It’s savory, spicy and has a long history of fighting cancer. The long pepper plant native to India has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, and scientists have finally discovered how it works.
Indian long pepper, as it is often referred to, first made an appearance in ancient textbooks of Ayurveda. It then made its way to Greece and was lauded by Hippocrates for its medicinal purposes. The spice was used commonly throughout the Greek and Roman Empire, although its use as medicine dwindled. However, in India, Malaysia and other parts of the world, it remains common practice to use long pepper as a way to fight a number of common ailments.
Scientists have long been aware of the usage of long pepper as a cancer-fighting supplement, but have not yet understood exactly how it does so. What is known is that chemical reactions caused by consuming Indian long pepper produces a powerful antioxidant in the body.
In long pepper is a chemical called Piperlongumine, or PL. This chemical has been found to fight cancer in the colon, lymph nodes, prostate, brain and several other places throughout the body. Until now, it has been unclear how this chemical has such a profound effect against cancer-causing agents within the body.
Using X-ray crystallography, Dr. Kenneth Westover and his team of researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center were able to observe what occurred in the body following the ingestion of long pepper, specifically following the digestion of Piperlongumine. What they found was that PL actually converts to a chemical called hPL which, in turn, silences the GSTP1 gene. GSTP1 plays a role in the progression of cancer and is often found in larger quantities in tumors. When GSTP1 is less present, the risk of cancer decreases.
Now that the chemical breakdown of Indian long pepper is known, and scientists are able to understand how it converts in the body, there are an exciting number of possibilities to utilize this information in a more modern form of medicine.
Dr. Westover and his team stated the benefits of using this technology to discover or, in some cases, rediscover how traditional or Ayurvedic medicine can still work today.
“This study illustrates the importance of examining and re-examining our theories,” said Dr. Westover. “In this case we learned something fundamentally new about a 3,000-year-old medical claim using modern science.”
Long pepper is still commonly used in traditional medicinal practices throughout the Asian and Indian provinces. It can even be found in most Indian groceries stores, commonly labeled as Pippali. It has also been used to treat headaches, toothaches, insomnia, and other ailments, although modern science has only studied its connection to cancer as of yet.
Using X-ray crystallography can aid in further research of herbs and spices as medicine and finally confirm the benefits of Ayurvedic or traditional medicine.