It’s a fine powder that comes in every supermarket and is a staple seasoning in most meals, but there’s a reason pepper is often referred to as black gold.
The History of Black Pepper
Back in the Middle Ages, the phrase “as dear as pepper” was used to describe anything highly valuable or expensive – which gives you an idea of the high price traders placed on the simple peppercorn. Considered the king of spicesi, pepper was even used as a form of currency, and there is evidence to suggest that ship captains undertook treacherous voyages just to bring bags of it home.
Why? Those tiny kernels have almost magical qualities, making your meals taste great and helping you to feel better, too.
Peppercorns may look a little innocuous, but those dried-out pellets are rich sourcesii of essential vitamins and minerals, including manganese, iron, potassium and dietary fiber.
There’s another reason, too, which those traders and ship captains might not have known about: piperine. This active ingredient is responsible for the potent flavour pepper adds to your dish – and once absorbed into the body, it can act as an antidepressantiii, boost serotonin production and brain functioning, stimulate adrenal production, relieve pain, and assist in coordinating digestive tract contractions.
7 Unexpected Health Benefits of Black Pepper
A 2013 study in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutritioniv showed that black pepper contains bioactive components with huge therapeutic potential against a number of illnesses, helping to provide physiological benefits and prevent the onset of chronic ailments.
Great taste, even greater benefits? No wonder ancient traders spent so much time and effort trying to get their hands on the stuff.
Fortunately, you don’t have to sail miles across the world to experience the advantages of black gold – next time you’re considering whether to add the king of spices to your groceries, remember these health benefits of black pepper.
1. It’s Good for Your Gut
Your digestive system plays a crucial role in keeping you healthy, as it assimilates nutrients from food and directs them towards where they are needed most. If you are suffering from symptoms of digestive issues – such as bloating, diarrhea, or constipation – chances are, you will see the effects elsewhere, too. By increasing the secretion of hydrochloric acid in your stomach, black pepper aids digestion, helps eliminate harmful chemicals from the body and prevents the uncomfortable buildup of intestinal gas.
2. It Can Help You Lose Weight
Keeping your gut healthy is an essential first step for anyone looking to lose some weight. But black pepper goes even further: the outer layer of a peppercorn, even when ground to dust, has been shown to boost your metabolism, causing an enzymatic reactionv that might assist breaking down fat cells into their component parts – readying them for easy, natural processing by the body.
3. It Can Protect Your Skin
Ever heard of vitiligo? This skin disease causes white patches to appear on the skin, as it loses the pigment melanin. Piperine in pepper can stimulate the skin to produce this pigment, and researchvi shows that the topical treatment of this active ingredient, combined with UV light therapy, is far healthier than other, chemically-induced treatments.
4. It Can Cure a Cold
Practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine – a holistic healing systemvii developed over 3,000 years ago, in India – prescribe black pepper as a tonic for colds and coughs. This is because ground pepper is effective at providing relief from sinusitis and nasal congestion, breaking up mucus in the respiratory tract, and helping to expel phlegm deposits from the body.
5. It Could Help Manage Diabetes
When excess sugar or starch from the food you eat is allowed to absorb too quickly into the body, your blood glucose levels can skyrocket – leading to all sorts of problems, including the risk of developing diabetes and hypertension. Researchviii shows black pepper essential oil can help to block to crucial enzymes that break starch and carbohydrates into sugar, helping your body regulate and delay the absorption of glucose.
6. It Fights Free Radicals
No, we’re not talking about terrorists. When the oxygen in your body splits into atoms, some of them will be unpaired – and because these electrons function best in pairs, they’ll course through your body in search of partners. This process is call scavenging, and it can be extremely harmful, killing or damaging important cell tissue along the way. To combat free radicals, or to heal the damage they cause, you need antioxidants – like the ones found in black pepper – to neutralize them and keep your cells safe from harm.
7. It Keeps Your Brain Young
Everyone ages, but that doesn’t mean you have to lose your mind along with your youth. Some studies suggest that piperine can be used to reduce the effects of aging, including memory loss and other forms of cognitive malfunction. This is because the compound stimulates chemical pathways deep within the brain, keeping the lines of communication open and working for longer.
Why Should You Combine Black Pepper with Turmeric?
We mentioned piperine before – but what we left out is that this powerful alkaloid is known to increase the bioavailabilityix of another crucial natural compound, called curcumin. The name might not be familiar, but its color sure is: you’ve seen it every time you’ve added turmeric to a curry, trying to get that deep, healthy shade of yellow.
But it’s more than just a handy form of food coloring: curcumin possesses powerful anti-inflammatory effects that stunt the growth of infectious cells. This property makes it a potent weapon against cancer.
One problem: its oral bioavailability is notoriously poorx, and only a fraction of what you’d consume in a single meal is absorbed into the body. This is where black pepper comes in, combining black pepper with turmeric can boostxi the bioavailability of curcumin by a massive 2,000 percent, and by combining the two you’re ensuring your body manages to get the best of both.
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