Piperine, also known by its trademarked name, BioPerine, is an extract derived from black pepper, Piper Nigrum L, and long pepper, Piper longum L. Piperine is what gives peppers their spicy taste. This extract is marketed as a nutritional supplement and has been found to increase the absorption of a variety of nutrients. Though some of the benefits of piperine have yet to be firmly established, it may also have immune-suppressing, tumor-inhibiting and antidepressant effects. While piperine is probably safe to use, some concerns have been raised regarding its potentially dangerous, enhancing effect on certain drugs. As with starting any new treatments, consult your doctor first.
Absorption of Nutrients
The most established effect of piperine is its effect on absorption of nutrients from the intestine. This effect is known as "bioenhancement." According to an article published in the "Journal of Ayruveda and Integrative Medicine" in 2010, piperine has been shown to increase the absorption of vitamin C, selenium, beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin B-6 and coenzyme Q. The article goes on to suggest that piperine may be useful for people who suffer from conditions that cause malabsorption of nutrients and people suffering from malnutrition.
While the primary immune system functions to eradicate foreign invaders, it can sometimes malfunction. A variety of diseases are caused by a faulty immune reaction. Piperine has been shown to decrease the activity of this inflammatory response. The findings from a study published in the "European Journal of Pharmacology" in 2010 suggest that piperine may decrease the communication of lymphocytes in the immune system, thereby slowing down their action. Piperine has been shown to be beneficial in gout, a disease characterized by a strong immune response against uric acid crystals. A study published in "Inflammation" in 2011 provided evidence that piperine blocked uric acid crystals from forming and that it could be used as a treatment for gout.
Some evidence suggests that piperine may have some anti-cancer properties. A publication in "Clinical Laboratory Science" in 2008, for example, suggests that piperine inhibits the growth of colon cancers cells grown in a lab. The exact mechanisms by which the supplement prevents cancer are unknown, however, and whether this anti-cancer effect is effective outside of the laboratory remains to be proven.
Piperine may have some antidepressant activity as well, though this has not yet been firmly established. A trial of piperine on rats found that the animals provided evidence that the supplement had antidepressant and cognitive-enhancing effects. These findings were published in "Food and Chemical Toxicology" in 2008. Another study published in "Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior" in 2009 found that piperine increased the neurotransmission of serotonin and dopamine, two chemicals that are often deficient in depressed individuals. Clinical trials testing the supplement are needed to verify whether these benefits transfer to people.
Potential Side Effects
Although piperine is generally considered safe, important questions regarding its side effects and interactions remain to be answered. According to the "Journal of Food Safety," piperine is generally safe to consume as it does not cause any major alterations in blood tests. One potential adverse effect of piperine is that it may enhance the absorption of medical drugs, bringing them to dangerous levels in the blood stream. For this reason, the supplement should not be administered at the same time as any medications. Piperine may inhibit liver metabolism of drugs as well, which may also raise drug levels. Some animal tests with piperine suggest that it may have reproductive toxicity. Again, when starting any new treatments, consult your doctor first.