While you may well love a shake of pepper in your tomato soup or enjoy using it as an ingredient in meat rubs, have you ever stopped to wonder what it might be doing for your health? As it turns out, black pepper is incredibly good for the body, influencing everything from the condition of your skin to your likelihood of getting certain common chronic illnesses. Here are ten of the most surprising and exciting health benefits of black pepper a staple in your seasoning cabinet.
1. It assists your digestive system
Although pepper tastes spicy, it doesn’t tend to irritate the stomach. In fact, it helps your body digest food by increasing the production of hydrochloric acid. It is this acid that breaks down your meals, so a liberal sprinkling of black pepper may be smart if you’re prone to experiencing bloating and stomach cramps. Black pepper is also a carminative, which means it helps to get rid of trapped wind.
2. It is linked to improved cognitive function
Some of the most interesting new research on black pepper concerns its potential application to Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative neurological conditions. Specifically, black pepper appears to improve memory and may even reverse a degree of cognitive dysfunction. It is theorized that these benefits are due to the compound piperine, which stimulates some of the most important chemical pathways in the brain.
3. It can treat coughs
The next time you’re hacking your way through the terrible cough that often comes with an upper respiratory infection, look to a black pepper tea to make you feel better. This is a traditional Chinese remedy that helps you get rid of stubborn mucus. Simply mix 1tsp of freshly ground black pepper with around 2tbsp of honey (to add antibacterial benefits), and fill the cup up with boiling water. Let the tea steep for 10-15 minutes, then strain it and drink.
4. It may reduce cancer risk
Thanks to the presence of a chemical called piperine, consuming pepper may lower your likelihood of developing certain types of cancer. In particular, scientists at the University of Michigan Cancer Center have discovered an especially promising link between black pepper and a reduced risk of breast cancer. If you want to double the cancer-fighting benefits, mix black pepper with turmeric (as recipes for Indian curries often suggest).
5. It may reduce arthritis symptoms
Thanks to black pepper’s anti-inflammatory compounds, it could be just the thing to add to your diet if you’re suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Research involving arthritic participants establishes a link between black pepper consumption and pain perception, likely due to this anti-inflammatory effect.
6. It keeps your skin looking fresh
Black pepper has antibacterial properties, so it can help to fight some of the bacteria that cause acne. Skincare experts recommend making a peppery exfoliant by adding ground black pepper to a cup of sugar, half a cup of massage oil and a few drops of orange essential oil. As well as getting rid of pesky bacteria, the pepper helps to boost blood flow to the skin, promoting healthy cell turnover.
7. It could help you quit smoking
Trying to give up your cigarette habit? That’s great news, but we all know it’s easier said than done. Interestingly, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, inhaling the smell of black pepper oil on a cotton ball can help to reduce your cravings for nicotine. As you inhale, the sensation in your throat will mimic that associated with smoking.
8. It promotes weight loss
The phytochemicals found in peppery foods appear to help your body break down fat cells, which could help you in your quest to shed excess pounds. Broken down fat cells are more quickly processed and used to fuel the body’s vital processes (instead of being stored for future use). As a bonus, some studies suggest that benefits of black pepper also temporarily boosts your metabolism, leading you to burn more calories at a faster rate. However, the scent of black pepper is also said to stimulate appetite, which may put your self-control to the test if you’re on a diet!
9. It can be used to treat minor cuts
If you have a painful cut that is continuously bleeding, applying pressure is the best way to stop the blood from flowing. However, the benefits of black pepper can also help, as it makes blood coagulate. There are even rumors that it was used on the battlefield during the Second World War. As mentioned above, black pepper is also an antibacterial agent, so it may also reduce the risk of developing an infection in your wound.
10. It improves oral health
You can combine the benefits of black pepper with salt and water to create a paste that can be rubbed along your gums. This will help to reduce pain and inflammation associated with gum disease, and it will freshen your breath into the bargain.
Finally, a word of warning: while black pepper is fantastic for the average person, it’s worth noting that you should avoid consuming very much of it if you’ve previously had abdominal surgery—black pepper can irritate the intestines, even though it helps the stomach. On a less serious note, you should also be aware that pepper is likely to make you sneeze during the food preparation process!