By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
We have written about the powerful health benefits of of black pepper but we need to zoom in one one of the most overlooked benefit. Black pepper, specifically the active ingredient called "piperine", can re-pigment skin.
Over 100 million people on Earth suffer from loss of pigmentation in their skin, a condition known as "vitiligo". In the past, people with this condition shunned the spotlight. Lately, drawn by fashion designers who see the "imperfection" as beautiful or eye-catching, some sufferers of vitiligo have become to appear on the fashion runway and in print ads in magazines and on social media.
What Is Piperine, Anyway?
Piperine is the ingredient in black pepper that gives it its characteristic pungent, biting taste. Piperine is an alkaloid, meaning it contains mostly nitrogen compounds. Alkaloids have profound effects on human biology. They can either give life or take it away.
Other alkaloids include strychnine, commonly known as rat poison, nicotine, the compound that causes cancer found in tobacco, caffeine, cocaine and in morphine, the powerful painkiller administered in hospitals. Alkaloids usually are water-soluble or soluble in alcohol but piperine, Japanese chemist Kanisuke Izawa has shown, is a solid and is essentially insoluble in water.
Clearly, any compound that has an abundance of nitrogen and thus the ability to donate a nitrogen in your body, can have dramatic effects on your health, good and bad, depending on the source compound.
In the case of piperine, all the effects are good. Piperine has been found to inhibit the start of cancer cells (angiogenesis) in prostate cancer and colon cancer. Here are other life-saving health benefits of piperine.
Black Pepper Restores Skin's Natural Color
In 2008, a group of scientists from King's College London led by Dr. Laura Faas became intrigued by earlier studies that seemed to show that piperine could reverse vitiligo.
The team set up an experiment to test the theory. They started with mice with sparse pigmentation, in other words, vitiligo.
They separated the mice into a control roup and a group that would receive topical treatments of piperine or other alkaloids directly applied to the skin of the mice.
Some of the mice treated topically with piperine also were exposed to ultraviolet light, the light you get from the sun.
After receiving piperine skin treatments twice per week for 8 weeks, the skin of the mice had regained it natural color. Those mice that also had received ultraviolet light experienced greater restoration of pigmentation.
Moreover, compared with the mice that received only ultraviolet light, the mice which also had received piperine applied to the skin achieved an even skin tone. Those only exposed to the ultraviolet light developed more of a speckled, spotty pigmentation to coloration.
How to Use Black Pepper to Restore Skin Color
You can duplicate the experiment that restored skin color in mice. Take a teaspoon of black pepper, add a half a teaspoon of olive oil and put both in a cup. If the black pepper is not grounded, then crush it youself.
Apply the pepper mix directly to the discolored area of your skin. If the discoloration is on your face, try the mix first on a discolored spot on your limbs or torso. After applying the mix, let it sit, like a facial mask for half an hour.
Then, rinse the mix off with warm water.
Repeat twice per week, separated by two days.
Expose the discolored skin to 15 to 20 minutes of sunlight.
Add Piperine to Your Diet
Most people already use black pepper in their cooking. But if you are experiencing discoloration, you need to add more. Look for opportunities to add pepper to soups, fish, vegetables and even drinks.
Become a connoisseur of black pepper, collecting both un-ground and ground pepper to compare the flavors.
Is Too Much Black Pepper Toxic?
Piperine is an alkaloid, which as we've seen is one of the most powerful types of compounds you can consume. Alkaloids are found in some poisons. So, is too much black pepper dangerous to your health?
To date, no scientific study has linked the eating of black pepper with adverse health consequences. However, black pepper contains two compounds, safrole, tannins and terpene compounds, which have been found to increase risk of cancer if applied topically.
You should therefore, consult your dermatologist before you use black pepper as a skin treatment, especially for long periods of time.