Scientists have already known for some time that capsaicin found in cayenne pepper (Capsicum anuum), or red chili pepper, is able to increase fat-burning potential by influencing secretion of adrenal gland hormones. A new study now suggests that this spicy compound may also combat weight gain in other ways by changing the make-up of proteins in fat cells.

Jong Won Yun and his colleagues at Daegu University, of South Korea, who published in April’s issue of Journal of Proteome Research, say they discovered that capsaicin alters proteins in fat cells that lead to markedly increased thermogenesis and fat metabolism, which suggests that this spice commonly used for flavoring foods “may be a useful phytochemical” for battling the bulge.

To better understand the chili compound’s mechanisms, the researchers compared its effects versus a saline solution on rats fed high-fat diets. The rats whose diets included 10 milligrams of capsaicin per kilogram per day had altered proteins that led to increased fat oxidation. They also lost an average of 8 percent of body fat during the study.

The study’s findings are red hot as the prevalence of overweight and obesity has reached epidemic proportions globally, with the World Health Organization reporting more than 1 billion people overweight and at least 300 million of them clinically obese. Consultation with a healthcare professional is always advised when beginning a weight management program and individual weight loss results will depend on level of activity and caloric intake.

Scientists must continue to perform more research to determine if cayenne pepper has similar effects on humans as it has in animals, although this study hints that there may be some benefit to ordering Indian, Thai or Mexican food “extra spicy.”

Previous research has also linked capsaicin with helping to assist in reducing fat levels in blood, reducing growth of fat cells, and inhibiting fat cell maturation. Capsaicin also may influence signaling pathways that lead to increased fat cell self-destruction.

Source: Joo JI, Kim DH, Choi JW, Yun JW. Proteomic Analysis for Antiobesity Potential of Capsaicin on White Adipose Tissue in Rats Fed with a High Fat Diet. J Proteome Res 2010.