Herbal Spotlight: Black Pepper
By Dr. Neil
When you added salt and pepper to your eggs this morning, did you know that the black pepper - beyond being a seasoning - has been traditionally used to treat a variety of ailments? The active ingredient in the Piper Nigrum (black pepper) plant is piperine, and for thousands of years it has been cultivated in India to reduce inflammation, and improve GI function. Lets take a look at the literature behind black pepper and its extract piperine.
The literature on piperine with regards to inflammation is fairly limited. However, there have been some studies that have shown trends towards benefit. A 2009 study conducted on rats looked at the anti-inflammatory and antiarthritic effects of piperine on specific inflammatory markers in rats. The study showed that there was a significant decrease in the production of PGE2 – an inflammatory marker – when given piperine at days four and eight in the study. While the data is promising, it certainly cannot be extrapolated to humans just yet. What I found more appealing in the study, and potentially more generalizable, is that one test group had nearly 10x what humans consume in supplements and experienced no adverse effects.
What has more literature support is piperines ability to improve the nutrient uptake of other supplements. In one study, they compared the uptake of curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) with and without piperine in humans. The study found that piperine enhances the serum concentration, absorption and bioavilability of curcumin in both rats and humans by nearly 154%. This is a pretty impressive study looking at the effect of a small amount of piperine. This was then further evaluated in a "review" of literature behind black pepper extract done in 2013. The review found that based on a variety of animal and human studies, piperine has been found to have clear “antioxidant, antiasthmatic, anticarcinogenic, and anitinflammatory activities”. While any review of literature as potential problems within the studies in the review, the fundamental conclusion is promising.
In short, while the literature behind black pepper extract is limited, there has been no shown harm, and it’s benefit regarding uptake of other herbal supplements – in particular curcumin – has been strongly suggested. Seeing that black pepper has been consumed as a spice for thousands of years, with clear studies suggesting it's benefits, black pepper is clearly a win as a supplement in my book.
 Srinivasan K. Black pepper and its pungent principle-piperine: a review of diverse physiological effects . Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. (2007)
 Bang, J.S; Oh Da H, et al. Anti-inflammatory and antiarthritic effects of piperine in human interleukin 1 beta-stimulated fibroblast-like synoviocysts and in rat arthritis models. Arthritis Res Ther (2009)
 Shoba G; Joy D. Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers. Planta med. (1998)
 Meghwal M. Goswami TK. Piper nigrum and piperine: an update. Phytother Res. (2013)