Long pepper (Piper longum) is a flowering vine which consists of fruit that can be dried and made into a spice or medicine.
Although it was described by the father of modern medicine Hippocrates as a medicine rather than a spice, the spices white, black and green pepper are typically made from a close relative of piper longum called piper nigrum. Although they both have a similar taste, the long pepper (piper longum) is hotter than piper nigrum. Embedded on the surface of a dried long pepper ‘flower spike’ are many tiny fruits about the side of a poppy seed.
The most well-studied medicinal compound within the long pepper fruit is called piperine, and has been demonstrated copiously to have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant effects. There are likely other compounds within the long pepper fruit that possess medicinal qualities that we have yet to discover, even though we don’t necessarily need to, thanks to recent developments by a scientist and his research team at the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada. It turns out the whole fruit extract of the long pepper also has potent anti-cancer effects.
Dr. Pandey and Whole-Fruit Extract
Researchers from the University of Windsor have discovered a substance extracted from the long pepper fruit that causes cancer cells to kill themselves.
Famous for his work on dandelion root extract and cancer, Dr. Siyaram Pandey is thrilled with his latest findings on an extract of the long pepper fruit in the fight against cancer.
“It is very potent, which is surprising, actually,” said Pandey. “I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say it’s a little bit better than dandelion root extract.”
Dr. Pandey and his group of researchers published a study on long pepper fruit and cancer in the November edition of the scholarly journal PLOS One. “Our results indicated that an ethanolic long pepper extract selectively induces caspase-independent apoptosis in cancer cells, without affecting non-cancerous cells…”, wrote the researchers.
First identified in the 1960’s and forgotten for decades, research into a compound from the long pepper fruit was resurrected in a 2011 paper by researchers at Howard University in Boston. The paper presented the results after screening 25,000 compounds for possible cancer-fighting properties, and it listed piper longum — or long pepper — at the very top.
“So we asked the question, if they showed a single compound has activity from long pepper, why don’t we test the total extract from long pepper fruit?” asked Pandey. “We’re finding out that there are many more compounds present in the extract and they might be working in synergy against the cancer cells.”
Using alcohol to extract the active ingredients from the long pepper fruit, researchers then evaporated the alcohol, which left them a medicinal powder for their trials.
At this point it looks like Pandey will receive all the support he needs, as he has a proven track record of support from charitable organizations such as the Toronto-based Jesse and Julie Rasch Foundation, which funds research into the effectiveness of nutritional compounds in treating lymphoma.
Although Dr. Pandey’s work into the long pepper fruit and its effects on cancer are great news and will help increase awareness of natural compounds and their powerful effects against cancer cells, more research on long pepper and it’s anti-cancer properties is not really needed to establish its effects. As you’ll see in the following section, research on the total extract from the long pepper fruit was conducted in 2004 by Indian researchers with great success (See study #10 in the list below).
14 Studies on Long Pepper Extract Piperine vs Cancer
Extensive research on piperine (an extract of long pepper fruit) has been conducted on its effects against various types of cancer cells. In the long pepper fruit, the piperine content ranges from 1-2%, and 5-10% in commercial white and black peppers. Although Dr. Pandey’s research involves an extract of the whole long pepper fruit, it is useful to look at what the single compound extract piperine can do against cancer. Here are some studies published on the anti-cancer compound piperine, and one on the whole fruit extract:
- In 2013, researchers from Beijing, China evaluated the effects of piperine on human lung cancer cells, and found that the piperine induced cancer cell death. Both safe and effective, “piperine could be developed as an effective antitumor agent in the prevention and treatment of lung cancer without toxicity to the host”, concluded study researchers.
- A Chinese study out of the Zhejiang University School of Medicine in 2013 explored the use of piperine on mouse breast cancer cells in vitro and in vivo. The findings demonstrated that piperine inhibited the growth and induced apoptosis of the breast cancer cells in cultured cells (in vitro). Piperine injections into the cancerous mice (in vivo) “suppressed the primary 4T1 tumor growth and injection of piperine significantly inhibited the lung metastasis.”
