US scientists have discovered a chemical in pepper plant, called long pepper that has anti-cancer properties and whose medicinal properties date back thousands of years.
According to researchers, the secret lies in a chemical called Piperlongumine (PL), which has shown activity against many cancers including prostate, breast, lung, colon, lymphoma, leukemia, primary brain tumours and gastric cancer.
Using x-ray crystallography, the researchers were able to create molecular structures that showed how the chemical is transformed after being ingested.
The PL converts to hPL, an active drug that silences a gene called GSTP1, which produces a detoxification enzyme that is often overly abundant in tumours.
“We are hopeful that our structure will enable additional drug development efforts to improve the potency of PL for use in a wide range of cancer therapies,”said Dr Kenneth Westover from the University of Texas’s southwestern medical centre.
Adding, “This research is a spectacular demonstration of the power of x-ray crystallography,” Westover added.
Long pepper, commonly found in India, is used as a spice in some Indian, North American, Indonesian and Malaysian foods, but is rarely used in European dishes.
“The study illustrates the importance of examining and re-examining our theories. In this case we learned something fundamentally new about a 3,000-year-old medical claim using modern science.”
“Pippali is an important drug in Ayurveda. It is one of the ingredients of Trikatu, the three pungents. It is used in digestive disorders, respiratory disorders and also for diseases of the liver,” Director-Research Dr. Ram Manohar from Amrita School of Ayurveda in Kerala told Indian Science Journal.
“But the most important finding about Pippali in Ayurveda is said to be a powerful Rasayana. Substances that have Rasayana property can work as immunomodulators, help in regeneration of cells and organs and also can work at the level of the genes,” said Dr Manohar.
“Pippali as a Rasayana has been found to be effective in chronic and debilitating diseases of the lungs and liver including cancer in clinical practice,” Dr Manohar explained.
To get such benefits, Pippali has to be administered as a Rasayana.
Some precautions have to be taken to help the body to withstand the strong action of drug. This procedure of administration is called Vardhamana Pippali Rasayana.
Pippali is administered in small doses, which is gradually increased to a specific dosage and then reduced and tapered, he added.