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Hot Peppers Really Do Bring The Heat

Date:
August 8, 2008
Source:
American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Summary:
Researchers have found that capsaicin, the active chemical in chili peppers, can induce thermogenesis, the process by which cells convert energy into heat.

Red hot chili peppers. Chili peppers can do more than just make you feel hot; the active chemical in peppers can directly induce thermogenesis, the process by which cells convert energy into heat, according to a new study.
Credit: iStockphoto

Chili peppers can do more than just make you feel hot; the active chemical in peppers can directly induce thermogenesis, the process by which cells convert energy into heat, according to a new study.

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Capsaicin is the chemical in chili peppers that contributes to their spiciness; CPS stimulates a receptor found in sensory neurons, creating the heat sensation and subsequent reactions like redness and sweating.

Now, Yasser Mahmoud has found that capsaicin can create "heat" in a more direct manner by altering the activity of a muscle protein called SERCA. Normally, muscle contraction initiates following the release of a wave of calcium ions from a compartment called the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR); SERCA then actively pumps the calcium back into the SR (using ATP energy), causing muscle relaxation and renewing the cycle.

Capsaicin, however, can attach to SERCA and "uncouple" this pumping activity; that is, the protein still burns ATP energy but doesn't use it to pump calcium. Instead, all the ATP energy is given off as heat. This uncoupling, known as thermogenesis, is one important method of staying warm and is most often seen in hibernating animals.

Mahmoud notes that capsaicin is the first natural compound known to augment the thermogenesis process .

These findings further explain how capsaicin intake can increase metabolism and body temperature. And although these studies required relatively high amounts of capsaicin (probably more than someone could eat), the structure of capsaicin could be used as a model to design more potent compounds that might have clinical use such as treating hypothermia.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Mahmmoud et al. Capsaicin Stimulates Uncoupled ATP Hydrolysis by the Sarcoplasmic Reticulum Calcium Pump. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 2008; 283 (31): 21418 DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M803654200

Cite This Page:

American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. "Hot Peppers Really Do Bring The Heat." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 August 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080806140130.htm>.
American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. (2008, August 8). Hot Peppers Really Do Bring The Heat. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080806140130.htm
American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. "Hot Peppers Really Do Bring The Heat." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080806140130.htm (accessed December 20, 2014).

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