Researchers presented more evidence this week in support of spicing up to slim down. A group of University of Wyoming scientists presented research suggesting capsaicin, the compound that gives chili peppers their hot mojo, may help fight obesity. They discussed their work at the annual meeting of the Biophysical Society in Baltimore.
Scientists (and fad diet promoters) have viewed capsaicin as a potential weight-loss tool for years. Most of the research, like this most recent study, has been conducted on mice. In 2007, researchers from Kyoto University in Japan conducted a human study that suggested the compound does enhance the use of fats as a fuel source.
The new research suggests capsaicin helps fight obesity by turning white fat to brown fat. "In our bodies, white fat cells store energy and brown fat cells serve as thermogenic (heat produced by burning fat) machinery to burn stored fat,” Vivek Krishnan, a graduate student in Dr. Baskaran Thyagarajan's lab at the University of Wyoming's School of Pharmacy, which conducted the study, told cbsnews.com. The more of that calorie-burning machinery you have, the more calories you burn.
In the trials, a relatively low percentage (.01) of capsaicin in the total high-fat diet prevented weight gain in the mice. The researchers believe that dietary capsaicin does this by "inducing 'browning' of white fat and stimulating thermogenesis," or energy burning.
The researchers say developing a natural dietary supplement as a strategy to combat obesity can be easily advance to human clinical trials, according to a story about the study on nutritioninsight.com. “We envision a nanoparticle-based sustained-release formulation of capsaicin, which is currently under development in our laboratory,” they said. “In turn, this will advance a novel dietary supplement-based approach to prevent and treat one of the life-threatening diseases, obesity, and its associated complications—in humans.”