Health Benefits of Black Pepper and Turmeric

Filed by author in Turmeric Benefits 13 Comments

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you would already know that turmeric or curcuma longa has been used as a spice for centuries in Asian cuisine and is widely cultivated in India. Curcumin and other curcuminoids (key which are chemical compounds in turmeric) offer numerous health benefits since they are powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial agents. It is a popular ingredient in Ayurvedic medicine. Turmeric supplements are available as capsules, tincture or liquid extracts.  Before I discuss how turmeric and black pepper combo is awesome, let me talk a bit about black pepper too.

About Black Pepper

Peppercorns which are got from the piper nigrum evergreen vine give us black, green and white peppercorns. To make black pepper, the peppercorns must be plucked just before ripening, left to ferment and then dried until they shrivel and turn black. Most of the world’s supply of black pepper comes from India. Apart from being used to season food, black pepper is also used for medicinal purposes. 

Health Benefits Of Black Pepper And Turmeric

Health benefits of any food or herb is based on its key active ingredients. Piperine is the key chemical in black pepper. It is similar to capsaicin a chemical in chili and offers many health benefits. Curcumin which is a polyphenol plays the same role in turmeric. Both these compounds have been studied to examine the potential health benefits they can offer individually or together.   Here are some of their benefits:

Black pepper enhances bioavailability of Turmeric: One important question which must be popping in your mind right now would be why among so many spices are we talking about black pepper? The answer is really interesting too. One problem with curcumin is its low levels of bioavailability. Most of the curcumin that is ingested gets metabolized before it can get absorbed. Piperine is said to help make curcumin more bioavailable. This could be because it could inhibit certain intestinal digestive enzymes. This increases the amount of any drug or supplement that can be absorbed by the body. They also do not get degraded quickly. Hence, there are studies to test if co-administering curcumin with piperine could improve the bioavailability of the former. These studies have been conducted on humans and laboratory animals. One study found that when even 2g of curcumin was ingested, its serum levels were very low. However, when 20mg piperine was added to curcumin the bioavailability increased by 2000%. The bioavailability, serum levels and levels of absorption of curcumin all improved dramatically.  Thus, if one tales turmeric, most of it is unutilized unless supplemented by addons such as black pepper.

Help in reducing pain: Piperine in black pepper can trigger TRPV1 (transient receptor potential vanilloid type-1) in the body. This triggering can reduce pain. Piperine is also used as an analgesic cream that can be applied topically on the skin to relieve pain. Some studies have focused on using piperine as a new way to kill chronic pain – especially neuropathic pain which is untreatable. black pepper and turmeric

Anti-inflammatory: Curcumin has been studied for its anti-inflammatory capabilities especially in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory conditions. Laboratory studies were conducted on the way curcumin can be used as an anti-arthritic agent. An animal model of rheumatoid arthritis was used and 3 curcuminoids were studied. The curcuminoids were administered before and not after inflammation set in. It was found that oil-depleted turmeric fraction was not as effective as a commercial composition that contained 94% combination of the 3 curcuminoids in combating inflammatory conditions. 
Non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are usually used to treat all inflammatory conditions.

However, long term use can cause serious side effects. Hence, safer alternatives like curcumin are being studied for their potential anti-inflammatory benefits that can be used long term without any side effects. Curcumin is able to inhibit the activity of cytokines and enzymes such as COX-1 and COX-2. It has been recommended as a treatment for chronic neurodegenerative diseases in combination with lower doses of NSAIDs.

Cancer benefits: Dietary polyphenols like piperine and curcumin have been studied for their effect on prevention of breast cancer. Mammosphere formation, which is a marker of breast stem cells were studied. Early progenitor cells, normal stem cells and healthy breast epithelial cells were examined after control, piperine and curcumin treatment was administered. Turmeric and black pepper compounds both inhibited mammosphere formation. They also did not cause any toxicity, therefore showing that they could be possible cancer preventive agents.

Current breast cancer treatments are often ineffective and very often even after chemotherapy and other treatment, the cancer cells reappear. According to new studies, this could be because cancer stem cells still remain and could cause tumors to recur after a period. Hence, new research is trying to find possible ways to target stem cells. Studies have found that turmeric and black pepper combined could target breast stem cells. In a University of Michigan study, cancer cells were injected with a potent solution of piperine and curcumin that was at least 20 times stronger that what is normally consumed through food.

Breast stem cell markers were studied. The self-renewal process of breast stem cells that is the hallmark of initiating cancer was interrupted. This is considered a significant development. Further both compounds did not affect normal breast tissue. Sometimes women who are susceptible to breast cancer maybe advised to take medications like tamoxifen. However, these can be toxic. Natural compounds, which offer similar benefits and are non-toxic, could be a safe alternative therapy. Another benefit is that piperine and curcumin target self-renewal of all stem cells and not just those that are estrogen sensitive like tamoxifen. This theory offers hope to all women who develop breast cancer not just the estrogen driven kind.

