Media Mangles Report: Study Shows Capsaicin Does Not Cause Skin Cancer
By Lois Manno
Editor’s note: the spelling of ‘chili’ is used instead of 'chile' because the scientific study used this form of the word.
Findings Given a Frightening Spin
A study in the journal Cancer Research appears to link capsaicin, a component of chili peppers, to skin cancer. This is a misinterpretation of the data, according to Dave DeWitt, SuperSite Publisher, international authority on chili peppers and author of more than forty books about peppers, including The Healing Powers of Peppers. The study was focused specifically on the topical application of capsaicin, not on chili peppers as food. To quote the study itself, “capsaicin alone does not act as a carcinogen.”
DeWitt reacted strongly to the incorrect interpretation of the study data. “I read the study, and this is exactly what happens when a press release is circulated that doesn’t reflect the truth of the study. In no way did the study prove any link between chili peppers and skin cancer. In fact, it clearly stated the opposite. Such sensationalized reporting targeted toward ginning up public fear gives peppers a bad rap that they don’t deserve.”
Toxic Chemicals Caused Tumors, Not Capsaicin
Researchers at The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota, treated the skin of mice with a mixture of DMBA (7,12-dimetylbenz(a) anthracene), TPA (12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate) and capsaicin. TPA is a toxic chemical described as “a potent tumor promoter in mouse skin” by the Boston-based firm Cell Signaling Technology. TPA is used by scientists to produce skin tumors in mice for research. DMBA is another cancer-generating drug used in research because it causes mutations in cells. The mice were virtually guaranteed to develop skin cancer after the application of TPA and DMBA. Some mice were treated with a mixture of the chemicals plus capsaicin, and some were treated with capsaicin only.
While study results indicated that combining capsaicin with TPA “might promote cancer cell survival,” the report clearly stated that the application of capsaicin only on the control group of mice “…did not induce any skin tumors…” In addition, the study repeatedly cited other research studies in which the anti-cancer properties of capsaicin were solidly demonstrated.
Study Conclusions Refuted by Many
DeWitt’s website, www.fiery-foods.com, is the largest site committed to chili peppers and hot and spicy food on the Internet. The site contains numerous articles about the health benefits of chili peppers. In a 2010 article entitled “Hot and Healthy Chile Peppers” by Sharon Palmer, R.D., the following studies were cited: “A recent study at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas indicated that the capsaicin in chili peppers, and a related compound called resiniferatoxin, appeared to kill skin cancer cells by damaging the cell membranes and limiting the amount of oxygen that reached the cancer cells. In another study at the Research Institute for Production Development in Kyoto, Japan, researchers found that capsanthin and related carotenoids isolated from red paprika showed potent anti-tumor-promoting activity. According to the Department of Food Science in Nonoichi, Japan, hot peppers show antihyperlipidemic and hypocholesterolaemic activity (which may lower heart disease risk), as well as antibacterial activities.”
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DeWitt went on to say that “most studies using mice apply or inject 100 times what a human would use, so even the most "innocuous" things—when taken or applied at great concentrations—would be unhealthful. Coffee is a classic example of being "proven" to be healthful one day and dangerous the next, and this has been going on for 40-some years. Readers should always use the principle of Occam's Razor: usually the simplest explanation is the most accurate. And scientific procedure requires not only that tests be replicated, but that other studies must confirm the conclusions.”
Dr. Paul Bosland, director of the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University, had this to say about scientific studies in the media: “…it serves to illustrate the ignorance of many wire service stories that deal with science. The preliminary research report did not unequivocally support the conclusion that chilis cause cancer.” He went on to say that “Chili is a nutritious and healthy food that might even have anti-cancer properties. Studies by the National Academy of Science and evidence from other epidemiological studies indicate that the higher intake of carotene and vitamin A may reduce the risk of cancer.”
Chili Peppers are Safe
The bottom line is this: no scientific study has ever proven a link between chili peppers and cancer. In fact, many studies indicate that chili peppers can actually kill cancer cells and that consumption of peppers has many health benefits. So slap some more green chili on your cheeseburger, but if somebody hands you a plate of mice marinated in toxic chemicals, don’t throw ‘em on the barbie.
To read more about the healthy effects of peppers:
The Bogus Chile Pepper Cancer Scare
Spicy Food Off the Hook as Ulcer Cause...But Is It a Cure?
Hot and Healthy Chile Peppers
The Chile Way to Burn Fat and Boost Metabolism
The Question of Chile Addiction
The Powerful Health Punch of the Mighty Pod
The Healing Powers of Hot Peppers, Part 1: Cayenne as a Curative
The Healing Powers of Hot Peppers, Part 2: Capsaicin as a Cold Remedy
The Healing Powers of Hot Peppers, Part 3: Chile for Your Head
Bush Medicine: Folk Cures with Chile Peppers
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