The science behind hot peppers and a recent Nobel Prize

New treatments for pain could be on the horizon

Thanks to some ground breaking discoveries tied to two Nobel prize-winning scientists. Professor David Julius and Professor Ardem Patapoutian recently made some discoveries involving receptors for temperature and touch. To survive, mammals need to regulate their body temperature. But in order for this to happen, they have to be able to perceive and sense the temperature around them. Until now, understanding touch and temperature has been a bit of a mystery. Thanks to the research by Patapoutian and Julius, though, we now have a better understanding.

The scientists were able to figure out which DNA proteins react to menthol, found in mint, and capsaicin, found in peppers.

It turns out TRP receptors are able to mediate some taste sensations, including those in mint and chili peppers. The sensations of either a burning feeling in the mouth from chili peppers or a cool minty feeling from mints, further allowed the scientists to better understand the role TRP receptors play in detecting sensations using menthol and capsaicin. In respect to hot chili peppers, we know if they’re hot enough they can actually bring tears to the eyes, but until now we weren’t sure why. Professor Julius was able to figure out which protein causes us to sense the feeling. This led to the identification of other channel proteins that help sense temperature.

Professor Patapoutian and his colleagues took it beyond temperature-sensing receptors by discovering the receptors actually responsible for touch.

It’s likely the research could be expanded to study future pain and inflammation treatments. Some capsaicin creams are already on the market to help with minor topical pain relief. Of course, there are also all kinds of studies regarding the health benefits of consuming hot peppers, too. Yet another reason to consider taking a look at the heat scale when it comes to adding hot peppers and hot pepper products to your diet.

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