Mild Peppers May Help Burn Calories

We're liberal about piling on the hot chilies in our food, and science suggests there's even some benefit to the sweating we're doing when we eat them -- it burns calories.

But what about those people who just can't stand the heat?

Research presented at the Experimental Biology meeting in Anaheim, California, (namesake of one of our favorite peppers) shows that dihydrocapsiate (DCT) --a chemical found in a strain of mild chile peppers -- has helped some people boost their metabolism without the tongue-burning side effects.

But don't stock up on mild peppers to lose weight just yet. The people in the very small study were already on a low-calorie liquid diet for a month. More research needs to be done on whether consuming DCT would help people on more realistic diets, researcher David Heber of UCLA's Center for Human Nutrition tells Shots.

Hot peppers have been an integral part of the diets of Latin Americans and Asians for centuries. Who can imagine Szechwan beef or tamales without a bit of heat?

And several studies over the past decade have pointed to the chemical capsaicin, which gives peppers their fire, for its potential role in boosting metabolism. Capsaicin has also been cited as a potential appetite suppressant, perhaps leading to its frequent starring role in a host of diet and detox products.

But while some people (like our blogger, Scott Hensley) pour hot pepper sauce on everything because they like the taste, many people just can't stand the heat. So Heber and his colleagues set out to see if capsaicin's calmer cousin, DCT, might also exert a calorie-burning effect.

They studied the before and after body weight and fat of 34 men and women consuming a low-calorie liquid meal replacement. Three times a day, a third of them were given a placebo pill, a third were were given a pill containing 3 milligrams of DCT, and a third was given a 9-milligram pill.

Those DCT doses weren't big, Heber says. They're like a generous sprinkle of seasoning.

What they found was that the people given the most DCT after a meal showed an increase in heat production and fat burning without the burning sensation. That is, DCT acted in their G.I. tracks the way hot peppers do -- boosting metabolism. And, the chemical structure of DCT is such that it doesn't fit the sensors on our tongue that detect pain, so no burning, Heber says.

They found that the 9 milligrams, three-times-a-day dose helped the average-sized woman burn an extra 100 calories a day. No magic bullet, but a help, Heber says. (You can download the PowerPoint presentation here.

Still, as boring as it sounds, an overall good diet and regular exercise are the keys to weight loss. "If you have chocolate cake with your chili pepper, you're not going to lose any weight," he says.

By April Fulton

Copyright 2010 NPR

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