Will Capsicum Supplements Help You Lose Weight?

Capsicum has been used in foods since millennia. It contains the active principle capsaicin and other ingredients called capsaicinoids. These, supposedly, cause weight loss by suppressing appetite and causing breakdown of fat. No wonder than that capsicum finds its way into a number of popular fat-loss supplements. Over the years, researchers have proposed impressive theories for the appetite suppressing and weight reducing actions of capsicum. However, the evidence in support remains inconclusive.

Capsicum mouthSince the past few decades, obesity has become a leading medical problem in the developed world (Camoes, Oliveira, & Lopes, 2011; Seidell, 1989). What’s more worrying is that obesity plays a pivotal role in causing all sort of metabolic disorders: type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, lung disorders and cancer (Bell et al., 2011; Crowson, Matteson, Davis, III, & Gabriel, 2013; Yang et al., 2013). The main reason for weight gain is a distorted balance between calories taken in and calories expended (Camoes et al., 2011).

Reduction of body weight, of even modest level, will reduce the risk of developing the aforementioned diseases and improve quality of life (Van Gaal, Wauters, & De Leeuw, 1997). It makes perfect sense, therefore, to increase physical activity levels and reduce food intake to cause a favourable shift in the energy equation and cause weight loss.

Stimulating metabolism or in simpler terms, increasing energy expenditure by way of exercise, use of drugs and/or supplements and decreasing food intake by way of replacement meals or specialized diets will result in weight loss. Pharmacotherapy (use of drugs) for treating obesity is fraught with dangers – drugs carry too many risks! Supplements for fat loss, likewise, are not very different either. Diets designed to cause weight loss, as we all know, are very hard to adhere to over months and years.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the onus in recent years has shifted to use of supplements containing ‘natural’ ingredients for weight loss.

Caffeine from coffee beans, catechins from green tea, calcium from milk and capsaicin from chilli peppers are some natural and safer options available to stimulate metabolism and lose weight.

In this article, we look at capsicum in greater detail; what it is and if it really works.

What is Capsicum?

Capsicum is a plant genus belonging to the Solanaceae (nightshade) family. Capsaicin (CAP) and capsaicinoids are active principles present in plants of this genus.

Red Hot Chili PeppersRed chilli peppers are the most preferred food source of capsicum. Research has it that adding red pepper to your food increases fat oxidation (Lejeune, Kovacs, & Westerterp-Plantenga, 2003; Yoshioka, St-Pierre, Suzuki, & Tremblay, 1998). Furthermore, there is evidence that it induces appetite suppression as well (Yoshioka et al., 1998; Yoshioka et al., 1999).

How Does Capsicum Cause Weight Loss?

  1. Activation of adrenergic nervous system: through stimulating receptors present in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract (Westerterp-Plantenga, Smeets, & Lejeune, 2005; Yoshioka et al., 2004). This leads to secretion of catecholamines like adrenaline which then causes fat loss and appetite suppression (Kawada, Hagihara, & Iwai, 1986; Kawada, Sakabe, Watanabe, Yamamoto, & Iwai, 1988).
  2. Breakdown of fat: after capsicum ingestion, fats are used as energy source rather than carbohydrates, (Yoshioka et al., 1998; Yoshioka et al., 1999; Yoshioka et al., 2004; Westerterp-Plantenga et al., 2005). This is based on the observation that a meal containing red pepper induces an increased metabolism (increased energy output) and a decrease in respiratory quotient (RQ).

In simple English, capsicum causes fat loss by:

  • Suppressing appetite
  • Increasing energy expenditure
  • Increasing breakdown of fat

Other Health Benefits

Capsicum either in food or in the form of a supplement can reduce blood parameters that are markers of metabolic diseases – diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity (Lejeune et al., 2003). Thus, in theory, capsicum can reduce your risk of suffering from these diseases.

In short, capsicum causes:

  • Reduced blood sugar levels,
  • Reduced blood insulin levels,
  • Reduced blood triglyceride levels, and
  • Reduced blood leptin levels

Does Capsicum Really Work?

Over the years, researchers have proposed impressive theories for the appetite-suppressing and weight-reducing actions of capsicum (see above).

Subjects ingesting capsicum in tomato juice as an appetizer showed decreased calorie intake of 10-16%. It was theorized by the authors of the study that the sensory perception of capsaicin from receptors in the mouth may have a role to play in appetite suppression (Westerterp-Plantenga et al., 2005).

However, the evidence in support of this action of capsicum remains inconclusive.

For instance, whereas some researchers showed that Japanese women and Caucasian men exhibited appetite suppression and decreased intake of fatty foods in response to capsicum (Westerterp-Plantenga et al., 2005), other studies failed to achieve the same results; decreased intake of fat in Caucasian men was not observed (Yoshioka et al., 1998; Yoshioka et al., 1999). Interestingly enough, stimulation of the adrenergic system – as one of the mechanisms of action of capsicum – has been shown to be blunted in the Japanese (Matsumoto et al., 2000).

