HEADLINES Published March3, 2015 By Bernadette Strong

Chili Peppers as a Diet Aid? Sounds Hot or Maybe Not

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Don't chow down on jalapenos to lose weight, at least not yet
(Photo : Scott Olson, Getty Images)

Don't go gorging on jalapeno peppers just yet. Some say that the chemical that causes the hot in hot peppers may help with weight loss, but others disagree. Researchers at the University of Wyoming in Laramie say that capsaicin, the chemical in hot peppers that provides the heat, may be helpful as a weight loss supplement. By an expert at the University of Utah is cool to this idea.

At a recent meeting of the Biophysical Society, the Wyoming researchers working at the laboratory led by Baskaran Thyagarajan, PhD, described how dietary capsaicin stimulated heat production and energy burning because it activated receptors in mice that are in the two kinds of fat cells in mammals, brown fat cells and white fat cells. This activation may help prevent and manage obesity and other health complications such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular diseases. However, they noted that this effect has not been seen in clinical trials in humans.

Brown fat cells burn calories to help the body maintain its temperature. White fat cells serve as energy storage. Capsaicin appears to turn brown fat cells into white fat cells, say the Wyoming researchers. At least capsaicin seems to do this in mice, where a capsaicin-supplemented diet led to weight loss.

But this may not be so, at least according to Timothy Graham, MD, an endocrinologist at the University of Utah Health Care in Salt Lake City.  The concept that capsaicin can make white fat cells act like brown fat cells has been around for decades. One study on humans done several years ago found what he called only "modest" results. The Wyoming researchers have found a specific receptor that may mediate the effect in mice, he noted, but it remains to be seen if such a receptor can be found in humans.

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