PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pepper can make you sneeze. Could the same component that tickles your nose also make you slim?

“They’re adding it to dark chocolate. I’ve seen it in teas, chais, so they do add the black pepper,” says St. Clair Hospital dietitian Jean Lewis.

A study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry looked at black pepper’s effect on fat.

Cells destined to become fat cells were grown in a petri dish and exposed to an extract of this pungent component of black pepper, called piperine. Turns out, the genes that prod the cell into becoming fat are shut down.

“As far as all peppers in general, they’ve known for years it helps to raise the metabolism,” says Lewis.

In a different study, mice on a high-fat diet had less cell damage in a number of vital organs if they also took in piperine.

What does all this mean for humans?

“They haven’t exactly told you how much, what percentage would work, and what percentage a person can tolerate,” Lewis cautions.

And pepper isn’t completely harmless.

“It can be an irritant to the GI [gastrointestinal] tract,” she adds.

In an unrelated way, it might help your blood pressure.

“As far as black pepper, anything that will help a person use that instead of salt on their food to season, I’m all for that,” says Lewis.

This laboratory-based study suggests black pepper could keep the formation of fat cells in check. A lot more research will have to be done to show the effect in people.

So for now, enjoy. The spice might be nice in ways we don’t yet understand.

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