- Chinese researchers wanted to find out if piperine could destroy cancer cells in difficult to treat human prostate cancer. The study was conducted in 2013 and the researchers found the piperine killed cancer cells in two ways – the first, by encouraging the cancer cells to kill themselves (apoptosis), and the second, by enhancing the normal physiological processes in the body responsible for destruction of cells (autophagy).
- A study in 2013 from the University of Illinois, USA investigated the anti-tumor mechanisms of piperine on prostate cancer cells. The researchers found that piperine inhibited proliferation and induced apoptosis of cancer cell lines, and significantly reduced tumor growth in laboratory mice transplanted with prostate cancer cells.
- In 2013, breast cancer cells were treated with piperine by researchers at Chungnam National University in South Korea. The study was investigating the mechanisms behind the anti-cancer effects of piperine and discovered a number of specific mechanisms behind the inhibition of cancer cell proliferation and apoptosis, such as “caspase-3 activation and PARP cleavage”, as well as the inhibition of HER2 gene expression.
- Just as piperine is found in table salt, pipernonaline can be derived from piperine and its effects were tested on human prostate cancer cells in 2013. The study by researchers from South Korea found that pipernonaline induced apoptosis, or cell death, in human prostate cancer cells.
- In Nova Scotia, Canada at Dalhousie University scientists tested the results of treating human rectal cancer cells with piperine. As the study title suggests, “Piperine impairs cell cycle progression and causes reactive oxygen species-dependent apoptosis in rectal cancer cells.”
- Angiogenesis is a process through which new blood vessels form from pre-existing vessels, and it plays a critical role in tumor progression. Expanding upon their previous work, researchers from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada conducted a study to discover the effects of piperine on Angiogenesis. Piperine was found to inhibit angiogenesis in multiple ways and the researchers conclude that their findings warrant further investigation into their promising results.
- A 2010 study from Michigan State University reveals to us more about how piperine works in the body to reverse cancer and other diseases. Researchers evaluated the anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties of piperine and found that “overall, these results suggest that black pepper and its constituents like hot pepper, exhibit anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anticancer activities.” (PMID:20839630)
- Indian researchers at the Amala Cancer Research Centre explored the anti-tumor and immune system effects of the whole long pepper fruit extract, as well as piperine on a variety of cancer cell types in 2004. An alcohol-based extract of the whole fruit (similar to that used by Dr. Pandey years later) was found to be 100% toxic to two types of cancer cells at specific doses. Both the whole fruit extract and piperine extract inhibited solid tumor formation, and increase the lifespan of mice with tumors. This study also found that piper longum boosted the immune system by various markers discussed in the abstract. (PMID:15013199)
- In a landmark study in 2003 that took a look at the effects of piperine on Nitric Oxide and TNF-alpha production, Indian researchers discovered that piperine significantly reduced the levels of both nitric oxide and TNF-alpha in the cancer mice. If you aren’t familiar with the role of either of these compounds in cellular metabolism, these findings might not mean a lot to you, but they represent a significant piece of the cancer puzzle that will be useful in future work on the subject.
- An experiment was conducted in 2002 by inducing tumors in mice and administering piperine simultaneously. Researchers conducting the study found a remarkable 95.2% reduction in tumor nodule formation, demonstrating piperine’s powerful ability to prevent metastasis, or the spread of cancer throughout the body. (PMID:12553376)
- This study, conducted in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and published in the journal Molecular Carcinogenesis in 2014, demonstrated that piperine was able to inhibit the growth of several types of colon cancer cells, without any negative effect on healthy cells. (PMID:24819444)
- Another experiment from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia documented the effects of piperine on cultured triple-negative breast cancer cells. Piperine inhibited the growth of the cancer cells and encouraged them to commit cancer cell suicide, a process called apoptosis. The study also demonstrated that piperine prevented the spread of cancer, and increased the cancer-cell destroying effects of radiation treatment. (PMID:25444919)
“One of the major struggles with cancer therapy,” said Pandey, “is whatever we use to kill cancer cells also kills healthy cells, which is a very bad side effect.”
The remarkable thing about long pepper fruit extract is that it appears to halt the energy supply of cells, leading to cancer cell death. Like many other natural nutritional approaches to cancer treatment, the long pepper fruit extract does not harm healthy cells in the process.