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When hot may be anticarcinogenic.

When hot may be anticarcinogenic

Four years ago, researchers at the Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer at the University of Nebraska in Omaha showed that capsaicin, the predominant capsaicinoid, can cause genetic mutation in the Ames test -- a quick bacterial assay used to screen for possible carcinogens. More recently, these and other researchers have found additional evidence suggesting capsaicin might cause colon cancer in animals. But the newest studies by the Eppley team now indicate the pungent chemical may also be an antioxidant, and therefore capable of neutralizing harmful oxygen species in the body.

In their work, Peter Gannett and Patrick Iversen found that capsaicin strongly binds to at beast one form of the cytochrome P-450 enzyme -- the "j" form, which is believed to activate certain mutagens including nitrosamines. In the first stage of a two-step process, capsaicin is oxidized -- donating an electron to another molecule. Gannett says it appears the P-450j enzyme actually fosters the oxidation by accepting the electron. Then the oxidized capsaicin appears to covalently bind to the P-450j, effectively inactivating it.

Dimethylnitrosamine (DMN) -- a known animal carcinogen -- is usually a potent mutagen in the Ames assay. but when the Eppley researchers conducted an Ames assay on paired exposure to both DMN and capsaicin, "we found the mutagenicity of the DMN was effectively destroyed," Gannett says. Work by others, he notes, has found evidence that capsaicin can also bind to a P-450c enzyme -- one believed to activate potentially cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The implication, Gannett believes, is that capsaicin may "interfere with nitrosamine- or PAH metabolism" -- preventing their harmful transformation into potent mutagens. So this popular and peppery food constituent may have the dubious distinction of presenting a low-level cancer risk to the gut while at the same time neutralizing enzymes that might otherwise turn on classes of other carinogens.
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Title Annotation:research on capsaicin
Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 16, 1988
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