By Marvin J. Wolf
When my nephew was born in a Seoul suburb, my Korean in-laws decorated their front door with a cluster of bright red chili peppers, a neighborhood announcement that a son had been born to their household.
But why chili peppers? Some Koreans say the peppers’ phallic shape is the message and, as a bonus, folk wisdom says peppers eaten regularly enhance male potency.
Others, especially those acquainted with Korea’s corps of herbalists and Chinese Medicine Practitioners, say that because a diet that includes chili peppers ensures a long and healthy life, the door decorations symbolize a wish for a healthy, robust child.
It’s no secret that Korean food is often very spicy, especially kimchi, the national dish. At least one of this fiery condiment’s many varieties is served with virtually every meal. And every one is loaded with the fiery seeds and ribs of red chilis.
The complex chemical substance that gives chilis their bite is capsaicin, arguably nature’s most health-enhancing herb. Applied topically in a cream, capsaicin soothes sore muscles, the aches of rheumatism and the pain of bruises. Ingested
it becomes a wonder drug, lowering blood pressure, releasing brain endorphins, speeding up lipid (fat) metabolism, improving digestion, acting as a gentle laxative, reducing cholesterol—just a few of the long list of its beneficial effects.
And recently, scientists at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, and their UCLA Medical School colleagues, observed that capsaicin causes human prostate cancer cells to undergo programmed cell death or apoptosis.
In studies using human cells implanted in mice, Sören Lehmann, M.D., Ph.D., a visiting scientist at Cedars-Sinai and the UCLA, concluded that capsaicin not only retards the growth of human prostate cancer cells, it also slows the development of prostate tumors.
Dr. Lehmann’s study also showed that the growth of both kinds of prostate cancer cells—those dependent on testosterone for growth and those that don’t—is frozen.
That’s right: Eat enough chili peppers and your prostate cancer cells commit suicide.
As it happens, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years ago, a result, my doctors think, of my exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam. So how many peppers do I have to eat to get rid of my cancer?
Well, Pilgrims, that depends on what kind of peppers. Jalapeños, like those used in many popular hot sauces, or tabascos, from which the most popular hot sauce takes its name, have a fair amount of capsaicin. But neither can hold a candle to a tiny, heart-shaped orange pepper called the habañero. That one nears the top of the Scoville heat index, which measures capsaicin content.
Which is why when I make my extended-family-famous T‘n’T chili (turkey and tofu, patent pending, no explosive qualities) I don’t use Tabasco. Instead, I throw in a couple of finely minced habañeros.
Lehmann estimates that his lab mice ingested capsaicin in amounts equivalent to a 200 lb man eating between three and eight fresh habañero peppers a week.
That’s a lot of fire to swallow. As I recently discovered, there’s an even more delicious way to get capsaicin down the hatch: Brother Bru-Bru’s African Hot Pepper Sauce. Made with habañeros, it’s four-alarm hot. I’ve started using it in my chili and a dozen other dishes; my daughter and her Korean-American cousins can’t get enough of it.
And Brother Bru-Bru’s has NO salt. So those with hypertension or other reasons for a low-sodium diet can safely satisfy their quest for fiery food.
Brother Bru-Bru’s is available in health food and specialty stores in all 50 states and, west of the Rockies, in Whole Foods Markets. It may also be ordered from www.brobrubru.com. A portion of company profits go to help provide clean water for African villages.
November is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month
Zero – The Project to End Prostate Cancer
10 G Street NE, Suite 601
Washington, DC 20002
(202) 463-9456 Fax
Screenwriter and author Wolf is based in Los Angeles and is working on a mystery novel.