Written by Victor R. Prisk, M.D.
16 April 2015


Hot Sauce & Fat Loss

Get Lean with this Sauce



The Hot Sauce: Peppers and Fat Loss

 Have you ever heard of the Scoville scale of hotness? The Scoville scale is a measurement of the “heat” of a chili pepper developed by pharmacist Wilbur Scoville in 1912. The scale measures the heat of a pepper using a unit of measure called the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU). As an example, the habanero chili has >100,000 SHUs while tabasco sauce has around 4,000 SHUs. The “heat” is imparted by chemicals in the peppers that irritate nerve endings, giving the sense of burning without any real rise in temperature. The sympathetic nervous system response can be quite impressive, however. Have you ever watched a friend eat Three Mile Island hot wings and laughed at how he starts sweating? Ever wonder if his sweating is burning fat?

 Chemicals called capsinoids, including capsaicin and dihydrocapsiate, are naturally present in chili peppers and are the producers of the “heat.” Pure capsaicin extract has a SHU value of 16,000,000 and is used as a 1 percent solution in pepper spray. Mexicans may consume up to 200 milligrams of capsaicin per day, and it can have rather explosive effects on the bowels when consumed by the naïve at such doses!

 Aside from deterrence of muggers and bets between friends, there are many therapeutic applications of capsaicin. Capsaicin creams, which desensitize nerves over time, are used to treat neuropathy, shingles, psoriasis, arthritis pain and fibromyalgia.

 However, we at MD are more interested in the effects of consuming capsaicin for fat loss. In rat models capsaicin has been shown to increase energy expenditure, fat oxidation and sympathetic nervous system activity.1 This effect has been validated in human placebo-controlled studies— with an impressive 32 percent increase in resting energy expenditure in one study, and clear elevations in epinephrine and norepinephrine in another.2,3 In addition to increasing energy expenditure, capsaicin ingestion at a dose of 100 milligrams has been associated with a significant increase in lipolysis and thus, mobilization of fat from stores.4,5 Capsaicin not only mobilizes fat, but at a dose of six milligrams per day of encapsulated capsinoids for 12 weeks, a placebo-controlled study demonstrated significant reduction in abdominal fat compared to control subjects.6

 As with all nutrition and supplement research, one can find articles that contradict positive results for compounds used to burn fat.1 One thing that is clear from a couple of studies is that longer-term ingestion of capsinoids of four to 12 weeks is needed to see a significant effect on fat metabolism.5,6 Furthermore, supplements that combine capsaicin and other fat-reducing compounds like caffeine and piperine may be of even greater benefit.

 A recent study performed at the University of Nebraska in association with GNC looked at a combination supplement of caffeine, capsinoids, piperine and other extracts in a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled crossover study of recreationally active men and women.7 The researchers measured energy expenditure at 40 minutes after ingestion and during low-intensity treadmill walking, and found four to nine percent increases in energy expenditure in the experimental group versus placebo. Additionally, the subjects receiving the supplement did not have any increases in perceived exertion compared to placebo, suggesting that they weren’t working any harder or experiencing uncomfortable stimulant effects.

 Dihydrocapsiate is a compound from the capsinoid family that has been extracted from chili peppers and also synthesized in the lab. Another placebo-controlled study published in 2010 examined this compound for thermogenic effects. The results were less than remarkable. After one month of supplementation with up to nine milligrams per day, only a small thermogenic effect of approximately 50 calories per day was found. Of note, we know that dihydrocapsiate has a lower Scoville score than capsaicin, so perhaps the hotter the pepper, the better the effect?

 Black pepper isn’t quite as hot as chili peppers and isn’t even a true pepper (it’s a spice), but it too has valuable metabolic effects through its constituent, piperine. Piperine is a pungent component of black pepper much like capsinoids are with chilis, albeit much lower on the Scoville scale. Piperine is thought to exert some of its beneficial effects via mechanisms similar to capsaicin. In fact, laboratory studies show that piperine can act on the same cellular receptors that when activated, enhance energy metabolism.8 As with many dietary supplements that pop up on the market these days, piperine has been reported to reduce the severity and frequency of asthmatic incidents. Doses up to 1.5 grams per day have been used without any adverse effects, although piperine is usually used in milligram doses.

 In mice fed a high-fat and high-sugar diet, investigators found diets with up to 0.05 percent piperine and 1 percent black pepper resulted in significantly less fat accumulation over four weeks.8 In another study with rats fed a similar diet with piperine supplemented at ~30mg/kg/day, the treatment group experienced lower blood pressure, improved glucose levels, less oxidative stress, less inflammation and improved liver function.9 These findings suggest that piperine may be of value in burning fat while cutting, or even prevent accumulating fat during bulk dieting. For those of you who suffer from allergies, take caution with piperine. Research shows that piperine can enhance the absorption of Allegra and may expose you to higher doses than expected, which could cause more sedation. A word to the wise: if you are trying a new supplement and you take prescribed medications, start low (in dose) and go slow (in increasing the dose) or consult your physician first.

 Peppers of all types have vitamins, antioxidants and other nutrients that can be beneficial to your health. From a fat-burning perspective, there is solid evidence to support recommendations of capsinoids and piperine as a part of your fat-loss dietary supplementation. So if you want to burn the fat, you’ll have to brave the hot sauces!

     Dr. Victor Prisk is a board certified orthopaedic surgeon and IFBB professional bodybuilder in Pittsburgh, PA. Dr. Prisk is an active member of the GNC Medical Advisory Board and creator of the “G.A.I.N. Plan.” He is an NCAA All-American gymnast, champion swing dancer and NPC Welterweight National Champion.