier and good for the soul.
The other main benefits mentioned by the singers were a sense of achievement, helps to relax, something to look forward to, improved lung capacity and breathing, mental well-being, reduced stress, able to forget worries and feel calmer.
Stephen M. Clift, Professor of Health Education at the University of Kent, who jointly conducted the study, said that “Just as walking is now prescribed, the benefits of singing for health are slowly being rediscovered by health practitioners.”
Professor Graham Welch, Chair of Music Education at the Institute of Education, University College London, has studied the effects of singing for 30 years. He found that as well as psychological benefits there are physical benefits.
“Singing has physical benefits because it is an aerobic activity that increases oxygenation in the blood stream and exercises major muscle groups in the upper body, even when sitting.”
It’s only in recent years that the impact of choral singing has been specifically looked at for its effects on cancer patients.
In 2012, cancer survivors were assessed after three months of choral singing.
Quality of life improved in terms of bodily pain, mental health, social functioning and vitality. They also experienced reduced anxiety and depression, and improvement in the strength of respiratory muscles. Choir members also reported feeling uplifted, with greater confidence and self-esteem.
Choir singing in the “land of song”
Tenovus Cancer Care is the leading cancer charity in Wales. It conducts research and offers care and support for patients and their families.
Wales is known as the “land of song,” because singing is an important part of Welsh identity. So it seemed natural to add choir singing to the cancer charity’s list of projects.
In 2011 they conducted research into its benefits. Findings were so positive they went on to form 16 Sing With Us choirs throughout the country.
One of their studies found that patients saw an improvement in their overall mental health, greater vitality and less anxiety. They felt participation was an uplifting experience and very supportive.
While these benefits were not unexpected, the charitable group was keen to learn if there were any biological effects, particularly regarding stress levels, mood and immune function.
To find out, they enrolled 193 choir members in a study. Saliva samples were taken from each participant and then again after one hour of rehearsing. The singers also completed a questionnaire about how they felt both before and after the rehearsal.
The subjective and biological findings were as follows:
- The stress hormone cortisol was lower at the end of the rehearsal
- Beneficial changes were found in the levels of endorphins and oxytocin. These hormonal modifications indicate an increase in social bonding
- Positive impact was seen on biomarkers relating to immune function and inflammatory response which could be linked to an improved ability to fight cancer and other illnesses
- Participants were less fearful, anxious, stressed, confused, angry, sad, tense, tired, alone. They reported feelings of improved energy, happiness and relaxation
- Those with the highest feelings of depression saw the greatest improvement in mood. These changes were associated with lower inflammation levels
Study authors praise choir singing
Three of the study authors commented on their findings.
Dr. Daisy Fancourt, Research Associate at the Centre for Performance Science, said, “Many people affected by cancer can experience psychological difficulties such as stress, anxiety and depression.
“Research has demonstrated that these can suppress immune activity at a time when patients need as much support as they can get from their immune system.
“This research is exciting as it suggests that an activity as simple as singing could reduce some of this stress-induced suppression, helping to improve wellbeing and quality of life amongst patients and put them in the best position to receive treatment.”
Dr. Ian Lewis, Director of Research at Tenovus, said, “We have been building a body of evidence over the past six years to show that singing in a choir can have a range of social, emotional and psychological benefits, and now we can see it has biological effects too.
“We’ve long heard anecdotal evidence that singing in a choir makes people feel good, but this is the first time it’s been demonstrated that the immune system can be affected by singing. It’s really exciting and could enhance the way we support people with cancer in the future.”
Rose Dow, Head of Sing with Us at Tenovus, added, “This research…echoes everything all our choir members tell us about how singing has helped them.
“I’ve seen peoples’ lives transformed through singing in our choirs, so knowing that singing also makes a biological difference will hopefully help us to reach more people with the message that singing is great for you – mind, body and soul.”
Whether you are already affected by cancer or just want to improve your chances of preventing it, singing in a choir seems to be one of the finest activities available to achieve this, as it works on so many levels that impact health. Why not seek out a choral group in your local area and get singing?