I talk a lot about the key nutrients for bone health. But of course, those nutrients won’t do you much good if they can’t get from your food into your system—and this is where something as simple as sprinkling a little pepper on your supper can offer you surprising nutritional benefits.
How black pepper helps with nutrient absorption
Black pepper is used in Ayurvedic medicine for a great many purposes, and there’s a tremendous body of research on it. Most of the literature focuses on a compound called piperine found naturally in black pepper. Piperine has been explored on many different fronts because it has a great many beneficial effects that are good for bones. It has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, among many others.
But one of the more intriguing effects of piperine is the way it increases bioavailability of many different nutrients. That is, it makes it easy for the body to absorb and use many important bone-supporting nutrients, including vitamins A, C, D, E, and K, the B vitamins, minerals such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium (among others), and various amino acids.
Studies of the bioavailability-enhancing effects for piperine have found that it can increase the bioavailability of different nutrients and pharmaceutical compounds by anywhere from 30 to 200%. (This isn’t always a good thing, by the way. Certain drugs, like the anti-seizure medication phenytoin and the antibiotic rifampin, can act more powerfully on the body than the usual dose intends when bioavailability is increased.)
Spice up your health
How it works isn’t fully understood yet, but several key effects are known or suspected. For one thing, piperine stimulates the digestive enzymes of pancreas, enhances the digestive capacity, and significantly reduces the gastrointestinal food transit time . That means there’s a great deal more opportunity for the gut to break down and absorb a lot more of the nutrients in food. It also stimulates amino acid transporters in the gut, improving absorption of amino acids needed for bone building.
When you look at all of the studies together (and I’ve just picked a few here; there are many more!), they suggest that black pepper does more than just spice up your food — it spices up your health, too. Click on References
Bang JS, Da HO, Choi HM, et al. Anti-inflammatory and antiarthritic effects of piperine in human interleukin 1β-stimulated fibroblast-like synoviocytes and in rat arthritis models. Arthritis Res Ther. 2009;11(2):R49.
Gohil P, Mehta A. Molecular targets of pepper as bioavailability enhancer. Oriental Pharmacy and Experimental Medicine2009 9(4), 269-276
Dudhatra GB, Mody SK, Awale MM, et al. A comprehensive review on pharmacotherapeutics of herbal bioenhancers. Sci World J. 2012; 2012: 637953. doi: 10.1100/2012/637953
Kesarwani K, Gupta R. Bioavailability enhancers of herbal origin: An overview. Asian Pac J Trop Biomed. 2013 Apr; 3(4): 253–266.
Srinivason K. Black pepper and its pungent principle-piperine: a review of diverse physiological effects. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2007;47(8): 735–748
I’m Dr. Susan Brown. I am a nutritionist, medical anthropologist, writer, and speaker. Get my free weekly newsletter here.