According to new research the very ingredient which makes chilli peppers so hot, also affects prostate cancer cells and makes them commit suicide.
Researchers in the U.S. found that tests in mice genetically modified to have human prostate cancer cells, showed that Capsaicin triggered 80 per cent of the cancer cells to start the process leading to cell death; it also reduced the size of tumours by a fifth with no major side effects in mice.
Experts believe capsaicin could be the basis of a future drug for the disease but warn against eating too many hot peppers as high intake of hot chillies has been linked with stomach cancers in the populations of India and Mexico.
The researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center gave the mice a dose of pepper extract equivalent to a man of 200 pounds (90.7kg) taking 400 milligrams of capsaicin three times a week, the equivalent of between three and eight fresh habanero peppers - the highest rated peppers for capsaicin content.
Normal cells go through a constant process called apoptosis where millions die every second and millions more are made, to keep the numbers the up.
Cancer cells skip that process and avoid apoptosis by mutating or deregulating the genes that participate in programmed cell suicide.
The research team saw that Capsaicin increased the amount of certain proteins involved in the apoptosis process and also reduced the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a protein which is often produced in high quantities by prostate tumours.
Men with prostate cancer are advised to avoid fatty foods, eat less red and processed meat, increase their fish intake and enjoy a wide and plentiful range of fruit and vegetables daily.
In the UK alone more than 30,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, and 10,000 die.
Dr Soren Lehmann, who led the study, says capsaicin had a profound anti-proliferative effect on human prostate cancer cells in culture.
The research was published in the journal Cancer Research.
Revision date: June 18, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.