Yann Blake • Engineering

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The effects of the Capsaicin molecule – [Research work]

  • Research work in total autonomy held in Lycée du Pays de Retz Laboratory (France)
  • 6 months research from september 2015 to march 2016
  • Report submitted to a panel of two professors in Physics, Chemistry and Biology (in french)
  • Presentation to the jury

Alleviating methods of the irritant effects of Capsaicin on humans and investigation of the efficiency of its other effects : antioxidant and insecticide.

ABSTRACT
IRRITATION EFFECT TO HUMANS FOLLOWING CAPSAICIN INTAKE

10 food components were tested on 12 individuals (aged 15 to 18 years old, including 7 females and 5 males) for three different levels of concentration of capsaicin (from three different chilli peppers : green : 250-2,500 Scoville, yellow : 5,000-10,000 Scoville and habanero : 100,000 – 335,000 Scoville) that we closely observed and interrogated on their irritation and sensation of burning of their oral mucosa.

Among the 10 components we found that dairy products such as milk and butter which contains casein work up to 70% better than any other food in alleviating the effects of capsaicin. This is caused by the casein molecules (of which milk is 80% contained) taking the place of capsaicin on the TrpV1 receptors.

In addition, components with a sweet taste (sugar, banana) deliver a nervous message to the brain that is seem to have a stronger response than the capsaicin one, which as a consequence made some individuals feel less the effects.

Starch-based foods, such as bread or rice, absorb capsaicin better than dairy products, but they do not displace capsaicin as well as milk does. Therefore bread added to a dairy product would give alleviating effect up to 90% greater than other components tested.

Other reactions have been discovered which were marginal. Time remained the best way to reduce the capsaicin concentration and therefore the effect on humans.

ANTIOXIDANT AND INSECTICIDE EFFECTS

We also have demonstrated the effect of antioxidant against food oxidation (fruits : apple and banana). Capsaicin delayed and alleviated the oxidation of the outside surface in contact with oxygene reacting with polyphenoloxidase. However it did not show a significant increase in the antixodiant effect comparing to other similar elements like citric acid.

The insecticide effect (general term which includes any lethal effect on Arthropod animals) was tested on spiders. In order to testify a real efficiency of the capsaicin, its concentration needs to reach high Scoville concentration. We investigated further than our laboratory experiment showing its practical uses in Thua Thiên-Huê farms.

Excerpt from the Report (in french) with a photo of one experiment (insecticide)

Files to download

Our work allowed us to discover what was the origin of the spicy effect of pepper. We have been able to highlight the presence of a powerful alkaloid, capsaicin C18H27NO3 thanks to an extraction divided into several stages (grinding, filtration, distillation). The presence of capsaicin could then be
confirmed with chromatography. The sharp effect of capsaicin occurs by the activation of the receptors at the level of the tongue, which transmit the message to the brain to interpret it like a burn. We have also shown that the spicy effect of capsaicin can be alleviated with certain foods, such as peanut butter or milk, because fat-soluble capsaicin dissolves in fat. Its effect is therefore less concentrated. Subsequently, we discovered that this alkaloid causes other effects: insecticidal and antioxidant properties that we could verify by our experiments. People also use capsaicin to maintain good health and cure serious diseases like certain cancers. It is also used in the context of doping in competition, or to create perfumes. It is also thanks to this molecule that police make order during riots, by spraying pure capsaicin to 16 million units Scoville. The effects of chilli/peppers are
multiple and varied. This alkaloid is widely used in medicine, new applications are probably still to discover. Maybe someday there will be synthetic capsaicin for new treatments?