Do Chili Peppers Have a Role to Play in Reducing Gut Inflammation?


Active ingredients in chili peppers and cannabis help subside gut inflammation, and could lead to new therapies for diabetes and colitis.

Active ingredients in chili peppers and cannabis help subside gut inflammation, and could lead to new therapies for diabetes and colitis.

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, investigators fed mouse models of type 1 diabetes (T1D) with capsaicin, the active component of chili peppers that makes them hot.

The results of the study showed that mice who received the spice had less inflammation in their guts. Furthermore, the mice were cured of their T1D by feeding them chili pepper.

Upon closer examination, the investigators found that the capsaicin was binding to the receptor TRPV1, which is found on specialized cells in the gastrointestinal tract. When capsaicin binds to the receptor, it causes cells to produce anandamide, a compound chemically akin to the cannabinoids in marijuana. As a result, the investigators found that anandamide is what calmed the immune system. Furthermore, when mice were fed the anandamide directly, the investigators could produce the same gut-calming results.

The brain also contains receptors for anandamide. When an individual gets high, its the receptors that react with the cannabinoids in the marijuana to cause the effect.

“This allows you to imagine ways the immune system and the brain might talk to each other,” said investigator Pramod Srivastava. “They share a common language.” Although it remains unclear why anandamide may relay messages between the brain and immune system, the investigators were able to identify how it heals the gut.

The molecule reacts with TRPV1 to produce more anandamide, as well as immune cells to subdue the inflammation. When anandamide levels increase, the macrophage population and activity level also increases. This effect than permeates throughout the entire upper gut, including the esophagus, stomach and pancreas. Currently, the investigators are working with mouse models to determine whether it affects disorders, such as colitis.

Since certain states have legalized marijuana, it provides scientists with an opportune way to access if regular ingestion of cannabinoids affects gut inflammation in humans. “I’m hoping to work with the public health authority in Colorado to see if there has been an effect on the severity of colitis among regular users of edible weed,” Srivastava said.


  • Acharya N, Penukonda S, Shcheglova T, Endocannabinoid system acts as a regulator of immune homeostasis in the gut. PNAS. 2017;5005-5010.

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