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Hot Peppers Burn Fat

A pepper extract could burn off the spare tire.This research breakthrough may one day be seen as the dieters' Holy Grail. Korean researchers Jeong In Joo and Jong Won Yun (we are not making this up) have been able to demonstrate that capsaicin (the active compound responsible for the hot sensation in chile peppers) boosted the activity of genes associated with turning up the body's furnace, thereby accelerating fat burning in lab mice. What's more, the activities of several genes that control the production of fat cells were racheted down by capsaicin, so while the rats were fed a high-fat diet, they did not gain as much fat as control rats fed the same diet without capsaicin.

Dr. Merrell's Tip: Don't try capsaicin pills if you have stomach ulcers or acid reflux. For everyone else, these pills should be taken with food.

There is little doubt left from a growing body (no pun intended) of research in rodents and humans that capsaicin inhibits the accumulation of fat, but this Korean paper, published in Proteome (a heavy-duty bio-geek journal from the American Chemical Society), is the first to identifiy mechanisms of action, which in this case turn out to be regulation of genes that control the body's fat storage mechnisms--aka the Holy Grail of weight loss research.

To wildly oversimplify the implications for obesity researchers (you would have to be a DNA expert to truly grasp this latest breakthrough) capsaicin makes fat easier to burn off. Over the past couple of years, researchers have learned a great deal about the metabolic differences between the two different types of human fat; brown fat (brown adipose tissue or BAT) and white fat (white adipose tissue or WAT.) Brown fat acts like the body's furnace, it has a lot of mitochondria, which are energy-generating cell structures that create body heat as a by-product of energy.

Brown fat has a job in the body, whereas white fat is sort of the lazy freeloader of body fats. Brown fat is the type of fat that keeps hybernating animals warm in the winter. Thin people tend to have more brown fat than white fat. White fat is the stuff that accumulates around the mid-section, it sends off a lot of inflammatory molecules, and it has almost no real function in the body other than acting as a sort of giant condo development for more fat cells. The researchers from Daegu University in Kyungsan, Korea tell us that capsaicin makes bad white fat cells act like good brown fat cells. The previously immobile white fat becomes a source of energy for the body, and begins to burn off at an accelerated rate.

It's all very good news for fat researchers (that is, people who research the biological mechanisms of fat.) And for the average Joe, it means there may be a natural fat burning pill with limited side-effects in the pipeline. Currently, capsaicin can be purchased in the form of cayenne pepper supplements. It's certainly worth a try, with the caveat that people with uclers or senstive digestive systems should avoid taking too many pepper supplements, as they can irritate the stomach lining.

To read about the research, see the June 3rd web edition of Science News. For a summary of the recent findings, see J. Proteome Res., 2010, 9 (6), p 2797


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