It's a rare person who has never overestimated their tolerance for spicy food. Most people can probably conjure up that feeling of sweat and tears streaming down their face, every breath fanning the unquenchable furnace that no amount of water can put out. It's not pleasant.
Capsaicin, the compound in chillies which is responsible for the heat, has been known for many years to have weight loss benefits. There have been a number of studies that have shown that the ingestion of capsaicin before meals may speed the metabolism, can heighten the preference for carbohydrate-rich over fatty food, and tends to reduce the number of kilojoules eaten.
As anybody who has accidentally bitten into a well-hidden chilli can confirm, it is not surprising that someone suffering a blistered tongue and feeling sorry for themselves would feel unwilling to eat, and may even go so far as to temporarily regard all food with deep suspicion.
Jokes aside, solving the problem of capsaicin's impalatability has been a target of many research groups who have identified the potential of this inexpensive, natural and effective weight loss aid to make a big splash on the market.
This is where the research of a group of Austrian scientists comes in and heats up, or rather cools down the story.
The team of researchers based their study around a less pungent analog of capsaicin named nonivamide. A crossover trial was performed using a group of 24 slightly overweight male subjects who were given a glucose preparation containing either norivamide or a placebo. Levels of plasma glucose, insulin, other hormones involved in hunger and satiety, and "happiness chemical" serotonin were measured. Subjects were asked to rate their hunger levels for two hours after the glucose preparation was given, after which they were provided with a standardised breakfast, during which the energy value of the food consumed by each subject was calculated.
It was found the when subjects received nonivamide, they reported less hunger and consumed lower amounts of both energy and carbohydrate at breakfast than the placebo group. The blood tests found that nonivamide increased levels of glucagon-like peptide 1, which is involved in blood sugar control, and also the mood enhancing neurotransmitter serotonin.
This research demonstrates excellent potential for a substance that seems to retain the benefits of capsaicin as a weight loss aid, without the offputting side effects. It will be interesting to see if further research into nonivamide agrees with these promising findings, and whether this substance will eventually be introduced onto the weight loss market.
(1) Hochkogler CM, Rohm B, Hojdar K, Pignitter M, Widder S, Ley JP, Krammer GE, Somoza. The capsaicin analog nonivamide decreases total energy intake from a standardized breakfast and enhances plasma serotonin levels in moderately overweight men after administered in an oral glucose tolerance test: A randomized, crossover trial. V. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2014 Feb 7.