Chili Peppers: “Your Genes Are Hot, Hot, Hot”

October 14, 2009

Chili Peppers: “Your Genes Are Hot, Hot, Hot” 

  Reference: # 14 SUPERFOODS Reference:  Kang, Obesity 2009 Oct 1 

 We didn’t say your “Jeans  are Hot.”  We said your GENES.  How do chilies make your genes get “hot?”  Actually, chilies are “cool.”  Here’s how.   Chili peppers are very widely consumed.  Ever since Christopher Columbus brought them back from Central America, chilies have captured taste buds around the world, much to our benefit.  

It’s not just their flavor that’s so great.  It turns out that the spice in chilies does some really “cool” stuff to your genes, and quickly.  When you eat chilies, the active ingredient, capsaicin, rapidly induces your internal cellular control mechanisms to put out anti-inflammatory chemicals.  With a tiny bit of capsaicin added to their food, obese mice can be shown to have a marked decrease in their insulin resistance and all the inflammation that comes along with it.  Kang and his fellow researchers (see reference) were able to demonstrate the production of messenger RNA off of DNA that produced new chemical markers that in summation made the mice much more insulin sensitive.  

Perhaps most importantly the capsaicin turned off NFB. What’s NFB?  It’s the master of inflammation.  If you would imagine, inside your cells, you have the boss of bosses, the Don Corleone of inflammation driving around in his Cadillac, cruising the neighborhood of your liver.  When you eat a really bad meal (say an extra large milkshake full of saturated fat and sugar) it’s sort of like throwing a brick through the windshield of that spanking new Caddy. NFB gets really, really mad.  You don’t want to make NFB mad.  Your cells go nuts.  Everybody runs for cover because all the bodyguards come out from their hideouts and start shooting their machine guns in every direction.  Now we call the bullets they shoot nice confusing little names like TNF and IL-6.   Those bullets, IL-6 and TNF are produced because NFB is the master controller that turns on the genes that make them.  

The net effect is all about inflammation and damage to your cells.  IL-6 and TNF are the key mediators to liver cell death, fibrosis of the liver, and inflammation of the liver. Is this fuzzy, confusing picture coming into focus for you? Our food turns on our genes very quickly and effectively.  There really isn’t a difference between drugs we take for their chemical effect, and the chemical effect we get from the food we eat.  Both cause multiple chemical reactions that are masterminded through rapid expression of genes.  

Capsiacin from chilies works this way. as does curcumin from turmeric and sulforaphane from broccoli.  The anti-inflammatory effect is mediated by the very effective and efficient modulation of our internal genetic code.   It doesn’t take much.  Tiny, tiny doses can have a very beneficial effect, quite quickly.  Within minutes your liver cells respond with inflammation, trying to attack the invader who threw the brick through the window, or with soothing and calming anti-inflammation – all depending on what you eat. You can choose the effect on your body by food choices you make.  The effects don’t happen overnight.  Nothing happens in a week.  The effects are very tiny.  In fact, you can get away with it for 15, 20, or even 30 years.  

You can’t get away with it for 40-50 years.  Bad food habits accumulate over time.  Getting a heart attack at age 50, cancer at age 60, Alzheimer’s at age 70 are not random events brought about by bad luck.  They are the predictable consequences of lifestyle choices you and I make every day of our lives.  The food we eat turns on our genes, for better or for worse. 

 WWW: What will work for me?  Well, well.   I want to find out the difference between better and worse.   I love chilies.  And turmeric just happens to be right up there with my favorite foods.  Those two spices are key ingredients to curry.  Just thinking about it makes me want to stir up a nice batch of cauliflower and potato curry.  Lots of vegetables, lots of spices, no saturated fat, no sugar.  Keep NFB happy and quiet in his caddy.  Keep my genes nice and cool. 

 Recipe for Cauliflower Curry (prep time 10 minutes, cooks in 15)   Exact same recipe can be used for cabbage, pea and potato, mixed vegetables with various squashes, eggplant……lots of different vegetable combinations.  Remember to fry the spices first just to get some flavor going, and don’t let them burn on the bottom.  Add the water and simmer. Fry 1 Tbsp of black mustard seed in ½ cup canola oil until seeds stop popping (1 min) Add 1 tsp of whole cumin seeds, 1-3 tsps of ground chili peppers (to taste) Add one nice big chopped up onion 1 tbsp of chopped garlic.  Add some fresh chopped ginger here for variety Some folks like 1-2 tbsps of ground coriander at this point, or garam masala too but you can leave them out for simplicity if you want. Stir stir stir Stir in 6-7 diced red potatoes Stir in the cauliflower (one head)chopped into nice sized pieces Sprinkle a tablespoon of turmeric over the whole mixture Stir stir stir Add a cup of water or two to let everything simmer for 15 minutes.  Three or four chopped tomatoes add some great flavor and pretty red color.  Or a can of tomatoes.  Sprinkle on a bunch of freshly chopped cilantro just before serving. Salt to taste.  Serve with brown rice or heated up chappatis (whole wheat tortillas)  

This column was written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI. (262-784-5300)