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Health benefits of peppers – Punch Newspapers


Peppers are a major condiment used throughout the world.  They belong in the family Solanaceae; the same family as the tomato which is also a major condiment.  Pepper is known as capsicum annuum and it has a large number of varieties with varying morphologies which have been developed through breeding.  In Nigeria, there is a wild shrubby species which is disseminated by birds in opened-up forest locations; they bear small bell-shaped fruits which are really hot!

Capsicum annuum (pepper) can be a perennial or an annual plant. The picture is showing a small plant about 80 cm tall with ovate leaves in the opposite arrangement. The flowers are borne on axils and an axil can have two or three solitary flowers. The flower leaves are in fives, the petal lobes are valvate; the anthers are purple, clearly 2-lobed and clustering around the style. The fruit is a berry with many seeds.

Breeding for improvement has created a lot of morphological variants but the reproductive morphology has remained a reliable criterion for identification in the family. All the peppers are called “chilli peppers”; indeed chilli refers to the fruit but each has a common name to distinguish it from the common botanical name.

Do you know that Beyonce Knowles, the American singer and songwriter lived on a diet of water with cayenne pepper to lose weight for her role in the movie Dream Girls? Many studies show that the capsaicin in cayenne peppers helps reduce hunger. How it does this is not completely understood, but one study showed that it reduces the production of the hunger hormone, ghrelin.

The capsicum plants are used for both food and medicinal purposes. Peppers have a lot going for them; they are low in calories and loaded with substances for good nutrition. All varieties are excellent sources of vitamins A and C, E, B; potassium, folic acid, and fiber. The spicy ones liven up bland foods, making them more satisfying. Peppers contain a wide array of phytochemicals such as phenolics and flavonoids that are important anti-oxidants which may reduce degenerative diseases.

Capsaicin is the compound found in peppers that gives them their hot and spicy kick. This compound is well-known for its pain-relieving properties. It works by affecting the neuro-transmitter that communicates pain signals to the brain. In this way, it can reduce the perception of pain. Capsaicin is extracted from peppers and added to creams, gels, nasal sprays and even patches for use as a pain-relief treatment.

Wikipedia (2016) mentioned that a study published by the British Medical Journal found some indications that humans who consume spicy foods, especially fresh chilli peppers, were less likely to die of cancer or diabetes. No wonder the Yoruba say “emi ti o je ata, emi yepere ni” which translates into English as “the soul that does not use pepper will not amount to much.”

The bell pepper known as tatase is a sweet, no-heat chilli pepper. It is the only member of the genus Capsicum that does not produce capsaicin. Red bell peppers pack the most nutrition because they have been on the vine longest. Green bell peppers are harvested earlier before they have a chance to turn yellow, orange and then red. Red and yellow bell peppers are super-rich in antioxidants and they also contain high amounts of vitamin C, even more than oranges! The cayenne pepper is known as sombo or bawa. It is usually a moderately-hot chilli pepper.  Cayenne peppers are a popular spice used in many different regional styles of cooking and they have been used medicinally for thousands of years. The last time I prepared my home-made yogurt, I used Cayenne pepper to make the yogurt starter.

Habanero pepper is a hot chilli pepper that is a favourite among people who enjoy spicy food. In 1999, the habanero was listed by Guinness World Records as the world’s hottest chilli. The Yoruba call it “ata rodo.” Among the most common chilli peppers, it is the spiciest and one that adds a brilliant heat to food (and drinks). The habanero’s heat, flavour and floral aroma make it a popular ingredient in hot sauces and other spicy foods.

Let us look at some of the benefits of pepper:

Eye health: Capsicum is incredibly beneficial for eye health. The reason is because capsicums are high in lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that can protect your retina from oxidative damage. Studies show that consuming foods that contain high amounts of carotenoids can protect your eyes from macular degeneration.

Prevents cancer: Orange capsicum has been found to cut prostate cancer growth rate by 75 per cent. Cancer patients who were given hot peppers in a research in the US had improved health conditions. The growth of cancer cells has significantly slowed down.

Forms mucilage: Capsicum contains tannins which are astringent and often considered for their benefits when treating gastrointestinal issues. Gastric mucilage protects the gastric lining and prevents related diseases. Studies show that it acts as mucilage by increasing the production of gastric mucus.

Diabetes management: A 2017 animal study showed some anti-diabetic properties obtained from this plant, however, more than one component of this vegetable could have been the cause of the lower glucose levels in cases of Type 1 diabetes. Another study also recommends the screening of capsicum as a part of the dietary management of Type 2 diabetes.

Pain relief: Capsaicin is a well-known treatment for neuralgia, a condition in which pain comes from the nerve that lies close to the skin surface. The use of capsaicin can cause the relief of pain from many different conditions including arthritis, fibromyalgia, nerve pain and lower back pain. When applied directly to the skin, capsaicin lowers the amount of substance P, a chemical that helps transmit pain signals to the brain.

Eases the symptoms of stomach ulcers: Capsicum has a proven action on gastric ulcers by reducing the population of Helicobacter pylori.

Quells psoriasis: Psoriasis is an itchy skin condition resulting in ugly skin patches. Capsaicin cream will significantly prevent the number of cells from replicating and it aids in the reversal of skin lesions.

  • Good for weight loss
  • Relieves menopausal symptoms
  • Lowers blood cholesterol and levels of triglycerides
  • Mitigates migraines
  • Fights the flu, colds and fungal infections
  • Prevents bad breath
  • Prevents allergies
  • Improves cognitive functions
  • Prevents anaemia
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Improves bone health
  • Boosts immunity
  • It has anti-inflammatory properties
  • Improves cardiovascular health
  • Prevents cancer

I have been asked several times if I have herbal supplements for COVID 19.  I will like to seize this opportunity to address the question. The best time to prepare for war is when there is peace; a body that is always fed with healthy diets will have an already established defence mechanism to fight infections. COVID 19 is a viral infection; so, at this time, there is no better herbal formulation than having an uncompromised immune system. I am so passionate about preventive medicine; every compound I have ever discussed here has an immunity-building possibility.  It is what a bird eats that gives it strength to fly. You are what you eat.

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