Controlling Obesity: Turmeric and black pepper could be combined to fight high cholesterol levels, obesity and diabetes. Diet induced bodily changes to blood glucose, body weight, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol and triglyceride could be affected by CPQ. CPQ is an acronym for the combination of curcumin, piperine and quercetin (got from onion skin). Presence of flavonoids in CPQ is possibly responsible for many of the reactions like decrease in glucose transport. These studies were conducted on laboratory rats.

Other benefits:

When combined together, turmeric and black pepper could help relieve gastric mucosal damage caused by peptic ulcers. This is due to the capacity of curcumin to prevent growth of Helicobacter pylori bacteria which causes peptic ulcers and the protective capability of piperine. Both also have antioxidant benefits. Hence, they can benefit in improving memory loss and protect people from cognitive impairment from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.  Curcumin has anti-amyloid ability that can reduce amyloid pathway in Alzheimer’s. Both low and high doses of curcumin fed to laboratory mice seemed to reduce age-related memory loss. 

Dosage

The dosage of turmeric varies depending on the medical condition. As with most herbal supplemensts turmeric has no specific dosage guidelines. The usually dosage is 400-600mg thrice daily of standardized curcumin powder.  For dyspepsia it is 500mg four times a day and for osteoarthritis it is 500mg twice daily. As I keep saying again and again, I am not in favor of turmeric supplements and support using turmeric in your diet. Use supplements only in cases when you cannot do so.

Black pepper too can be easily added in your diet in curries, salads and dressing.

Precautions

Black pepper must not be consumed in excess of 1 tsp a day when certain medications like digoxin or phenytoin are being taken. The rate at which these medications are cleared by the liver could slow down when black pepper is consumed in excess.   Turmeric supplements must not be consumed in excess and for long periods. This could cause indigestion, dizziness, nausea or diarrhea. Those who are pregnant and breastfeeding are advised to avoid all types of herbal supplements. Diabetic patients, those due for surgery and those with gallbladder problems must also stop using turmeric supplements.

While both turmeric and black pepper are considered very safe and have been used since thousands of years, if you suffer from some specific medical problems and are not sure about using them, please consult your doctor.  

  • NoLiesPlease

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom regarding turmeric and black pepper. I have experienced great benefit from both!

    • KeshavK

      You are welcome!

  • Kate Smith

    Can you advise me on how much pepper I should use to make the tumeric more bioavailable? I’ve been taking capsules for a year to help with RA and it has allowed me to give up prescription meds and OTC NSAIDs as well. I just need a little more effectiveness. Thanks for any advice you can give.

    • KeshavK

      Kate, unfortunately there is no prescribed quantity. But one great way is to start using black pepper in your diet as a spice. That should really help and also ensure there is no side effect. Hope this helps.

  • Kelly

    great article!

  • Robbie Robbins

    Could I just take two or three peppercorns with my turmeric pill, or does the pepper need to be crushed?

    • KeshavK

      Robbie, you do not even need to take it with the milk at all. Just include black pepper in your regular diet (lunch / dinner / salads etc.) and that should do the trick. Also, it is also better to include turmeric as spice and not take as supplement. As long term overdose of supplements may case side effects. You can include turmeric in almost any dish you are already preparing, try it, its wonderful!

  • karel

    can you tell me if itching from curcumin might be transient as im taking it for post herpetic neuralgia.

    • KeshavK

      Hi Karel, I am sorry but I do not have much info on this. I would suggest if you can consult a doc. as this may be from various possible reasons.

      Sorry, was not of much help here.

  • Jurien Dekter

    Will chilli sauce instead of black pepper have the same benefit? Such as Tabasco.

    • KeshavK

      If it has Piperine then it would. But I am not sure if a chili sauce would have it.

  • Bob Gander

    I personally don’t care for the taste of turmeric, but I eat it daily as a medicine. Here’s what I do. I buy the ground spices turmeric, ginger, black pepper, and mustard powder, and also natural cocoa powder at the grocery store. I also get whole natural flax seeds at the grocery store (found in the area where they sell flour) and I grind up 2 tablespoons of them daily in a coffee grinder. I take 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds, 2 tablespoons of turmeric, 1 tablespoon of ginger, 1 teaspoon of mustard, 1 tablespoon of black pepper, and 1 tablespoon of natural (unsweetened) cocoa powder, and then I put them in a bowl and add just enough water to mix them into a thick paste. I then swallow spoonfuls of the paste, chasing it with a big glass of water until the paste has all been eaten up. I’ve been doing this for years. My joints no longer hurt. I am no longer constipated. I also eat raw apricot seeds. I grind up 2 or 3 of them in a coffee grinder and add enough water to make them into a paste, and then just swallow spoonfuls of them, chased down by water. And good old baking soda. I try to drink about 1/2 teaspoon in a glass of water every other day. The key to fighting cancer is prevention. Try to prevent it if you can.

    • KeshavK

      great! Thanks for sharing ..