Spice for Life

Red hot peppers on orange background.

Could a jalapeno a day keep the doctor away?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

From Poblanos to Habañeros, hot peppers are the SPICE of life! But could they be a literal lifesaver?

Sickle cell disease, which is inherited, causes misshapen red blood cells. This can lead to blood clots and even death. Pain is common, but its actual role is unclear. Chunliang Xu and colleagues from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine looked further.

The researchers first deactivated the pain sensors from sickle cell diseased mice. Result? More blood clots. Less mice survived. Turns out, the activation of pain sensors releases a substance called CGRP. This lowers the chances cells stick together to form a clot. Pain is pretty terrible though. 

So researchers fed sickle cell mice a low dose of capsaicin, the chemical responsible for a hot pepper’s heat. This activates pain sensors but below the “ouch” level.

Results? This triggered a release of that same beneficial substance, CGRP!

Voila: a natural pain solution that’s truly hot!

Reference: Xu, C., Gulinello, M., & Frenette, P. S. (2020). Nociceptors protect sickle cell disease mice from vaso-occlusive episodes and chronic organ damage. Journal of Experimental Medicine, 218(1). https://doi.org/10.1084/jem.20200065