Researchers have found that this type of pepper can actually make your body burn fat without having to restrict your calories. Say what? (Photo: Getty Images)
Partial to spicy food? You’re in luck — a new study has found that capsaicin (the compound that makes chili peppers spicy) might help prevent obesity by stimulating thermogenesis and energy burning.
Study author Baskaran Thyagarajan, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutics and Neuroscience at the University of Wyoming School of Pharmacy, decided to research the benefits of chili pepper extract based on existing research that ties spicy foods to an increased metabolism.
“‘Spice up your diet to keep obesity away’ is our mantra,” Thyagarajan tells Yahoo Health. “The novelty here is having a reliable and natural dietary supplement to prevent obesity.”
When lab mice ate pure capsaicin-containing foods, they were protected from high fat diet-induced obesity, Thyagarajan says. The capsaicin compound turned fat-storers into fat-burners — and has the same effect on humans. “In our body, white adipocytes store energy as fat and brown adipocytes expend energy by burning fat. We have discovered a novel mechanism by which capsaicin-stimulated cellular signaling triggers the conversion of white to brown adipocytes,” thus burning energy that would otherwise be stored as fat, Thyagarajan explains. “This is associated with an increased metabolism and energy expenditure.”
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While the study helps shed new light on the benefits of spicy food, the researchers also see it as the first step toward developing an antiobesity drug. “Capsaicin is an ingredient from natural chili peppers and is easily amenable for development as a new drug for preventing and treating metabolic diseases like obesity, hypertension, type II diabetes, etc.,” Thyagarajan tells Yahoo Health.
He and his team have submitted a patent request for the compound, which they hope “will advance the development of capsaicin as a simple dietary supplementation to prevent and treat obesity.” In the meantime, try adding chili peppers to your diet. “Obesity is a major epidemic in our country. Our approach to tackle this problem can be adapted by anyone by eating capsaicin rich diets or by eating chili peppers regularly,” Thyagarajan advises.
That said, researchers don’t have the full picture on the chili-obesity connection just yet. “Honestly, I’m not sure I would jump on the chili band wagon as a treatment for obesity,” Keri Gans, RDN, tells Yahoo Health.
"The study in mice is promising, and I look forward to further research in humans, but adding chili powder to your bacon cheese burger and fries will still leave you with too many calories."
It might be best to see how this plays out in the future, though Gans, like Thyagarajan, sees no harm in adding spice to your food: “You could add chili to soups, sauces, and even egg dishes if you enjoy the flavor,” Gans says.
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