Also while some studies suggest an increase in fat oxidation and lowering of RQ after capsicum ingestion (Yoshioka et al., 1998; Yoshioka et al., 1999; Lejeune et al., 2003), others have reported decreased fat oxidation and an increase in RQ when capsicum is added to meals (Lim et al., 1997; Yoshioka et al., 1995).

Furthermore, some believe that the beneficial effects of capsicum may be short-lived. The short-term effect on appetite suppression, as observed by some (Yoshioka et al., 1999), was shown to be absent on long term ingestion of capsicum (Lejeune et al., 2003). Furthermore, keeping your weight down after initial weight loss by using capsicum supplements may just not happen (Lejeune et al., 2003).

In a paper published in 2003, Lejeune and his fellow researchers concluded that capsicum did not ‘sustain weight management, probably because an effect on body composition was not achieved’ (Lejeune et al., 2003).

The Verdict on Capsicum Extract

Capsicum might spice up your food and offer some health benefits. However, it may not do enough to produce the much publicized weight loss. Furthermore, maintaining weight loss on long term use may prove difficult with capsicum supplements.

Considering the conflicting evidence from various scientific studies, the proof in favour of capsicum, at the present moment in time, seems to be inconclusive. We, therefore, reserve our judgement on capsicum as a weight-reducing agent.

Useful References:

  • Bell, L. M., Curran, J. A., Byrne, S., Roby, H., Suriano, K., Jones, T. W. et al. (2011). High incidence of obesity co-morbidities in young children: a cross-sectional study. J Paediatr.Child Health, 47, 911-917. Online Resource
  • Camoes, M., Oliveira, A., & Lopes, C. (2011). The role of physical activity and diet on overall and central obesity incidence. J Phys.Act.Health, 8, 811-819.
  • Crowson, C. S., Matteson, E. L., Davis, J. M., III, & Gabriel, S. E. (2013). Contribution of obesity to the rise in incidence of rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Care Res.(Hoboken.), 65, 71-77.
  • Kawada, T., Hagihara, K., & Iwai, K. (1986). Effects of capsaicin on lipid metabolism in rats fed a high fat diet. J Nutr., 116, 1272-1278. Online Resource
  • Kawada, T., Sakabe, S., Watanabe, T., Yamamoto, M., & Iwai, K. (1988). Some pungent principles of spices cause the adrenal medulla to secrete catecholamine in anesthetized rats. Proc.Soc Exp.Biol.Med, 188, 229-233.
  • Lejeune, M. P., Kovacs, E. M., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S. (2003). Effect of capsaicin on substrate oxidation and weight maintenance after modest body-weight loss in human subjects. Br.J Nutr., 90, 651-659. Online Resource
  • Lim, K., Yoshioka, M., Kikuzato, S., Kiyonaga, A., Tanaka, H., Shindo, M. et al. (1997). Dietary red pepper ingestion increases carbohydrate oxidation at rest and during exercise in runners. Med Sci.Sports Exerc., 29, 355-361.
  • Seidell, J. C. (1989). Prevalence of obesity in Europe. Bibl.Nutr.Dieta, 1-7. Online Resource
  • Van Gaal, L. F., Wauters, M. A., & De Leeuw, I. H. (1997). The beneficial effects of modest weight loss on cardiovascular risk factors. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord, 21 Suppl 1, S5-S9. Online Resource
  • Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S., Smeets, A., & Lejeune, M. P. (2005). Sensory and gastrointestinal satiety effects of capsaicin on food intake. Int J Obes (Lond), 29, 682-688.
  • Yang, Y., Dong, J., Sun, K., Zhao, L., Zhao, F., Wang, L. et al. (2013). Obesity and incidence of lung cancer: a meta-analysis. Int J Cancer, 132, 1162-1169. Online Resource
  • Yoshioka, M., Imanaga, M., Ueyama, H., Yamane, M., Kubo, Y., Boivin, A. et al. (2004). Maximum tolerable dose of red pepper decreases fat intake independently of spicy sensation in the mouth. Br.J Nutr., 91, 991-995. Online Resource
  • Yoshioka, M., Lim, K., Kikuzato, S., Kiyonaga, A., Tanaka, H., Shindo, M. et al. (1995). Effects of red-pepper diet on the energy metabolism in men. J Nutr.Sci.Vitaminol.(Tokyo), 41, 647-656. Online Resource
  • Yoshioka, M., St-Pierre, S., Drapeau, V., Dionne, I., Doucet, E., Suzuki, M. et al. (1999). Effects of red pepper on appetite and energy intake. Br.J Nutr., 82, 115-123. Online Resource
  • Yoshioka, M., St-Pierre, S., Suzuki, M., & Tremblay, A. (1998). Effects of red pepper added to high-fat and high-carbohydrate meals on energy metabolism and substrate utilization in Japanese women. Br.J Nutr., 80, 503-510.

Disclaimer: Our reviews and investigations are based on extensive research from the information publicly available to us and consumers at the time of first publishing the post. Information is based on our personal opinion and whilst we endeavour to ensure information is up-to-date, manufacturers do from time to time change their products and future research may disagree with our findings. If you feel any of the information is inaccurate, please contact us and we will review the information provided.

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