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Subheshaja(सुभेषज): Pep Up Your Health with Black Pepper!

“Hi, Aunty! I missed you the past few days!” said Preeti.

“I wasn’t very well, Preethi – caught the usual cough and cold that comes with this bad weather,” replied Dr. Radha. 

“So, did you take antibiotics?”

“I’m not too fond of antibiotics and I only take them as a last resort. I made my own medicine at home and took enough rest, so the congestion didn’t turn into an infection.”

“Wow! What’s this magic remedy, Aunty?”

“The same one that you said is your mother’s standard remedy, Preethi. Turmeric and black pepper powder mixed together with hot milk.”

“Ah! Yes, I remember you telling me how pepper enhances the absorption of turmeric, and improves its anti-bacterial action!”

“Right! But black pepper on its own also has several valuable properties. In Ayurveda, black pepper combined with honey is used for respiratory congestion because it expels the phlegm that collects in the respiratory tract.

You know, Preethi, laboratory studies have shown that black pepper is very effective at killing bacteria.”

“Oh! How does that happen, Aunty?”

“It damages the structure of the bacterial cell membranes. It also destroys the bacterial cell respiration; so, the bacteria cannot survive, and they finally die.” (1)

“I see. But frankly, Aunty, I hate the taste of black pepper!”

“Hahaha! I know! But you know Preethi, this pungent taste is it’s best quality!”

“Really? How?”

“When the active ingredients of black pepper reach the taste buds on your tongue, the stomach receives a signal to speed up digestion.”

“I remember studying about how hydrochloric acid and pepsin in the stomach act together to digest the food.”

“Exactly! Sometimes the production of the acid is sluggish, and black pepper can stimulate it.”

“That’s amazing, Aunty!”

“Indeed! Such is the beauty of God’s creation, Preethi! So you see, when someone has poor digestion, or no appetite, black pepper is great to kick start the digestive process. Besides, it also has ‘carminative’ action – which means, it prevents intestinal gas formation; any gas present is quickly expelled out of the body.”

“Oh! When I had gone to our village last month and I complained of heaviness in the stomach, my grandmother forced me to have pepper rasam. Now I understand why this gave me relief!”

“Great! I’m happy you connected the two.”

“Hmmn…I’m slowly realizing that there’s so much science behind our traditional food habits, Aunty!”

“Very true, Preethi. Modern science is only now waking up to all the benefits of these herbs and spices that are so common in our diet. Research has shown that piperine – the active ingredient in pepper – is also a bio-enhancer – that is, it helps to increase the amount of drugs that are available for action on the body cells and tissues.”

“And how is this action useful?”

“The most spectacular results have been seen with a drug called Rifampicin, which is used to treat tuberculosis. Research has shown that when this drug is combined with piperine, it’s availability in the body goes up by almost 60%!” (2)

“Wow! That means the patient can be given a lower dose!”

“Very smart of you to figure that out, Preethi! True, studies show that by including piperine in the therapy, the dose of Rifampicin can be reduced from the usual 450 mg to just 200 mg. Lower dose, lesser side effects, too. Can you think of any other benefit, Preethi?”

“Hmmn…if lesser drug has to be taken, then treatment cost will also drop, Aunty?”

“Very good, Preethi! Tuberculosis treatment takes long, and often, poor patients drop out because of the high cost. So this finding about the piperine holds great promise to reduce costs, reduce side effects and improve patient compliance with the treatment regimen!”

“What other benefits does black pepper have, Aunty?”

“Recent research shows that piperine also has strong antioxidant action, and it shows promising results in prevention and treatment of some types of cancer. It has strong immunity boosting powers too, and that means you’ll not fall sick very often if you make it a part of your diet.” (3) 

“Okaaay. So I guess I’m now going to have to stop cribbing every time Mom makes Pongal or pepper rasam!”

Dr. Radha’s only reply was a contented smile!


1.  Zou L, Hu YY, Chen WX. Antibacterial mechanism and activities of black pepper chloroform extract. J Food Sci Technol. 2015;52(12):8196-8203. Available online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4648884/

2. Mhaske DB, Sreedharan S, Mahadik KR (2018) Role of Piperine as an Effective Bioenhancer in Drug Absorption9: 591. Available online at https://www.longdom.org/open-access/role-of-piperine-as-an-effective-bioenhancer-in-drug-absorption.pdf

3. Liu Y, Yadev VR, Aggarwal BB, Nair MG. Inhibitory effects of black pepper (Piper nigrum) extracts and compounds on human tumor cell proliferation, cyclooxygenase enzymes, lipid peroxidation and nuclear transcription factor-kappa-B. Nat Prod Commun. 2010;5(8):1253-1257. Available online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20839630/

4. Srinivasan K. Black pepper and its pungent principle-piperine: a review of diverse physiological effects. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2007;47(8):735-748. doi:10.1080/10408390601062054. Available online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17987447/

Disclaimer: The article is not a medical prescription. It is only for information. The opinion expressed are of the author.

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