Chili peppers have many health benefits such as fighting off inflammation, natural pain relief and boosting immunity. Now, new research is revealing that they may help stop the spread of lung cancer.
More specifically it is the compound responsible for chili peppers' heat, called capsaicin, that could help slow down metastasis.
"Lung cancer and other cancers commonly metastasize to secondary locations like the brain, liver or bone, making them difficult to treat," said Jamie Friedman, a doctoral candidate who performed the research in the laboratory of Piyali Dasgupta, PhD, at Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.
"Our study suggests that the natural compound capsaicin from chili peppers could represent a novel therapy to combat metastasis in lung cancer patients."
In their study, the researchers found that capsaicin inhibited cells from moving into other tissues, the first step of the metastatic process. Further studies in mice with metastatic cancer revealed that those that consumed capsaicin showed smaller areas of metastatic cancer cells in the lung.
Additional research found that capsaicin inhibits lung cancer metastasis by thwarting the activation of the protein Src. Src is a key regulator that is involved in the control of many functions such as cell adhesion, growth, movement and differentiation.
"We hope that one day capsaicin can be used in combination with other chemotherapeutics to treat a variety of lung cancers," said Friedman.
"However, using capsaicin clinically will require overcoming its unpleasant side effects, which include gastrointestinal irritation, stomach cramps and a burning sensation."
The news is a big deal as lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women. This is in part because lung cancer is particularly hard to treat.
The disease often shows no symptoms until it has progressed to the metastasis stage. Once it has spread little can be done to stop it.
While more research needs to be done to truly evaluate capsaicin's potential in stopping metastatic growth, the possibility of using it in conjunction with other treatments such as chemotherapy is an exciting one. Now, the researchers are seeking out non-pungent capsaicin analogs that retain the anti-tumor activity to make the treatment easier to tolerate.
The study is published in Experimental Biology.