Black pepper, the most popular spice in the world, is thought by some health professionals to be linked to stomach cancer and ulcers when taken in large quantities over long periods of time, but this contention is not supported by any scientific evidence. Black pepper can irritate your gastrointestinal tract, but it also has been used to treat stomach upset and indigestion in Asian countries for centuries.
Black pepper is the cultivated fruit from a flowering vine known as Piper nigrum. Black pepper is the whole, partially ripened fruit that is dried into peppercorns. Green peppercorns are the unripe fruit, and white pepper is the peeled seed. Black pepper is native to India and other tropical regions in Asia, where it has been used medicinally for generations. According to “The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine,” black peppercorns are the world's most traded spice and the most commonly used spice in European cuisine. The spiciness of black pepper is due to the chemical piperine, which displays antimicrobial properties, and safrole, which is mildly carcinogenic in large quantities when injected into rats.
Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, can develop in any part of your stomach and can spread to other organs. According to the book “Professional Guide to Diseases,” stomach cancer causes approximately 800,000 deaths worldwide each year. The causes of stomach cancer have been debated for years, but it is now believed that the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori, is responsible for most cases, while autoimmune gastritis, intestinal cancers and infections and genetic factors are associated with increased risk levels, according to “Human Biochemistry and Disease.”
The Merck Manual now states that diet plays no role in the cause of stomach cancer, although the American Cancer Society still warns of limiting smoked foods, salted fish and meat and pickled vegetables in your diet. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is thought to deter stomach cancer. The H. pylori bacteria is also the primary cause of stomach ulcers, and although black pepper may cause irritation symptoms in some people, its antibacterial properties may deter the H. pylori bacteria's proliferation and infection.
Black Pepper as a Remedy
Extracts from black pepper display antibacterial, anti-inflammatory antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties, which are protective to the mucous membranes that line your esophagus, stomach and intestines, according to “Medical Herbalism.” Further, piperine dramatically increases absorption of selenium, B-vitamins, beta-carotene, curcumin and other nutrients within your intestines. It also enhances thermogenesis, or heat production in your body, and slightly increases metabolism. However, the medical community does not consider black pepper to be a valid treatment for stomach cancer, ulcers or any conditions. Consult with your doctor if you have any concerns with your stomach.
Black Pepper as an Irritant
Black pepper can irritate your stomach if consumed in abundance and can cause you to sneeze if inhaled, but no scientific evidence exists that links it to human stomach cancer, according to “Biochemical, Physiological and Molecular Aspects of Human Nutrition.” The main cancer concern related to black pepper arises from the substance safrole, which was banned from use as a food additive in the 1960s by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because large doses of its extract injected into rats lead to liver cancer in some specimens. The dosages were thousands of times more than any person could eat as ground pepper. Regardless, it is still generally recommended by physicians that you avoid black pepper if you have a stomach ulcer or have had intestinal surgery.