Have you ever noticed how much warmer you feel after you eat chili peppers? Have you noticed that when you eat peppers that are very spicy, you can even break out into a sweat? This is because an active chemical that is naturally found in peppers can cause the body to begin a process called thermogenesis. This is the name of the process that causes the cells of the body to turn energy into heat.
The reason that thermogenesis is believed to be beneficial to weight loss, is that if the cells are being told to turn energy into heat, then some of the calories that you consume are automatically being burned off just by raising your body temperature, diverting them from being turned into stored fat.
The active chemical in question is called capsaicin. It is found within chili peppers and it is what makes them taste spicy. When it is consumed, it stimulates one of the sensory neuron receptors, which instructs it to make you feel a heat-like sensation and to have reactions that are similar to those that you would experience if you were sitting in a very hot room, or out in the sun on a scorching summer afternoon. These can include both sweating and redness.
In a recent study performed by Yasser Mahmoud, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the scientist and his team discovered that capsaicin will actually create heat directly in the body, and that it does it by changing the way that a certain muscle protein functions. This protein is known as SERCA. Usually, muscle contraction will begin when a calcium ion wave is released from a “compartment-like” part of the body known as the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR). Using energy from the body, SERCA sends that calcium back to the SR so that the muscle can then relax and begin all over again.
However, when capsaicin is thrown into the mix, it attaches to SERCA and stops it from taking part in the pumping of the calcium into the SR. That said, it continues to use energy and burn it. The result is that the burned energy gives off heat and becomes thermogenesis. This is the same process that is used by hibernating animals to stay warm.
In the publication of the study, Mahmoud pointed out that capsaicin is the first compound to be found in nature that can boost the process of thermogenesis.