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Chili Peppers Might Fight Fat

Cayenne pepper (Capsicum annuum). (Image credit: Linda Perry)

The stuff that makes chili peppers hot, capsaicin, may cause weight loss and fight fat buildup by triggering certain beneficial protein changes in the body.

A new study, done on rats, might help lead to treatments for human obesity, the researchers said.

Jong Won Yun at Daegu University in Korea and colleagues point out that obesity is a major public health threat worldwide, linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and other health problems. Laboratory studies have hinted that capsaicin may help fight obesity by decreasing calorie intake, shrinking fat tissue, and lowering fat levels in the blood. Nobody, however, knows exactly how capsaicin might trigger such beneficial effects.

In an effort to find out, the scientists fed high-fat diets with or without capsaicin to lab rats used to study obesity. The capsaicin-treated rats lost 8 percent of their body weight and showed changes in levels of at least 20 key proteins found in fat. The altered proteins work to break down fats.

"These changes provide valuable new molecular insights into the mechanism of the antiobesity effects of capsaicin," the scientists say.

The findings are detailed in the American Chemical Society's journal of Proteome Research.

Robert Roy Britt
Rob was a writer and editor at Space.com starting in 1999. He served as managing editor of Live Science at its launch in 2004. He is now Chief Content Officer overseeing media properties for the sites’ parent company, Purch. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, and in 1998 he was founder and editor of the science news website ExploreZone. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.