Black pepper is one of the most commonly used spices worldwide.
It’s made by grinding peppercorns, which are dried berries from the vine Piper nigrum.
It has a sharp and mildly spicy flavor that goes well with many dishes.
But black pepper is more than just a kitchen staple. It has been deemed the “king of spices” and used in ancient Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years due to its high concentration of potent, beneficial plant compounds.
Here are 11 science-backed health benefits of black pepper.
1. Black pepper is high in antioxidants
Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage your cells. Some free radicals are created naturally — such as when you exercise and digest food.
However, excessive free radicals can be formed with exposure to things like pollution, cigarette smoke, and sun rays.
Excess free radical damage may lead to significant health problems. For example, it has been linked to inflammation, premature aging, heart disease, and certain cancers.
Black pepper is rich in a plant compound called piperine, which test-tube studies have found to have potent antioxidant properties.
Studies suggest that a diet high in antioxidants may help prevent or delay the damaging effects of free radicals.
Test-tube and rodent studies have observed that ground black pepper and piperine supplements may reduce free radical damage.
For instance, rats fed a high-fat diet plus either black pepper or a concentrated black pepper extract had significantly fewer markers of free radical damage in their cells after 10 weeks than rats fed a high-fat diet alone.
Summary: Black pepper is rich in a potent antioxidant called piperine, which may help prevent free radical damage to your cells.
2. Black pepper has anti-inflammatory properties
Chronic inflammation may be an underlying factor in many conditions, such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Many laboratory studies suggest that piperine — the main active compound in black pepper — may effectively fight inflammation.
For example, in studies of rats with arthritis, treatment with piperine resulted in less joint swelling and fewer blood markers of inflammation.
In mouse studies, piperine suppressed inflammation in the airways caused by asthma and seasonal allergies.
However, the anti-inflammatory effects of black pepper and piperine have not yet been studied extensively in people.
Summary: Black pepper contains an active compound that has been shown to decrease inflammation in animals. Still, it’s unclear whether it has the same effects in humans.
3. Black pepper may benefit your brain
Piperine has been shown to improve brain function in animal studies.
In particular, it has demonstrated potential benefits for symptoms related to degenerative brain conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
For example, a study in rats with Alzheimer’s disease found that piperine improved memory, as the distribution of piperine enabled the rats to repeatedly run a maze more efficiently than rats not given the compound.
In another rodent study, piperine extract seemed to decrease the formation of amyloid plaques, dense clumps of damaging protein fragments in the brain linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Yet, human studies must confirm whether these effects are seen outside animal studies.
Summary: Black pepper extract has improved symptoms of degenerative brain diseases in animal studies, but human studies are needed to verify these results.
4. Black pepper may improve blood sugar control
Studies suggest that piperine may help improve blood sugar metabolism.
In one study, rats fed a black pepper extract had a smaller spike in blood sugar levels after consuming glucose than rats in the control group.
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Additionally, 86 overweight people taking a supplement containing piperine and other compounds for 8 weeks experienced significant improvements in insulin sensitivity — a measure of how well the hormone insulin removes glucose from the bloodstream.
However, it’s unclear whether the same effects would occur with black pepper alone, as a combination of many active plant compounds was used in this study.
Summary: Black pepper extract may improve blood sugar control, but more research is needed.
5. Black pepper may lower cholesterol levels
High blood cholesterol is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide.
Black pepper extract has been studied in animals for its potential to reduce cholesterol levels.
In one 42-day study, rats fed a high-fat diet and a black pepper extract had decreased blood cholesterol levels, including LDL (bad) cholesterol. The same effects were not seen in the control group.
Additionally, black pepper and piperine are believed to boost the absorption of dietary supplements with potential cholesterol-lowering effects, like turmeric and red yeast rice.
For example, studies have shown that black pepper may increase the absorption of the active component of turmeric — curcumin — by up to 2,000%.
Still, more studies are needed to determine whether black pepper itself has significant cholesterol-lowering effects in humans.
Summary: Black pepper has demonstrated cholesterol-lowering effects in rodent studies and is believed to boost the absorption of potential cholesterol-lowering supplements.
6. Black pepper may have cancer-fighting properties
Researchers hypothesize that the active compound in black pepper, piperine, may have cancer-fighting properties.
Though no human trials have been performed, test-tube studies found that piperine slowed the replication of breast, prostate, and colon cancer cells and induced cancer cell death.
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Another test-tube study screened 55 compounds from spices and observed that piperine from black pepper was the most effective at enhancing the efficacy of traditional treatment for triple-negative breast cancer, the most aggressive cancer type.
Moreover, piperine has shown promising effects in laboratory studies for reversing multidrug resistance in cancer cells — an issue that interferes with the efficacy of chemotherapy treatment.
Though these results are promising, more studies are needed to understand the potential cancer-fighting properties of black pepper and piperine.
Summary: Black pepper contains an active compound that has slowed the replication of cancer cells and induced cancer cell death in test-tube studies. However, these effects have not been studied in people.
7–10. Other benefits of black pepper
Black pepper may benefit health in many other ways, according to preliminary research:
- Boosts the absorption of nutrients. Black pepper may increase the absorption of essential nutrients like calcium and selenium and some beneficial plant compounds, such as those in green tea and turmeric.
- May promote gut health. The makeup of your gut bacteria has been linked to immune function, mood, chronic diseases, and more. Preliminary research suggests that black pepper may increase the good bacteria in your gut.
- May offer pain relief. Though it has yet to be studied in humans, studies in rodents suggest that the piperine in black pepper may be a natural pain reliever.
- May reduce appetite. In a small study, 16 adults reported reduced appetite after drinking a black-pepper-based beverage compared to flavored water. However, other studies did not show the same effects.
Summary: Black pepper increases the absorption of essential nutrients and beneficial plant compounds. According to preliminary research, it may promote gut health, relieve pain, and reduce appetite.
11. A versatile spice
Black pepper has become a kitchen staple in households worldwide.
Its subtle heat and bold flavor make it versatile and can enhance almost any savory dish.
A dash of ground black pepper can be a tasty seasoning for cooked vegetables, pasta dishes, meat, fish, poultry, and many more.
It also pairs well with other healthful seasonings, including turmeric, cardamom, cumin, garlic, and lemon zest.
For an extra kick and a little crunch, try coating tofu, fish, chicken, and other proteins with coarsely ground peppercorns and additional seasonings.
Suggested read: Turmeric and ginger: Combined benefits and uses
Summary: Black pepper has a subtle heat and a bold flavor that makes it a tasty addition to almost any dish.
Black pepper and its active compound piperine may have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Laboratory studies suggest that black pepper may improve cholesterol levels, blood sugar control, and brain and gut health.
Despite these promising findings, more studies in humans are needed to better understand the exact health benefits of black pepper and its concentrated extracts.
Regardless, this versatile flavor enhancer is worth adding to your daily cooking routine, as its bold flavor is an excellent addition to almost any dish.